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Jimmy Carter to the Parliament of the World's Religions

Posted by Gary Labels:

Former president Jimmy Carter gave a speech on the status of women, and how religion interacts with women's status. In short, religion has been a malefactor, but may be used as a benefactor.

Most Bible scholars acknowledge that the Holy Scriptures were written when male dominance prevailed in every aspect of life. Men could have multiple sex partners (King Solomon had 300 wives and 700 concubines), but adulterous behavior by a woman could be punished by stoning to death - then, in the time of Christ and, in some societies, 2009 years later.

On this, I do have a problem. It's as if he's referring to the kings' time and the time of Christ contemporaneously, as if the Bible is a single document from one time, called "the time of the Bible." Since he upfront admits himself to be a layman, I can let misunderstandings like this slide without faulting him personally.

It is true that the kings had multiple wives, though that was certainly not scripturally encouraged. Indeed, one of the laws for kings specifically says that they must not have many wives (Deut 17:17). Their reason for having so many comes in part from treaties with foreign nations (yet another no-no). The more political Israel became, the less and less they looked like God's people, and the more and more they became a nation-state.

Part of Solomon's problem was that his first major act as king (internationally speaking) was to ally with Egypt and marry Pharaoh's daughter. Only after this did he ask for wisdom. See also 1 Kings 11:1-3.

In any case, the Bible as we have it does not and did not, as the "history of faith" would have it, allow for polygamy. Polygamy is associated with political alliances, and I daresay that neither thing was part of God's intention for His people.

I realize that devout Christians can find adequate scripture to justify either side in this debate, but there is one incontrovertible fact concerning the relationship between Jesus Christ and women: he never condoned sexual discrimination or the implied subservience of women. The exaltation and later reverence for Mary, as Jesus' mother, is an even more vivid indication of the special status of women in Christian theology.

Good stuff! I have nothing nitpicky to say here, it was just so good I wanted to repost it. I hold to the complementarian view that senior pastoral authority is intended for males, but I think Carter has in view here the idea of "all women serving all men," which he and I can agree completely is not biblical and does not reflect Christ at all.

It is clear that during the early Christian era women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers, and prophets. It wasn't until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

Again, this is a layman talking. Women were indeed deaconnesses (which are servants -- male deacons were likewise servants) and prophetesses. Women were also "apostles" in a general sense referring to messengers. Women could carry letters for Paul (and be of the same sort of apostle as Epaphroditus), and it wouldn't bother me if a woman had a hand in scribing a letter in the Bible. The idea that Aquila and Priscilla wrote Hebrews together is interesting to me, though it's nothing but speculation.

He then brings an anecdote from his own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, which recently switched from an egalitarian view to complementarianism. I, personally, cannot imagine how female pastors felt when they became un-ordained, as it were. That's a sticky situation and I dunno just how that should've been handled. Perhaps a softer, slower transition that got female pastors into meaningful ministry positions, instead of suddenly firing them?

In any case, Jimmy goes on to use the same fallacious language of inferiority and qualification, which isn't necessarily the argument complementarians hold. He further indicts male church leaders for using scripture to their advantage. While this has certainly happened, this general indictment as if all or even most complementarian leaders are manipulative, is unfair.

He continues in the language of "rights," which truthfully, nobody has. God gave us nothing so unalienable that He has no authority over it. His language there is strongly American, though. God's sovereignty is absolute in that what He gives, He can take away. (This has little to do with the debate of women's status, and much more to do with my pacifistic arguments, I admit.)

So, in short: Carter is on the right track in calling for a change in the status and treatment of women. Women are special. Women are made by God "for man" in some sense. How to interpret that preposition is the tricky thing. Does it further intensify the likeness of woman to man, or is there some other meaning? Hmm.

Enough rambling. Carter did a good job, but overgeneralizes the complementarian stance, making no reference to those who very emphatically are against the subjugation of women that destroys self-actualization and even the dignity of making one's own choices about the body. I would support Carter, but grit my teeth over some of this.