Reflections on Jimmy Carter’s Departure from the SBC

By Guest Columnist Jul 28, 2009

By Darlene Pagano I was quite taken by former President Jimmy Carter’s announcement that he has left the Southern Baptist Convention as his faith home, because of their yet-again-affirmed statement that women may not serve as deacons, pastors or military chaplains. The denomination’s governors cite the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians requiring women’s silence in church to declare this as the SBC’s conviction on the subject. Coming from a family that had a deep relationship with the Southern Baptist Convention, I have an inkling of what it must take to end a sixty year profession of faith, as Mr. Carter has. That he has declared this permanent rupture to be because he cannot tolerate their view that women are somehow inferior to men is totally astonishing to me; I am not used to having men take very public stands, take big losses and go toe to toe with authority over limitations placed on women. In his announcement, President Carter quoted Paul’s letter to the Galatians to affirm his own stand that women may NOT be denied any calling to lead and preach in their faith. (Interestingly, this same letter was used widely by abolitionists to refute any use of Christian scripture to justify, affirm, defend or uphold slavery. See Galatians 3:28) President Carter then went off on a long riff on the many forms of subjugation of women, secular and religious, global and historic, and specifically addressed the problem of using religious interpretation of all holy writ to justify, affirm, legalize and sanctify the appropriation by men of the talents, labors and bodies of women. President Carter stongly objects to anyone claiming God is on their side on this. There are many positions the SBC has taken in its history that make it leave-worthy, starting with its formation (as I was taught in the 1960’s) as a denomination determined not to be "forced to have to go to church with the colored." So why now, why this particular insult? I am spending some time re-thinking my own history of when I just knew I had reached the point of ENOUGH — when a commitment to working from within had become a joke on me, when I knew that even if the bond had been decades long it now had to end, when I knew grief at the ending but not regret. I must say, most of those breaks were painful and messy. I am glad to have Jimmy Carter’s example on how to make them useful.