Sunday, November 23, 2014

2014.11.23 Book Review and a Touch of the Reign of Christ

 BOOK REVIEW:   A CALL TO ACTION. Women, Religion, Violence, and Power by Jimmy Carter

This Sunday marks the Feast of the Reign of Christ in the Christian church. It is the last Sunday of the Christian year—a final blast of triumph for God's intervention before Chicken Little season: Advent when we all cower in fear and call on God to change the world, which Godde does four weeks later on Christmas through child birth.  It is also our 28th wedding anniversary.

There are a lot to things to be thankful for. Jimmy Carter is one.

Jimmy Carter may be our most famous EX-president. Right now he is the oldest at 90, and his voice is strong and more courageous than ever. In this book he packs it all in—everything you would want to know about the issues facing women in the world and church today. This book is a reference book—and more.

Carter roots his amazing capacity for justice in his childhood: biblical religion, the church community where he is still a member, his family, and the deep south. As a young boy, Jimmy felt the incongruence between the free spirit of interaction he experienced with black children and adults, and the segregations imposed on them by his church and culture. How come they couldn’t grow up together being together?

To this childhood truth and question, he devoted his life—understanding this strange injustice and doing something about it. His “Mama,” I’m sure, gave his politics a push. At a White House function she once exclaimed to the King of Morocco, who gave her an enormous bottle of Chanel #5, “You’re just like every other man off on a trip without his wife!”

I first “met” Jimmy Carter on television in 1969 when we were living in Alabama, a foreign country to my cold-conditioned dour New England bones and my, sometimes snarky, feminist discontent. He was campaigning for the governorship of Georgia. I was suddenly arrested by his voice. Who was this man—a deep-south southerner named Jimmy? Not usually my type, but I was hooked. I couldn’t vote, but I hoped he’d win.  

We moved back north within a year, and I forgot about Jimmy Carter until he turned up running for President as a political outsider talking about truth in government in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Political truth-telling sounded refreshing. I voted for Gerald Ford because I was proud of his courage in pardoning Nixon, but Carter won. He wasn’t a charismatic president, however he kept his word about truth, staying true to his early egalitarian vision. 

In the midst of my midlife madness, I more or less forgot about him again. But when, in 2000, Carter, a third-generation Southern Baptist, severed, after 70 years, his ties with their Convention over its opposition to women serving as pastors, I finally knew what I’d seen in him that day in Alabama. He had religious convictions, not just political positions. 

Then I read A Call To Action and found all Carter’s theology, spirituality, religion, politics, and bits of his personal story articulated in a way that turned me into a fan for life. He argues that “the deprivation and abuse of women and girls, largely caused by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts has a devastating effect on economic prosperity caused by the loss of contributions of half the human beings on earth.”

Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, have risen above many things that keep the world and the church  warring, while maintaining their own deep religious and moral convictions and spiritual practices. Such equanimity is remarkable, especially in this age of fear and narcissism.

The Carters oppose abortion, extramarital sex, and other practices that today in some circles and countries are acceptable, yet their governing belief transcends personal ethics, especially when it comes to non-violence and the dignity of all living things. It sounds like the Book of Common Prayer's baptismal covenant, our code of ethics in the Episcopal church.

The overarching issue that drives this book is eradication of violence against women and those made vulnerable by poverty, disease and other conditions.  “Violence and sexual abuse is easy if the “victim” is considered inferior—even by God.” Carter includes a lot of biblical interpretation and condemns literalist male clergy who preach in ways that perpetuate injustice and confuse God’s will with their own for the sake of keeping their power in tact.

Well before liberation theology became official theology, Jimmy Carter noticed that Jesus Christ was the greatest liberator who ever lived, and that the lex talonis (eye for an eye morality) was more important to Christians than the teachings of the Prince of Peace. 

This book is thorough to a fault—really an elaborated reference book. Chapters include: The Bible and Gender Equality, Full Prisons and Legal Killings, Sexual Assault and Rape, Violence and War, Women and the Carter Center, Genocide of Girls, Slavery and Prostitution, Spouse Abuse, “Honor” Killings, Genital Cutting (justified by NO Holy Scriptures,) Child Marriage and Dowry Death, Politics, Pay, and Maternal Health.

Quotes and documents about every aspect of the political process toward peace and justice are included. There are fascinating stories and details about human rights heroes around the globe, and specific examples of what Carter and Rosalynn have done for the cause, not the least of which was to found, in 1982, The Carter Center—Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. It's a non-governmental, not-for-profit organization.

Jimmy Carter is not a prophet like MLK, or a charismatic orator like JFK; he is a steady-state, devoted plodder and activist for the common good. This book is no page turner. Its very thoroughness, as well as the clear and dispassionate writing style, can get boring. Nevertheless, it is a book for study and enlightenment, individually and communally, and a book for every parish library.  

From Rita Sharma, Cofounder and President of Women Thrive Worldwide: 

There is no religion that despises women.
Hatred cannot come from the heart of God . . . only humans
 have the capacity to see and treat others as less than they truly are.
It is our minds and hearts that must change to release
women, girls, men and boys
from the bondage of gender-based limitation or violence.
 That change is coming, have faith.  It will be here soon.