Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The words of God do not justify cruelty to women

The title of this post is the title of an article published in The Observer and republished in the Christchurch Press which arrives at the end of our Nelson driveway each morning! Jimmy Carter, writing the article, makes an excellent case for an overall interpretation of the Bible determining that men and women are equal and that women may not be treated as second-class citizens. While the whole can be read here, I draw attention to something I did not know, that Jimmy Carter, possibly one of the most famous Southern Baptists ever, has severed ties with that denomination:

"I have been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world.

So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when th e convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service. This was in conflict with my belief - confirmed in the holy scriptures - that we are all equal in the eyes of God."

On one matter I think Jimmy Carter is too confident in his assertions:

"At the same time, I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church 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."

I think it would be difficult to establish, definitively, that women served as 'priests' and 'bishops' in the early church.

In respect of hermeneutics it is interesting to observe Jimmy Carter's understanding of how the 'negative' verses re women in ministry are to be dealt with:

"Although not having training in religion or theology, I understand that the carefully selected verses found in the holy scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place - and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence - than eternal truths. Similar Biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers."

Finally, just as a good Catholic will cite the Pope in support of a challenging proposal, so Carter cites the evangelical Christian's 'next-best-person-to-the-Pope', Billy Graham:

"I know, too, that Billy Graham, one of the most widely respected and revered Christians during my lifetime, did not understand why women were prevented from being priests and preachers. He said: "Women preach all over the world. It doesn't bother me from my study of the scriptures." "

Jimmy Carter makes an important point in respect of hermeneutics and human dignity. In the name of God, women are being treated appallingly the world over. Most visibly, in the media of the West, this appalling treatment occurs in Islamic countries. But we in the Christian West should not rest easy when women are badly treated here, and should be especially concerned when God's Word is invoked in support of less than equal treatment of women. There is only one humanity in creation and in redemption, only one plan of salvation for each and every human being, without distinction between male and female.


  1. "There is only one humanity in creation and in redemption, only one plan of salvation for each and every human being, without distinction between male and female."
    A direct, uncompromising statement of your convictions on this matter, in the face of contrary more conservative opinions, and despite your awareness of several NT texts adduced against your (and my) opinion.
    So what are the hermeneutical principles operating here, Peter?

  2. (I may not be understanding your question, Howard ... but here goes)
    Principle 1: the first statement of creation of humanity (Genesis 1: male and female equal in creation) overrides (governs the interpretation of) the second statement of creation of humanity (Genesis 2: female created after male, and from male, thus (arguably, but not necessarily) could imply female inferior to male)

    Principle 2: whether we observe Jesus' treatment of people, male and female, or the propositional theological statement of Paul in Galatians 3:28, male and female are equal in respect of redemption.