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Sunday, November 12, 2000

What took Jimmy Carter so long to leave the SBC?
By Bob Foley

It took courage to do what President Jimmy Carter and many others have already done — leave the Southern Baptist Convention.

What took them so long?

For most of the 2,000 years of history since the birth of our Lord, the Christian church has participated in and supported the oppression of women.

I am amazed that given the knowledge revolution of the last 600 years, anyone can still regard the Bible as the dictated words of God, inerrant and eternal. These electronic “preachers of the Word” offer their legions biblical security, certainty in faith and even superiority in their sense of salvation. In return, their supporters provide the evangelists with a following that can be translated into political power and enormous financial resources.

Yet, incredible though it is, the presentation of this kind of biblical literalism continues to live today, being regularly fed by the mass communications system called television.

That electronic power assures that religious ignorance will continue to live for yet a while longer. Furthermore, it guarantees that this level of ignorance will continue to define many of the religious questions and the religious issues of our time, to the ultimate loss of credibility for all religious systems.

One of the reasons President Carter left the SBC was the inhumane treatment of women.

In separate ways, but with patriarchal consistency, the various Christian leaders accepted a definition of women that precluded the possibility that a woman could represent God at the altar.

The Apostle Paul drew in that same epistle the conclusion that, therefore, “the women should keep silent in churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they (women) desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church” (I Corinthians 14:34-35).

If this passage is taken literally, if the Bible is regarded as the “inerrant word of God,” then no woman can sing in a choir, participate in a liturgy, teach Sunday school or be ordained as a pastor or priest. No woman I know believes that today.

In 1991, the Vatican admitted to mistakes in the Bible, one being that Galileo had been correct in proving that the world was not flat, another that Copernicus proved that the Earth revolves around the sun, not the sun around the Earth, as Joshua thought. It would be quite difficult to order the sun to stop in its journey across the sky.

Yet Joshua did precisely that, according to the Bible, to enable Israel to win its battle before nightfall (Joshua 10:12-13).

Belief in the historic accuracy of these texts no longer exists in academic circles, but still enjoys a vigorous life in the pews of many of our churches.

How will the Church survive in this world with that lack of scholarship among its leaders? A literalized myth is a doomed myth. Its truth cannot be rescued. It is a belief system built on ignorance.

Could it be that the Church, in its traditional literalism, has been so wrong for so long?

Women are guilty if they feel desire; guilty if they marry; guilty if they are not obedient to father, husband or priest. For in this world, a male has always held the authority. Even a convent that was under a mother superior had to answer to a male bishop and a male warden, who guaranteed male control.

The Church, run by all-male hierarchy, has spoken. Any attempt to challenge these assumptions or to suggest some other possibilities are immediately condemned as a sin against God, the Bible or the divine nature of creation. Any attempt to open the ecclesiastical hierarchy to women is met by screams that God’s will — expressed through an unbroken, all-male sacred tradition — is being violated.

No wonder Jimmy Carter resigned. I wonder how many more will follow suit.

Bob Foley of Abilene is a retired diving coach at the University of Texas and New Mexico State University.

Reprinted from

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