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.


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

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.
poetic_pixie_13 24th-Jan-2013 04:15 pm (UTC)
One day I will write a long, self-indulgent post about how Hinduism taught me to be a badass bitch and why asshat South Asian men should shut up and take several seats.

One day.
poetic_pixie_13 24th-Jan-2013 04:32 pm (UTC)
I'll probably link it in a shennanigans post or something. I'll try and pm you a link if not. =)
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'.
the_gabih 22nd-Jan-2013 03:37 pm (UTC)
Oh, definitely, and I really do welcome the latter. I've just met far, far too many atheist guys who were willing to listen when I said 'other people of my religion are being sexist/racist/homophobic', and to appropriate my experiences for their own arguments, but not so much when I've explained where my religion is actually a really positive thing.

(Also I'm a tiny bit irritated that whenever white cishet religious guys say 'hey we're fucking up here' their voices are heard, yet when other people who are actually the target of the shitty stuff speak up their voices are often drowned out, but that's a whole other issue.)
redstar826 22nd-Jan-2013 04:08 pm (UTC)
I do find it interesting though how this conversation is turning into one about atheists. Is religion the only problem? No, of course not. But when it comes to US politics, it's the Christians who are in a position to make policy and pass laws. I'm not sure why it is necessary to bring up atheism every time problems with religion are discussed when the atheists really aren't in a position of power that is comparable to the position currently held by Christianity.

I have no love for a lot of atheist dudes but how relevant are they to this discussion and to the points that Carter is trying to raise with this article?
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.
maynardsong 22nd-Jan-2013 02:22 am (UTC)
Actually, I felt like Jimmy Carter himself would agree with you. And I saw this article posted on an fb page that I used to like, called "1000000 Pissed Off Women". And their response to this was, "God, Jimmy Carter, stop being an apologist for religion, religion is responsible for all oppression ever." This was ostensibly a group of feminists. /CSB
girly123 22nd-Jan-2013 04:30 am (UTC)
No, I totally agree. It's a complex and fascinating discussion to have, but it rarely gets beyond the point of "BOO RELIGION=BAD" for it to get anywhere, which is really frustrating.
wikilobbying 22nd-Jan-2013 04:48 am (UTC)
exactly. even in situations where people who are religious try to have discussions about sexism in religious texts and from religious leaders, it's difficult to do so in any kind of group or public forum where there are those over-eager types of atheists, especially the dudebros, drooling over the opportunity to say wrong as fuck shit they have no business saying.
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.
redstar826 22nd-Jan-2013 02:36 pm (UTC)
Yeah, Jimmy Carter is pretty well known for being religious. I remember it being pretty big news when he first broke with the Southern Baptists because at the time was probably one of their most prominent members. I think this is him talking about what he knows rather than him actually saying that religion is the only cause of these problems.
wrestlingdog 21st-Jan-2013 09:27 pm (UTC)
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?
girly123 21st-Jan-2013 10:32 pm (UTC)
but denying the credibility of misogynistic texts and speakers could help those who are still too close to the problem.

That's exactly the problem I have with this, though. Personally, it got tiring having to answer for not only the misogyny in the religion that I was raised in (and triply so in the one that I was in the process of converting to,) but also the tacit implication that I was acting and believing against my own best interests by being part of the religions that I was interested in. It honestly felt that in the opinions of many, I wouldn't be a truly liberated woman until I eschewed my "woman-hating" religions and struck it out as an Atheist, which was something I had no interest in and didn't agree with.

I feel like conversations about misogyny in Abrahamic religions should be held by women who practice Abrahamic religions, personally, because it being opened to public discourse only winds up hurting a lot of the same women who articles like this are trying to help.

Do we really want a white formerly Christian dude trying to discuss other religions in this context?
Of course not, but it wouldn't hurt to acknowledge that Christianity's approach to women isn't all religion's approach to women.

Edited at 2013-01-21 10:33 pm (UTC)
kishmet 22nd-Jan-2013 12:13 am (UTC)
I understand better where you're coming from now. It's complicated for me because I was raised by ex-Catholics around a ton of other Catholics so I have a different kind of firsthand experience. I'm also FAAB, queer and trans so I felt a lot of discrimination that seemed religiously motivated - and I am biased against Abrahamaic religions and holy texts because of it. It's always been hurtful that my apparent friends would hold such great respect for a book and tradition that explicitly hated me, if that makes sense

I feel like conversations about misogyny in Abrahamic religions should be held by women who practice Abrahamic religions, personally, because it being opened to public discourse only winds up hurting a lot of the same women who articles like this are trying to help.

I'm really torn on this point because as I mentioned above, Christianity affected my life even though I've never practiced. In the US (I don't have experience elsewhere so can't compare) it's hard not to feel the impact of Christianity when you're an outsider. Even within my family my aunt and uncle happen to be fundamentalist Christians and their little boys used to inform all the female (or female-bodied) cousins that the Bible says men should be the heads of the household, and until my aunt reprimanded them would scold us for leaving the kitchen or watching sports.

At the same time I don't want to hurt women who truly believe in their Abrahamaic faiths. But the gender essentialism promoted within a lot of denominations has had a direct, harmful impact on me so I feel it's unfair to say no one else can question religious misogyny.

but it wouldn't hurt to acknowledge that Christianity's approach to women isn't all religion's approach to women.

I do agree. His approach shows just how Christian-centric the US can be tbh
girly123 22nd-Jan-2013 04:22 am (UTC)
Ok, I can definitely see where you're coming from, too. I grew up Baptist (and queer,) so I know how you feel in regard to personal struggles with religious traditions that seem to have nothing but contempt for you. The Christians around me were a lot more open minded about sexuality (and most things, to be honest,) though, which is probably also why I don't consider homophobia to be an intrinsically Christian trait; I see it as a convenient excuse to legitimize hatred that's already there for other reasons. I'm realizing that my experiences are kind of atypical, though.

But yeah, I kind of wind up seeing this debate in the same way that I (now) see the whole issue of Black people being Christian. I remember being younger and fresh into my Afro-wearing tradition eschewing days, and being around my family talking about why they were wrong for practicing that ~SLAVE RELIGION~, and they'd all side eye me and be like "child, be still."

And I can see why they did it, now: Christianity was used as a tool to keep Black people enslaved; there's no denying that. But it's not as though Christianity got legs, came to Africa, and sold us into slavery on its lonesome. It was used as a tool to further injustice for other people's gain, in a lot of the same ways that Christianity was used as a tool to grant justice to Black people during the civil rights movement.

I guess it's because of Christianity's historical, cultural and personal significance to me that I can't blame it wholecloth for what people use it as a tool for, because at the end of the day, the people who are hateful and bigoted in its name are small minded, hateful, bigoted people who would use some other excuse to perpetuate their beliefs if Christianity were absent. I've known too many good Christians who weren't that way for me to be willing to excuse the violent bigotry of others as being a product of their religious beliefs, because it's much moreso a matter of power and privilege than anything else. We should definitely have a conversation about how the permeation of religion in culture helps to perpetuate bigotry, but blaming it on the religion and its millennia-old texts itself feels as though it's missing the point.

But the gender essentialism promoted within a lot of denominations has had a direct, harmful impact on me so I feel it's unfair to say no one else can question religious misogyny.

That's totally fair. It's weird, because I feel like growing up Christian has kind of blinded me to how deeply entrenched it is in American culture, and how Christian morals affect people who aren't Christian (or the particular kind of conservative, Evangelical Christian that's the most involved in politics). My mindset there is definitely a reflection of that, and I apologize for completely overlooking so many people.

Edited at 2013-01-22 04:32 am (UTC)
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.
wikilobbying 22nd-Jan-2013 02:40 am (UTC)
i speak from strictly my southern baptist raised roots, but the bible itself - the bible my churches were dedicated to - was (as far as i've come to know) written by dudes. let's say for argument's sake that god exists - god didn't write the bible themselves. god didn't go up to individuals and say, "okay, i wrote these scriptures out myself, but if you could just copy them and pass them down to others, and read it to other people so it spreads faster for me and my godly hands don't cramp up trying to write it out for everybody, that would be awesome." dudes that god supposedly "spoke through" and dudes that knew other dudes that knew other dudes who were apostles of christ wrote in those apostle's names a lot. sooooo yeahhhh men themselves being involved in the process of how the scriptures were written, never mind later assembled together and edited and translated and stuff throughout all these years, does actually have a lot to do with sexist doctrines. and for me, because of that, there's plenty of room for someone to separate what some ye olde dudebro wrote about women from what they, in their heart and personal faith, believe god ultimately stands for.
bowtomecha 22nd-Jan-2013 02:46 am (UTC)
That makes the bible pretty fallible. I always thought Paul's mail being stuck in there was optional and unnecessary.
wikilobbying 22nd-Jan-2013 02:57 am (UTC)
well for me the bible being fallible isn't an issue. i don't consider myself a christian and it's not a big deal that the bible isn't the end-all be-all of religion or whether or not some higher power/force exists. but even someone like my dad, who does consider himself a christian, takes his modern, heavily adapted and edited and translated new king james version of the bible with heavy doses of salt these days and interprets very little of it literally. and actually, depending on a variety of things, it can be not all uncommon to come across christians who don't take the bible very literally. it's kinda like that whole running bit in pirates of the caribbean where the pirate's code is more like general guidelines than actual rules.
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.
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