Wednesday, May 22, 2013

2013.05.22 Endangered Values/Endangered Patriarchal Religion

I remember thinking when we—my first husband and three children—lived in Alabama (imagine!) and Jimmy Carter was running for Governor of Georgia in 1969 that he had something different going for him. I didn’t know what it was but I trusted my intuition over my shamelessly northern distrust of those who drawled and said “bless your heart” too much.

We’d moved to Annniston, a “northern”city about midway between Birmingham and Atlanta for a job offer too good to refuse. The job had promise, but the company boss was an all-day alcoholic who drank Pepsi Cola laced with bourbon, which more than once landed him in Birmingham Hospital with unstoppable hiccups. Guess who got a call in the middle of the night to go rescue him? 

Our house was elegant red brick and had a spacious front entryway of large square black and white tiles— fit for Scarlett O’Hara, not for three children, ages 6, 5 and 2, who ran in the red clay soil and tracked it into the house.  I slaved to keep the floor clean with my newly purchased electric floor cleaner. Still, the black tiles bled onto the white ones besmirching them with black flecks. What a ghastly metaphor for racism. I was as angry at the tiles as I was at the segregated uptown Episcopal church I could not, by any twist of conscience,  make my spiritual home

Alabama was a foreign land and I was a bored housewife who missed New England and had not much else to do but clean the freakin floor!—also drink scotch, nurse my depressed rage, write sloppy laments, read crap, correct the kids’ blossoming southern accents,  get pregnant with a fourth child— and watch TV.  

On TV, however,  I became acquainted with Jimmy Carter.  Later, back north, I voted for him for President.  He was a one-term president, some have labeled “weak.” He was hardly the traditional American macho president-of-choice. But neither is Barack Obama, yet both of these men won Pulitzers for peace efforts, Carter’s, uniquely, awarded 20 years after he left the presidency.

I still think Jimmy Carter represents something our American culture needs very much, perhaps a return to our basic values and faith in a power greater than ourselves.  We are a country that needs more than ever to be "under God" not above or without God. “Under” to me means overseen, not as a spy or a tyrant but as Love that is intimately, providentially co-creative. Dare we return to Genesis and the all-inclusive image of deity?

Recently  I read about Jimmy Carter’s “high profile defection” (NY Times’ assessment) from the Southern Baptist Convention, of which he’d been a member for 60 years. Carter could not support the Convention’s selective biblical literalism used to justify the subjugation of women and prohibit them from serving as pastors. At last I knew why I’d thought Jimmy Carter had something different going for him. 

Carter published a book in 2005 called Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis.  In it he wrote: “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.”

He rightly connects patriarchal theology and abuses of power with abuses of women throughout the world—with God as their justification.  Carter knows that such gender discrimination is a “clear violation” of the core teachings of all major religions.

Please note: Jimmy Carter left the Southern Baptist Convention. He did NOT defect from Christianity, nor the Church, nor the Gospel of Jesus Christ—nor, I add, from his integrity as a human being and a son of the living God.

I don’t regret our southern sojourn in Alabama. There I got gifts: a dear fourth child, second son, born almost immediately after we came “home”; the memory of my friend, a lovely black woman who took care of the neighbors’ children while I took care of mine—we were domestics together; the surety that I would never have a black and white tiled foyer; and pride in an American politician who did have something different  going for him.