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.

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?
girly123 22nd-Jan-2013 05:18 pm (UTC)
It's relevant to the discussion because it's often a natural progression of the discussion. It's not dissimilar to people nonstop linking me to the Mona Eltahawy "Why do they hate us" article to dissuade me from trying to convert; while the article itself is well meaning and brings up points that should be talked about, articles like these are often turned against the people that they're trying to help (in this case, Christian women,) by people who want more ammunition to dismantle their faith.
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