Former President Carter, a longtime Sunday school teacher, is walking away from the Southern Baptists because of the church’s stance on equality for women.
In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published today, Carter says Southern Baptist leaders reading the Bible out of context led to the adoption of increasingly “rigid” views.
“I’m familiar with the verses they have quoted about wives being subjugated to their husbands,” he told the paper. “In my opinion, this is a distortion of the meaning of Scripture. … I personally feel the Bible says all people are equal in the eyes of God. I personally feel that women should play an absolutely equal role in service of Christ in the church.”
Southern Baptists are the United States’ largest Protestant denomination, with 15.9 million members.
In June, the group’s leaders voted at its national convention that women should no longer serve as pastors. They also voted to condemn racism, homosexuality, abortion, pornography and adultery.
Although the statement of faith regarding pastors was not binding on congregations, some Baptists warned that some churches would quit the denomination. Some congregations did quit two years ago when the Southern Baptists declared that wives should “submit graciously” to their husbands.
End of Tradition
“My grandfather, my father and I have always been Southern Baptists, and for 21 years, since the first political division took place in the Southern Baptist Convention, I have maintained that relationship. I feel I can no longer in good conscience do that,” Carter was quoted as telling the Journal-Constitution.
The former president told the paper he will continue as a deacon at Baptist church in his hometown of Plains, Ga., and that he and his wife, Rosalynn, will associate with Baptist groups “who share such beliefs as separation of church and state … a free religious press, and equality of women.”
Carter, who was elected president in 1976, was defeated four years later by Ronald Reagan. Carter, now 76, spends a significant amount of time with humanitarian causes, including a high profile role in Habitat for Humanity, which builds homes for low-income families.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.