Jimmy Carter Protests Religion's Treatment of Women

BlogHer Original Post

Editor's note: Jimmy Carter officially departed the Southern Baptist church in 2000, but still stayed on at Maranatha Baptist in Plains, Georgia, teaching Sunday School. He held on to a Baptist affiliation through many conflicts, including the denomination's anti-gay positions. This week, he issued a position paper indicting all organized religions for their treatment of women.

"Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God." -- Jimmy Carter, Former US president, Nobel Prize Winner

This week, Jimmy Carter left the Southern Baptist Church, where he has been a member for over 60 years. He and Roselyn distanced themselves from full participation a few years ago, but he remained a deacon and still taught Sunday School. He held on to his denominational affiliation through many conflicts - including the denomination's anti-gay positions. This document says nothing about LGBT issues, and that is a tragic shortcoming. But it does say something about women, and in that it only came part way, that part is very strong indeed. It isn't enough, but it is something.

Carter has been active for some time with the New Baptist Covenant which seeks to join various branches of the Baptist church with a social agenda. The primary action there has been to bring races together.

Here are excerpts from Carter's position paper.

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.
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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...
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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.

Not a lot of room for interpretation there. This straightforward document had me in tears. How many women have yearned for how many years to hear these words spoken by men of influence with the religions of the world. Carter isn't the first, to be sure. But he is among the most visible and respected men to do so. And he even left a group that was dear to him. It was a move he described as "painful".

Women speaking about change can only take us so far. Men's voices joined to ours -- i.e. voices from the hierarchy -- strengthen the position by making it harder for other men to dismiss, and by waking up women who think all men hold the same position in their church.

Hannah, in her blog about faith and abuse, says:

If we can open this door, and speak of the injustice that is done in the realm of women? What is to stop the conversation from continuing on to Sexual abuse among other things. You won't have to worry about people accusing you of 'slandering a man of God' when you dare speak a word. WOW maybe common sense can be used, and uglies can be faced instead of hidden...
Carter Speaks out about Treatment of women of faith, and how it encourages domestic violence! What a man of GOD!

Wisewebwoman who is over 60, and has followed Carter for along time says:

I've always admired the man. Sure, he had his faults. But his work for Habitat for Humanity, his humility and his downright civility have endeared him to many.
And today, in his 85th year, he completely blows me over with this:

This shouldn't blow us away. It should be routinely heard. In hearing Carter's words, and experiencing my emotional reaction, I am aware how much I needed to hear a churchman say this. To say it straight out with no excuses. His comment highlights the lack of other comments.

Carter is part of a group called "The Elders" -- retired statesmen who can be activists without worrying about re-election. (Now there is a commentary in itself, eh?) Here he is speaking about The Elder's position. It is stunning in its directness.

Sarah is also moved by the statement.

I know, right?! My heart swelled as I read Carter’s recent statement condemning “discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition.”...Women’s rights are human rights. It’s amazing to read this in a mainstream publication, along with a denouncement of “tradition” as justification for oppression.

Diana wonders if he could not have made more changes by staying within the SB framework, but says:

The R.E.M. hit song which made the expression of “Losing My Religion” an internationally recognized phrase, was written about unrequited love – and the expression itself comes from the American South meaning that a person has run out of patience. I think President Carter is suffering a broken heart after so many decades of having faith that the teachings he worshiped as a Southern Baptist could help make the world a better place, especially for women. As Carter notes in his essay, every religion suffers corruption at the hands of selfish people, and he has decided that the change needed in the religious tradition he called home cannot be realized form the inside. I appreciate that in the process Carter is demonstrating a way to examine sexism in our faith communities.

We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land - Former President Jimmy Carter

Charlotte talks about her long-standing admiration for Carter and adds:

Thank you, Jimmy Carter, for standing by your principles and your faith (as opposed to the religion you left) that sees us all equally as children of God. And thank you for being someone still worthy of the admiration that began when I was a little girl.

Blog after blog by women just reprints the whole essay by Carter. as if to say, "It speaks for itself."

I am so glad he wrote it, but sad that it feels so surprising. And sad that there are not more echoes. And sad that it took so long. And sad that we feel we have to say thank you, because so few religious male leaders have taken this position. And sad that all of our GLBT brothers and sisters can't enjoy the same mention.

But even as I wait for the other voices that should come, I can also feel pleased that Jimmy, at age 85, came this far through. At least and at last.

Mata H, CE for Religion & Spirituality, blogs about darned near everything at Time's Fool

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