Ending Discrimination in the Name of Religion
Jimmy Carter’s prophetic act of ending sixty years of faithful leadership in the Southern Baptist Church because of the public renewal of their prohibition against women in ministry has reminded us that injustice against women continues to plague human society, including American culture.
As he explains in his statement, President Carter is taking his stand as part of The Elders, a group created by Nelson Mendela, which is challenging religious leaders across the globe with this declaration: “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 indicts the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention for “quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin,” thus concluding “that women must be ‘subservient’ to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.”
This is all good and necessary. I am grateful for President Carter’s cry for equality for women. And I look forward to the day that the same logic is applied to the other group discriminated against based on sexuality and a few carefully selected Bible verses: gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
In the wake of the feminist movement of the 1970s, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) forced an acceptance of equality between men and women. While this was a boon for women, it left unresolved the deep ambivalence that many within the church hold toward women in particular and sexuality in general. And what I have observed in my church in the forty years since is that we have transferred our discomfort with sexuality from women to our GLBT faithful, making their lives miserable.
It is impossible to deny the difficulties Christians have integrating our sexuality and our faith. The evidence stretches from Paul’s writing to the Corinthians, through the failed imposition of celibacy upon the priesthood in the Middle Ages, to the scandals among clergy today concerning infidelity and sexual abuse. As long as we focus our discomfort around sexuality on women or GLBT Christians, we will continue to fail to reconcile our own feelings about faith and sexuality.
Progress in our own journey toward integrating our spirituality and our sexuality will be measured from the day we apply to GLBT people what Carter claims for women: “The justification of discrimination against GLBT folk on grounds of religion and tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.” May that be today.