I like President Jimmy Carter, a lot. I am also an atheist. I was just telling Gen the other day that the biggest reason I like Jimmy Carter was because of the way he approaches his religion. He wears his Christianity on his sleeve, but he doesn’t ram it down your throat. He wants to be the kind of Christian that leads by a good example, and the end result is that his actions are very very Humanist. I’m okay with that.
There is a lot to admire about the former United States President. He was environmentally proactive when it was not cool to be so, in the age of cars that were more aptly described as land-yachts. He installed solar panels on the roof of the White House, which were immediately removed by Ronald Reagan upon his election. His humanitarian works extend far beyond his term as President, remaining politically and diplomatically active and effective well into his 80s. (Something the Bushes don’t seem even mildly inclined to do post-presidency, but I digress)
Even this year, amid news of a brain cancer diagnosis, the 91 year old Carter was seen out doing construction work with one of his favourite charities, Habitat For Humanity. There is just a lot to like about this man.
Much has been made recently about President Jimmy Carter reportedly losing his religion over his church’s position on women and equality. Carter is well-known as a man who wears his Christianity on his sleeve, so the news that he is rejecting his religion in a stand for the equality of women is certainly big news.
Or is it?
What surprises people first is that the article that is now going viral was actually written in 2009. It took six years for it to get traction and I cannot really pinpoint why.
What surprises people more, is that the story needs to be backed up even further, as the split actually occurred in October of 2000 – just over 15 years ago.
In 2000, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) rejected the increasingly popular notion of Christian Egalitarianism. From Wikipedia, “Christian egalitarianism holds that all people are equal before God and in Christ; have equal responsibility to use their gifts and obey their calling to the glory of God; and are called to roles and ministries without regard to class, gender, or race.” That means it is the idea that church leadership can include women, and it is “biblically sound”.
At the turn of the century, more and more churches were officially becoming comfortable with women in leadership roles. The Southern Baptist Convention, however, ruled that according to the Bible, Eve was created second to Adam, and was responsible for original sin, therefore women’s place is to be subservient to men, and should not hold leadership positions, especially in the church.
Carter immediately renounced the decision and disassociated himself from the SBC but did not say much publicly about it and continued to serve as a deacon and Sunday school teacher in a Baptist church.
Frustrated with almost a decade of the SBC refusing to budge in its stance, In 2009 he wrote an open letter to the SBC, which he titled “Losing my religion for equality“. I suggest clicking the link and reading it. It was published then in a few newspapers in the Australian Fairfax Media Network, but beginning in early 2015, it started circulating heavily in social media.
In the letter, Carter lambastes the SBC for maintaining the same position that allows, justifies or creates oppression and abuse of women in other religions. He repeats his own position that the subjugation of women is one of the greatest injustices we face today, and he cannot be party to an organization that supports the same.
In social media, the letter has been presented in such a way that the casual observer might get the impression that Carter has renounced religion altogether. But no, Jimmy Carter did not “lose his religion”. He may have lost his church, but he is still a Christian, still a Baptist, and still active in the church.
On the plus side, this changes virtually nothing about the fact that Jimmy Carter is still a great human being, humanitarian and humanist who is worthy of admiration and respect.