broke with Southern Baptists
over the status of women
"Women and girls have been discriminated against for too
in a twisted interpretation of the word of God." -- Jimmy Carter
"I HAVE been a practicing 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. See signed photo below.
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,
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 emphasize 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
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." July 15, 2009 --
Jimmy Carter was president of the United States from 1977 to 1981.
men are born of a woman. How then can
any man degrade any woman?" Hari
Back To Beginning
More Web sites by
© All rights reserved.