Former President Jimmy Carter has taken a stand for equality in a big way — by giving up his church. In a 2009 op-ed titled Losing my religion for equality published in The Age, Carter explained his “painful and difficult” decision to leave the Southern Baptist Convention after his six decade-long association with the religious group.
“I HAVE been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years,” Carter wrote. “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,” Carter wrote. He says that it was unavoidable, given the faith’s views on women:
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,” Carter added. “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.”
Pastor Stephen Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona is a perfect example of the attitudes Carter referenced in his 2009 piece. In a 2014 sermon, Anderson explained that women should not speak in church — even to say “Amen.”
“First of all, it’s not for a woman to be doing the preaching. And second of all, it’s not for women to be speaking,” Anderson explained. “Even if they were to have a question, they’re not to ask that question in the church, number one. And number two, even if they wanted to ask questions of their husband, they should wait until they get home.”
“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,” Carter wrote. “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.”
Carter explained that the religious beliefs held by Southern Baptists is damaging in every aspect of every life in every part of the world:
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,” Carter wrote, but he said that he had banded together with a group of “eminent global leaders” committed to “challenging injustice wherever we see it.”
“We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women,” the former President wrote. “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.”
Carter explained that, across the world and across every religion, leaders have chosen stances that subjugate women — an act that is clearly in violation of Jesus, Muhammad, and other religious leaders’ teachings:
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.
America’s religious Right has, unfortunately, overwhelmingly taken the stance that women are inferior — and its politicians show it. In late 2014, Republicans unanimously blocked a bill aimed at negating the gender wage gap and ensuring that women continue to make 77 cents for every dollar men make.
In January 2015, House Republicans proposed a bill that would allow the government to lodge itself inside the uterus of every single woman in the country by mandating ultrasounds before abortions. This attitude that women should lose all rights to their own bodies is so pervasive that Republicans attempted to make it legal in South Dakota to murder abortion providers.
In 2011, Georgia lawmaker Bobby Franklin tried to eliminate the word “victim” from all statutes dealing with stalking, rape, obscene telephone contact with a child and family violence, and relabel all victims as “accusers,” according to CNN. “It also strikes the word “victim” from statutes dealing with electronic pretrial monitoring, HIV testing of criminal defendants and pretrial discovery, the exchange of crucial information between attorneys prior to the start of a criminal trial.”
In other words, to Franklin, a woman who is horrifically violated can never be a victim until there is a conviction.
President Carter’s words need to be read by every single Republican politician, and by anyone who calls him or herself a “conservative.” Strong religious convictions are wonderful, until they interfere with the rights of others — something President Carter recognized when he gave up his religion for equality.
You can read the full piece, here.
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