Jimmy Carter: A Mystery

Carter.jpgWe were away when Jimmy Carter’s oft-repeated idea about women and the Southern Baptists was recirculated in the media: he’s evidently withdrawn from the Southern Baptist Convention over its tightened up restrictions on women and his perception that it has diminished equality of the sexes. He first made waves about this in 2000 and then at least one other time. And now he’s repeating his point again.

But I have this question: What does it mean for Jimmy Carter to resign from the SBC when (1) individuals aren’t members of the SBC but of local churches that are associated with the SBC? And, more importantly, (2) when he continues to be a member of his SBC church and teaches Sunday School there? So, I ask, in what sense has Carter resigned or withdrawn?

Readers of this blog know I stand with Carter on the importance of women in ministry and of equality (though I like to use the term “mutuality”). I applaud his moral courage to stand up for what he believes and for fighting for justice for women. But why buttress this all with something about resigning from the SBC?

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  • Is his church affiliated with the SBC? I looked at their web site http://mbcplains.com and didn’t see anything saying so.

  • Scot, You are not the only one asking that question.

  • Derek Taylor

    I don’t think it is a mystery at all. He got PR all the other times he bashed the SBC or withdrew his membership or involvement or whatever he calls it. Honestly, it reminds me of an old rock star who tries to recreate something that worked decades ago – but sadly, just reminds everyone that the world has moved on.

  • Even within the SBC, there are churches who position themselves based on which edition of “The Baptist Faith and Message (BFM)” they subscribe to. This statement afforded Baptists a great deal of latitude of issues pertaining to women and scripture.
    Many churches maintain their SBC ties, but are very clear to point out that they subscribe to the 1963 BFM. Others, who want to define their affiliation with the more fundamentalist-leaning SBC folks will very clearly define the BFM 2000 as their statement of belief.
    Perhaps Carter’s church is the former?
    As far as “resigning” from the SBC, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has already done that.

  • Kevin

    For a side by side comparison of the 1925, 1963, and 200 BFM see

  • Steve

    I’m not certain what Pres. Carter means by separating from the SBC, Scot. He is still part of Maranatha in Plains, and while they may still be associated with the SBC, they certainly don’t advertise that relationship.
    His latest statement, in the context of The Elders position on the importance of the rights of women globally, again mentions severing ties with the SBC. It was reported that this action was largely symbolic back in 2000 and given his standing I believe it was, and is, a powerful symbol. Pres. Carter has a bully pulpit and normally uses it well, in my opinion. In this situation he seems to wish to demonstrate the seriousness of his support for women’s rights by again mentioning his displeasure with the denomination he grew up in.
    I grew up Baptist and am now Anglican. Their polities are very different and both have baffled me all along. My reading of of scripture would seem to discourage claiming affiliation with anyone but Christ, particularly when claiming that affiliation would seem to separate me from others who are Christ followers too. The fact is, I am disturbed by some of the actions of my denomination, while remaining deeply committed to my local congregation. My allegiance is not to The Episcopal Church or now the Anglican Church in North America but to the body of Christ in which I live and worship, Trinity Church. I can see Pres. Carter having the same stance and if I thought taking similar actions, symbolic or real, might positively influence my leaders’ bad behavior, I might follow his example.

  • Carter’s church belongs to a group that left the SBC years ago. It is called the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. And while “cooperative Baptist” may seem like an oxymoron to some, it is actually a very exciting and positive group that supports gender equaility. However it may also at times be progressive in ways that test many Evangelicals’ limits. Here is a link to the web site of CBF in Georgia, which lists the church in its directory: http://www.cbfga.org/about/churches/directory.html#plains
    (Not sure if the link will pass this blog’s filters. If not, Google: cooperative baptist fellowship, ga

  • Michael

    Why aren’t any of the commentators here responding to Carter’s view of Scripture. The SBC view of scripture on which is based its beliefs in biblical roles in the family and church are central. Carter rejects a fundamental belief of Southern Baptists, the supremacy of Scripture in faith and practice, not cultural convention. That is the fundamental divide. I guess “positive” in your views is tantamount to rejection of God’s design. And please do not cite abuses as reason to reject God’s design. The problem is not with Scripture, or marriage, or the church as designed by God but people. Carter denies the exclusivity of Christ for salvation and denies the historical accuracy of the New Testament. Now you might concur with him but the SBC is being entirely consistent. The SBC supports gender equality because the Scriptures do. Equality of essence does not equate to identical roles, like it or not men cannot have babies.

  • Michael – Isn’t there a difference between an activity or performing a function and a role, status, title. No men cannot incubate and give birth to babies but last time I checked that made them no lesser or further authoritive as parents and as vital or essential in procreation. Men and women may lead, pastor, teach and perform sacraments differently to each other but that in no way makes one more valid to take the role, title or authority.
    Also I think people will stop citing abuses to dissagree with certain interpretation’s or God’s design when those interpretation cease to be found playing a part in, justifying and protecting abuse and abusers.

  • Thrilled

    I was thrilled to see President Carter’s announcement even if it’s a repeat. As a woman and as a former SCBer, I experienced first- hand the subtle but de-humanizing dismissal of my (female) self by Southern Baptist officers at the local, state and national level. And not even on “women in ministry” issues.
    Thanks, President Carter, for again taking a public stand on this issue. Recycled news or not, it is an important stand.

  • What is Carter really taking a stand against? He’s vocalizing a disagreement and personal disappointment. Yet, he’s still a member involved in more than just sitting in the pew.
    Maranatha is still a cooperating SBC church as anyone can see on the SBC site.
    Instead of voicing his disagreements as such why doesn’t he voice them in the context of calling his own church, Maranatha, to stop cooperating? Especially, in light of the the fact the baptist polity is given to local church autonomy.

  • Travis Greene

    It’s largely symbolic, but symbolic actions have a power of their own. Besides, it’s kind of a quintessentially Baptist thing to do.
    And Michael @ 8, many of us aren’t commenting on that because we agree with him, and disagree with you, about what God’s design is re: men & women.

  • ChrisB

    Grandstanding by an old pol who’s been out of the news for a while. Nothing more.

  • Michael in #8,
    I would caution against equating the SBC interpretation of Scripture with “God’s design” itself. There are quite a few Christians who believe that Scripture does not teach what the SBC thinks it does (especially in regard to the role of women). It would be more helpful to discuss these disagreements as what they are: interpretive differences, rather than making accusations of rejecting God’s design itself. Carter, whether he is right or wrong, certainly intends no such rejection. Indeed, he has taught a weekly Bible study for decades, and knows quite well what Scripture says. It’s unfair in the extreme to accuse him of rejecting Scripture.

  • Technically, Carter withdrew from the SBC in 2000 (http://www.baptiststandard.com/2000/10_23/pages/carter.html) I think this is just a restatement of his position and opposition of the SBC perspective. In some ways, I think this was more of Carter expressing his frustration with the SBC than making a plea towards justice for women (though he did that as well).

  • Phil

    Michael @ 8
    Could you please reference your statement:
    “Carter denies the exclusivity of Christ for salvation and denies the historical accuracy of the New Testament.”
    Also, you cannot back up Supremacy of Scripture being tied to your interpretation of Scripture, it is far too circular an argument.

  • Robert Angison

    drat! Had a great reply only to have the internet crash…d’oh!
    Anyhoo, basically it all comes down to the reality that as a group of autonomous churches cooperating in missions giving there is no “formal” denominational structure nor does any one person speak for Southern Baptists.
    I see former President Carter speaking about how Southern Baptists are misogynistic towards women and respectfully disagree. If given the chance to ask former President Carter about this issue I would simply say:
    “So where are you in trying to bring about the change you so happily talk about in the media?”
    Seems to me that I don’t recall former President Carter at any of our recent annual gatherings. I don’t know of him gathering together his fellow Southern Baptists to talk about these issues. If he really wants to change things, why isn’t he involved in the process? I doubt anyone in a leadership role of our mutual convention would deny him time to talk.
    Where is former President Carter in being involved in changing this issue?
    Otherwise he just seems to want to score points at a faithful people’s expense.
    You are the Church!

  • Travis Greene

    Robert @ 17,
    I appreciate your point, but sometimes you can only work for change in a place by voting with your feet. Plus, as you point out, ecclesiology in the SBC isn’t at all like in the UMC or Episcopal church or certainly the RCC. The local church is what matters, not the larger group, so why bother to continue associating with the larger institution if you believe it is incredibly wrong on a very important issue?

  • While Carter’s church may still be affiliated with the SBC, please keep in mind that he himself is relating to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. This is a group of like-minded Baptists who were slowly and effectively ostracized from the SBC leadership and process beginning in 1979. CBF formed in 1992 as a means to survive. It has been growing – though small – ever since. We are much more mainstream. People ask me, “What is a Cooperative Baptist?” I say, “It’s a Baptist that cooperates” which appears an oxymoron. We CBFers believe in women in ministry. We knew about Carter’s “resignation” back in 2000. We were inspired but not surprised. That’s part of who we are. Many Bapti-Emergents are actually CBFers. The SBC would crucify us, if they could.

  • Pat

    Interesting observation…I can only guess he wanted to distance himself from the official, policy-making arm of the SBC. I wonder if his own church has women in leadership or if maybe the pastor has said he doesn’t disagree with Carter, but to keep from making waves he just hasn’t come out and publicly denounced the organization? I’d like to hear a response from Carter on this one.

  • Pat,
    I’d have to look it up again to be sure, but I’m pretty sure that Carter’s church/pastor agree with Carter, and have been “mavericks” within the SBC for quite some time.

  • This is a case that shows the difference between bloggers and journalists. The Carter story got a lot of play, but it’s old news. He wrote an essay about it– and probably should have made clear he was talking about an old decision — but a quick google search or email to the church’s pastor revealed that Carter is still a member of an SBC church. The SBC is pretty complicated–there are local associations and state conventions which make up the SBC. For example, Broadway Baptist Church in Forth Worth was recently voted out of the SBC, but is still in good standing with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which is part of the SBC. And many Cooperative Baptist Fellowship churches are dually aligned with the SBC. Confused yet?
    Carter likely gives money to the Georgia Baptist Convention, but not to the SBC.

  • David

    President and Mrs. Carter are members of Maranatha Baptist in Plains, GA. The way it was explained to me by a member of the church was that the Carters expressly require that their financial offerings to the church not go to the SBC. Furthemore, President Carter does not use SBC literature in the teaching of his Sunday School class. The church supports ministries of both the SBC and CBF.
    President Carter’s editorial is a thoughtful oped piece about an important subject. From a 30,000 foot view, it is clear that religion has been used the world over as an excuse to subjugate women. I think President Carter’s editorial was meant to make sure that we don’t fool ourselves into thinking this is just a Muslim extremist problem that only exists in third-world countries. We have to constantly reexamine ourselves and what we’ve allowed the church to become around us.
    As much as the SBC wants to claim the mantle of “unfalable supremacy of the scriptures” even their statement of faith is an attempt to “Cliff Notes” the Bible and is exactly what Jesus criticized the Pharises of doing. Jesus doesn’t need me or the SBC to explain the “top 10” rules for being a Christian. What we need to be doing is encouraging people to get into the Word for themselves, let the Holy Spirit instruct them, and form a personal relationship with the one and only savior for thier life. Alot of what we’re doing in the church is getting in the way of that.

  • Doug Allen

    Robert #17 and others ask of Carter, “So where are you in trying to bring about the change you so happily talk about in the media?”
    His church, his community, his country, and the world.
    How. Besides his media bully pulpit, he has written over a dozen books (two I’ve recently read are “The Virtues of Aging” and “Living Faith”) his lectures, his Carter Center http://www.cartercenter.org/homepage.html
    Why on a blog named “The Jesus Creed’ would there be so many dsmissive and uncharitable remarks about Jimmy Carter or anyone, for that matter. Shame.

  • Phil

    To Doug @ 24,
    I agree with some of your thoughts, especially comments about being a politician. At his stage of life I don’t think that President Carter is too concerned about the poles. I certainly hope that I won’t be at his age.