ONTD Political

Jimmy Carter: Eloquent as always, calls out Religion on the oppression of women

8:55 am - 01/21/2013

Losing my religion for equality

Source: Jimmy Carter National Times
Published: July 15, 2009 - 6:45AM

Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.

I HAVE been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women's equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.


It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices - as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy - and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: "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."

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasise the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world's major faiths share.

The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place - and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence - than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.

I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn't until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

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. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

OBSERVER

Jimmy Carter was president of the United States from 1977 to 1981.

wingstar102 21st-Jan-2013 04:23 pm (UTC)
This is why I love this man! So awesome.
raisingirl99 21st-Jan-2013 07:25 pm (UTC)
Agreed!!!
iolarah 21st-Jan-2013 04:24 pm (UTC)
<3. There's really not much I can say beyond that.
fenris_lorsrai 21st-Jan-2013 04:43 pm (UTC)
Not that I don't love this, but it's from 2009.
moonshaz 22nd-Jan-2013 02:08 am (UTC)
Really? Well, I'm glad he did this four years sooner than I thought, then. :)
wikilobbying 21st-Jan-2013 05:02 pm (UTC)
meanwhile plenty of women from all different religious backgrounds have been saying this very stuff.

i know i'm being the debbie downer super early into this post, but it would be nice for the women who say it first to get more publicity for it than the men who become more enlightened afterward.

edited for a typo >.

Edited at 2013-01-21 05:06 pm (UTC)
mskye 21st-Jan-2013 07:24 pm (UTC)
ia
asrana 22nd-Jan-2013 03:27 pm (UTC)
Yeah, and it'd also be nice if white people generally listened to stuff about racism when non-white people point it out but unfortunately the whole point about discrimination and (?more importantly?) privilege, is that the privileged have the privilege of being able to ignore the non-privileged. It sucks, but I keep seeing it being repeated across different areas (race/culture, sexual identity, sexism, etc, etc), and I've been thinking recently that maybe I should be paying more attention to this area. This is why allies are so important - the inherent othering of an 'us vs them' attitude means that the majority are completely free and able to ignore the minority and/or marginalised groups, with impunity. Ignoring other members of their 'group' though is by default way harder because they don't start from a position of otherness.
girly123 21st-Jan-2013 06:09 pm (UTC)
I really wish people would stop blaming men's misogyny on religion.
the_gabih 21st-Jan-2013 06:24 pm (UTC)
Seriously. Like, there are religious dudebros, sure, and they rely on their religious texts to support their beliefs. But there are also atheist dudebros, who treat outdated horseshit 'science' in just the same way, and I just. Argh. (But they're quite happy to trot out the 'OMG RELIGION IS SO TERRIBLE FOR WOMEN' argument whenever it suits them.)
girly123 21st-Jan-2013 07:20 pm (UTC)
Yes! And also, that articles like this exclusively talk about Abrahamic religions (and even then, primarily about Christianity or Islam). Abrahamic religions=/=all religion ever, everywhere.
redstar826 22nd-Jan-2013 02:29 pm (UTC)
I think there is a pretty big difference though between an atheist using this issue just as a means to attack religions and a religious person saying 'wow, we've really screwed up in this area'.
wikilobbying 21st-Jan-2013 07:48 pm (UTC)
well he does point out how men in positions of religious leadership have actively chosen to use religion and religious texts to justify oppressing women, but i think it needs to be clearer. and i think it needs to be made clear that it's not unique to "religion" in general. it's another one of the many areas where men created seats of authority and leadership for themselves so they could exploit the power they bestowed upon themselves to shut down the voices of other people and oppress them.

and that's still a simplification because there are intersections at play that brought certain branches of certain religions to where they are today. and we still have other branches and other religions entirely and individual faiths that are so different from all the fuckery that gets highlighted when we play the "religion: fuckin' up all the things" game.

annnnd i rambled, sorry.
akashasheiress 21st-Jan-2013 08:47 pm (UTC)
I think in this particular case, though, he talks about religion because he is a well-known prominent position in a religious group and simply addresses the religious excuses used to oppress women. But it's true, though, the patriarchy will use any excuse to oppress women. Religion is just yet another excuse.
wrestlingdog 21st-Jan-2013 09:27 pm (UTC)
Ditto.
kishmet 21st-Jan-2013 10:13 pm (UTC)
It's a worthwhile point to address though. Many religions (Abrahamaic and otherwise) are used to justify misogyny and instill a certain kind of self-deprecation/self-loathing in women who follow these faiths. Maybe for us here it's easy to see that religion's an excuse rather than a reason, but denying the credibility of misogynistic texts and speakers could help those who are still too close to the problem.

Also in the US there's no doubt that Christianity's still the majority and most powerful faith, plus it's Carter's faith. Do we really want a white formerly Christian dude trying to discuss other religions in this context?
bowtomecha 21st-Jan-2013 10:46 pm (UTC)
True. But it is an important framework by which people become indoctrinated though. Most major religions by doctrine are misogynous in some way and it isn't just simply because men are involved, the religions' very own texts are misogynous. Deciding not to follow particular lines or interpreting them in a different light doesn't make the religion any less misogynist in its original intentions.
hinoema 22nd-Jan-2013 04:33 am (UTC)
Misogyny isn't a product of religion; however, religion is too often a means by which. It's just an impossibly prevalent, incredibly powerful vehicle, therefore it can't be separated from misogyny when considering the overall problem.
caerfrli 21st-Jan-2013 06:58 pm (UTC)
SOB finally said something right
angelmaye 21st-Jan-2013 07:36 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this!
little_rachael 21st-Jan-2013 08:17 pm (UTC)
Great article!
tabaqui 22nd-Jan-2013 12:37 am (UTC)
I very much admire this - I wish that more people would say this out loud.
lizzy_someone 22nd-Jan-2013 12:45 am (UTC)
It's very important to call out misogyny wherever it appears, and to not give religion a free pass, but also, well, I'm pretty sure oppression of women predates religion (and certainly exists in full force outside of religion, in any case). Which I say as a wholehearted and lifelong atheist.
thelilyqueen 22nd-Jan-2013 01:39 am (UTC)
Very true, but there is a potentially significant distinction IMHO. Atheist misogyny can, at least potentially, be argued with using facts and figures, basic human decency, and societal functioning. Religious misogyny... how do you argue with someone saying confidently, 'Well, my God(s)/my religion says women are like this/society should be organized like this'?
halfshellvenus 23rd-Jan-2013 09:00 pm (UTC)
I still think of Carter as an 'okay' president (I'm kinder to him than a lot of people).

But I've never had any doubt that he is a stellar human being.

Plus, willing to take unpopular stances at 89! Some people would say that it's easier, when you have so little time left. But the truth is, most people resist any kind of change in their senior years. This is unexpected and brave.

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