Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"Jimmy Carter Leaves the Southern Baptist Church"

Huge hat tip to Deputy and now Executive Council member Katie Sherrod of the New Diocese of Fort Worth for this story. Take it away Katie...

Here's a story that seems to have escaped the mainstream media -- Jimmy Carter has left the Southern Baptist Church.

And here's why, as he wrote in an essay for The Age:

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.


The truth is that male religious leaders have had -- and still have -- an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world.

Carter faced what many people face in their churches -- the sincere belief that their church has moved away from their core beliefs, or that they themselves have moved beyond their church's core beliefs.

When that happens, people face some choices. They can leave, they can stay and try to change the church, or they can stay and try to change themselves. Carter stayed for many years, trying to change his church.

I took another route. When I began to understand that the Roman Catholic Church's teachings on the role of women were wildly out of whack with my lived experience and my understanding of the teachings of Jesus I realized I had to either leave or violate the integrity of my very being.

I chose to leave, and eventually found the Episcopal Church, which was then beginning the process of trying to live into the Baptismal Covenant in the "new" 1979 Book of Common Prayer. I was attracted to a church that was willing to struggle with the disconnect between "traditional" interpretations of Scripture and the Baptismal promises to "seek and serve God in all people" and "respect the dignity of every human being."

The ordination of women was the presenting issue then, but quickly on its heels came the whole issue of the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the full life and ministry of the church.

Of course, having been received into the Episcopal Church, I found myself in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, whose bishops refused to ordain women to the priesthood and who soon latched onto the issue of homosexuality as their best bet to keep fear levels so high people would do what the bishops wanted.

Their strategy worked a treat. Misinformation was ladled out like candy at Halloween and soon their demonization of the Episcopal Church led to its logical conclusion. They left the Episcopal Church. [But unlike Jimmy Carter, they are trying to keep Episcopal Church property.]

As for me, I soon realized I could not remain in the Episcopal Church in this place AND remain an ethical person without speaking out against what I saw as wrong. I knew enough about the wider church to know that it bore no relationship to the heretical church described by our former leadership. I was not alone in this.

We laypeople worked hard to try to counter the misinformation, and are still doing so. But you can't undo 30 years of lies in nine months.

That's why in the wake of the most recent General Convention, we see the old fears and lies raising their ugly heads as Episcopalians deal with action at Convention that simply described what has been the canonical reality of our church for many years -- the ordination process is open to all the baptized. That does not confer an automatic right to ordination, but it does mean we cannot arbitrarily block some people from entering the process simply because of who they are.

Convention also asked for the gathering of resources around the whole issue of blessing same gender weddings and unions as a way of dealing with the new reality being faced by at least 30 dioceses who are in states where same gender marriage and unions are legal. This new reality is also being faced by the Church of England, the Episcopal Church of Scotland, and the Anglican Churches of Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Convention asked for collaborative work with our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion as we work to find pastoral responses to these new civil realities.

In short, when LGBT Episcopalians can be legally married they want the church to bless those marriages, just as do heterosexual Episcopalians. This resolution essentially asked for resources and study on how the Church will respond to them.

These were only two of the many issues centering on Baptism that were dealt with by the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, but they are getting the most attention.

They is part of the Episcopal Church's effort to live into the responsibilities and promises of the Baptismal Covenant. It's not easy, because it requires living in a state of some ambiguity. This is very uncomfortable for those folks used to or desiring a top down authoritarian view of Scripture.

This work requires a lot of thinking and self examination on the part of individual church-goers. But that is what I love about the Episcopal Church. Our leaders expect us -- even challenge us -- to think.

After all, God commanded us to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind.

Too often we forget that last part.


Catherine said...

In the email notifying my readers of the post headline, "Jimmy Carter leaves SBC for TEC", I admit to misreading what Katie Sherrod wrote in her original piece describing leaving one tradition for another as being ascribed to President Carter. It was a reading boo-boo on my part and you all can just get a little unexcited because of that. Thank you Lisa the Fox for pointing out your observation. Many thanks.

FranIAm said...

I am going to be linking to your wonderful and wise post... I read it when you posted it, but did not comment. I had to sit with it all for awhile and then I read something else this morning that brought me back to this.

Thank you for your generosity of spirit and for your wisdom.

afeatheradrift said...

Wonderful post. Got here via Fran. We all seem to be on the same page. I just reviewed Robin Meyer's new book, "Saving Jesus from the Church." I'm also a former Catholic turned Episcopalian. So happy. I'm adding you to my reader for sure!

Rhonda said...

Too cool! I always loved Jimmy Carter!

Rhonda L