Monday, July 20, 2009

Jimmy Carter says religion can't justify injustice

“The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”
-- Jimmy Carter, former U.S. president and recipient of the Nobel peace prize

Former President Jimmy Carter has opened the door to a dialogue on how the word of God gets twisted into a justification for discrimination and injustice toward women. Writing on behalf of a group of world leaders from many faiths, Carter publicly urged religious leaders to repudiate teachings that subjugate women and undermine their equal human dignity.

In his written statement, Carter also spoke about his painful decision to sever ties with the faith group in which he himself spent six decades -- the Southern Baptist Convention. The reason is apparent from his paper: He could no longer be part of a faith group whose leaders twisted religion in a way that did so much harm to so many.

Those of us who are Baptist clergy abuse survivors have also seen how Baptist leaders twist religion for other perverse and inhumane ends. We have seen how Baptist clergy-molesters often twist Bible verses and “God’s will” into powerful weapons for sexual abuse and rape of the young. Even worse, we have seen how other Baptist leaders then twist the doctrine of local church autonomy into a rationalization for doing nothing to hold such ministers accountable… and for doing nothing to protect others against them.

A faith group that so devalues women and children as to render unaccountable the ministers who abuse, molest and rape them is a faith group that has utterly lost its moral bearings. No amount of invoking “religion” or pontificating about the “biblical” autonomy of local churches can possibly make it right.

No one is saying that Baptists should abandon their doctrine of local church autonomy. But they should stop allowing that religious doctrine to be twisted into a rationalization for turning a blind-eye to clergy sex abuse.

Rather than radicalizing the doctrine so as to rigidly preclude a denominational system of routing out clergy-predators, Baptist leaders need to work with the spirit of the doctrine so as to facilitate a cooperative effort at routing out predators, protecting congregants, and ministering to the wounded.

It is flat-out cruel the way Baptist leaders persist in telling clergy abuse survivors that they must go to the church of the perpetrator to report it. That’s like sending the bloody sheep back to the den of the wolf who savaged them. It almost invariably inflicts much greater wounds on the survivors, and it certainly doesn’t work to protect others.

Yet, this dysfunctional cruelty is inflicted under the rationalization of Baptist religious doctrine.

I hope that the conversation, which Carter has begun, may eventually be expanded so as to also speak of how religious doctrine is twisted to justify such a do-nothing response to clergy sex abuse… in his own former faith group and in some other groups with a congregationalist polity.

After all, as Carter points out, virtually all faiths call for “proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God.” And even those of us who have been so dehumanized as to be sexually abused by “anointed ones” are nevertheless children of God.


Anonymous said...

Jimmy Carter is a joke among Southern Baptists and among anyone who knows the history of the U.S. He was the absolute worst President we have ever had so please spare us any opinions he might have.

Ramesh said...

Jimmy Carter may not have the heart to be a politician, mainly because it requires you to be without a conscience. As in most of the pastors and leaders of SBC. If you have a conscience, then you can not be a leader in SBC. Also Christa would then have no need to blog.

I look at it as one person views about the trampling of women's rights in all religions. Carter is free to voice his opinions. All it carries is a moral force. One can always disregard it. As most SBC leaders disregard Christa's voice to their own detriment.

Anonymous said...

And thank God we are free to disgregard Carter's opinions. His Presidency proved his ineptness.

It is sad that you so easily throw out the statement that most pastors and leaders of the SBC are without a conscience. There are over 10,000 of them and you sure are making a huge generalization. I personally know many real good ones.

Christa Brown said...

Actually, there are over 100,000 ministers in the Southern Baptist Convention. And that's why it is so frightening - and irresponsible - that such a large group would be so lacking in any effective oversight mechanism. Or any tracking mechanism. Often the churches themselves are afraid to communicate to others why a pastor was terminated or what their concerns were... because they're afraid of being sued for slander by the pastor. So they simply allow him to move on and they keep quiet.

With such a large group of highly trusted individuals, it is a very dangerous system that does not put in place mechanisms to facilitate the responsible sharing of information and tracking of information among churches. Southern Baptists have a shared denominational identity, but they refuse to share responsibility for protecting against predatory clergy.

John said...

as a former SBC pastor, President Carter is NOT "a joke'! While many of us do not agree with all that he said or did, we still have respect for him as a man who had morals and had the courage to practice them. This attack by someone who 'personally knows many good" pastors, it is all to obvious he fails to know the right ones or he would be trying to do something to encourage them to stop this cancer of abuse among the ranks of the SBC's leadership.

Ramesh said...

I did not say all pastors, but I said most pastors ...

Clearly there are pastors who are diligent in preventing sexual abuses and who investigate and discipline (Church Discipline and not Pastor Discipline) the abusers.

The way I look at Jimmy Carter is as any blogger with some ideas that are being brought to the table for discussion. It is not an end, but a starting point for conversations and progress in this regard.

Ramesh said...

Suzanne's Bookshelf > Jimmy Carter on Women.

Suzanne's Bookshelf > Carter and the interpretation of scriptures.

Ramesh said...

NPR > Baptist Leaders Face Challenge On Women's Roles.
But Wade Burleson, pastor of a Southern Baptist megachurch in Enid, Okla., says the leaders got it wrong.

"You are badly misinterpreting the word of God, and the consequences of your misinterpretation are enormous," Burleson says.

Burleson says Jesus treated women as equals, and if Southern Baptists ignore his example, the denomination will shrivel. Burleson believes there's a quiet underground movement within the convention to rethink women's roles

Phyllis Gregory said...

What is there to "rethink"?

Anonymous said...

The last book he wrote IS a joke on the Palestine/Israel issue. He thinks he brought peace to Egypt?I I have never seen an official apology on his sending arms into El Salvador that were turned around and used on the good citizens of that country.

Unknown said...

Say what you will about Jimmy Carter as a President. Jimmy Carter holds true to the highest of moral compasses. I share as to his religous convictions on this subject. Jimmy is a absolutely correct. I am one of many Survivors of Child Abuse at a Church of Christ ran facility in AR. I as well as many others have been disregarded for years by the COC. Churches of christ that support specific facilities, offer acceptance to abuse victims only if they remain silent. For people like me, that speak out they do not acknowledge existance. Because the churches of Christ are separate entities. They do not answer to anyone but themselves. How can that be right? Would that mean that any allegations of abuse given to the Elders of the specific Church of Christ could be would be disregarded? Hmmmm. These people should not be left to police themselves as many among them are the committers of such horrific acts on children! One of my House Parents was an Elder in COC. His wife committed the harshest of abuse upon children. And for this both were honored with a dedication. It should be required by law that every church have a Child Protection Policy in place. At least the SBC hold themselves accountable to others rather than some self appointed Elders! I would absolutely accept any SBC that offered a hand in justice for the children and for The Survivors. Peace be with you all!

Christa Brown said...

Welcome here, Lola!

"Because the churches of Christ are separate entities. They do not answer to anyone but themselves."

Same for Southern Baptists. Except of course if the local church decides to hire a woman pastor, and then denominational officials may decide to intervene or disfellowship the church. So... local church autonomy is a pretty malleable concept.

"How can that be right?"

It can't. Effective systems of accountability are desperately needed.

"At least the SBC hold themselves accountable to others rather than some self appointed Elders!"

Nope. You're wrong on this one. Local churches of the Southern Baptist Convention do not hold their clergy accountable to anyone outside the local church. It's a huge problem. Deacons of a local church, and even members of a local church, simply cannot be objective about any sort of abuse report involving their own much-trusted and much-loved pastor. It's a faith group with a shared sense of identity but no shared sense of responsbility . . . and that's a very dangerous combination.