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The Words of God Do Not Justify Cruelty to Women, by former US President Jimmy Carter

I found this on the website of the Carter Center and thought it would be good to share with my World Pulse sisters. You can read it on the website here: http://www.cartercenter.org/news/editorials_speeches/observer_071209.htm...

Discrimination and abuse wrongly backed by doctrine are damaging society, argues the former U.S. president

By Jimmy Carter

July 12, 2009

This editorial was published in the July 12, 2009, edition of The Observer.

"Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status ..." (Article 2, Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)

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 th e 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 was in conflict with my belief - confirmed in the holy scriptures - that we are all equal in the eyes of God.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. It is widespread. 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. The male interpretations of religious texts and the way they interact with, and reinforce, traditional practices justify some of the most pervasive, persistent, flagrant and damaging examples of human rights abuses.

At their 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 Britain and the United States. 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 everyone in 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 out-dated 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 area 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 have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights. We 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.

Although not having training in religion or theology, I understand that 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.

At the same time, 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.

I know, too, that Billy Graham, one of the most widely respected and revered Christians during my lifetime, did not understand why women were prevented from being priests and preachers. He said: "Women preach all over the world. It doesn't bother me from my study of the scriptures."

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 U.S. president from 1977-81. The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by 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.

Comments

Cali gal Michelle's picture

Hanasazi- Thank you for

Hanasazi-

Thank you for reminding us how awesome Mr. Carter is! I know it was probably very painful for him to sever his ties to the church. I also know his deep spirituality and love of all people is what true Christianity should be. He is an example to us all.

Let us Hope together-
Michelle
aka: Cali gal

Listener
Sister-Mentor
@CaliGalMichelle
facebook.com/caligalmichelle

hanasazi's picture

Hi CaliGal!

You know it had to be gutwrenching after spending his entire life practicing, participating in and teaching Christianity as a Southern Baptist. I deeply respect and admire him and take notice of the depth of conviction necessary for a man of such stature and influence to make such a radical move publicly. How beautiful is it that his understanding the teachings of Jesus, which he has taught himself since he was a young man, are exactly what led him to this decision?! His own integrity reveals the lack of faithfulness on the part of every religious leader who fails to recognize and lift up women equally with men. That's the best way to preach it!

Cali gal Michelle's picture

Amen, sista!

Amen, sista!

Let us Hope together-
Michelle
aka: Cali gal

Listener
Sister-Mentor
@CaliGalMichelle
facebook.com/caligalmichelle

Greengirl's picture

Thanks for Sharing

Thank you super mum for sharing this piece. It is quite painful to helplessly watch women being discriminated against within and outside the confines of the very belief systems that ought to protect them. I understand Jimmy Carters stance and can only hope that the tides of justice fairness and equity will begin to work in women's favour. Someday, soon I pray!

Lots of love,
Greengirl

hanasazi's picture

glad it resonates with you...

Pres. Carter is the only one my husband ever voted for. He didn't get into politics much, but when Carter ran for president he told everyone who would listen that her was called by God to the presidency and would win. Not only did he win the presidency, but looking back at all he was able to accomplish (despite every effort of those working against him) and the profound impact his continuing work after leaving the White House has had around the world, it's difficult to argue. I've read his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid and was blown away by the depth of his observations - beyond presidential, but deep into the humanitarian and spiritual aspects of the conflict. I just ordered his new one A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power and look forward to reading everything he has to say on this issue of religion and the systemic oppression of women around the world. I know he will have a revelation for us, and many important suggestions for how we can work together to improve the status of women everywhere.

Love you too, Greengirl
Hannah

I think I need to order that book as well!

Let us Hope together-
Michelle
aka: Cali gal

Listener
Sister-Mentor
@CaliGalMichelle
facebook.com/caligalmichelle

hanasazi's picture

Just got it...

I won't be able to read the whole thing just yet because I'm sending it to Jennifer for Mother's Day (don't tell her, okay!) But I read the first few pages this morning and already thinking about ordering another one for myself! What a beauty former Pres. Carter is. So honest and so humble, yest realistic and strong in his observations and writing. A good example for all of us.

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