By Ramona du Houx
Former President Jimmy Carter has been an advocate for human rights for most of his life. One year after leaving the Oval Office, the former US President and his wife Rosalynn Carter, founded the Carter Center, dedicated to advancing peace and health worldwide. He worked tirelessly building homes for Habitat for Humanity and has traveled the global helping people in need. Always an activist Carter has authored 28 books, including a new book in 2014 called, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power.
His Call to Action covers a system of discrimination that extends to every nation. Women are deprived of equal opportunity in wealthier nations and “owned” by men in others, forced to suffer servitude, child marriage, and genital cutting. The most vulnerable, along with their children, are trapped in war and violence.
A Call to Action addresses the suffering inflicted upon women by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and a growing tolerance of violence and warfare. He reports that key verses are often omitted or quoted out of context by male religious leaders to exalt the status of men and exclude women. And in nations that accept or even glorify violence, this perceived inequality becomes the basis for abuse. President Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, have visited 145 countries, and The Carter Center has had active projects in more than half of them. Around the world, they have seen inequality rising rapidly with each passing decade. This is true in both rich and poor countries, and among the citizens within them.
Carter draws upon his own experiences and the testimony of courageous women from all regions and all major religions to demonstrate that women around the world, more than half of all human beings, are being denied equal rights. This is an informed and passionate call to action informing readers about a devastating effect on economic prosperity and human suffering, which affects us all.
Over the years Carter, a devout Christian, has spoken out against the falsehoods and extremism in religion. In 2009, he wrote an open letter, severing ties with the mega SBC/Southern Baptist Convention, after being a member of the Convention for 60 years. Carter admitted his decision was painful, yet “unavoidable,” after the Convention leaders chose to take bible verses out of context and claim ‘Eve’ was responsible to for ‘original sin,’ and thus all women must be subservient to men.
In Carter’s aforementioned open letter, he explained further:
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.
Bringing his point further, Carter wrote:
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.
Carter goes on to talk about how the subjugation of women was not always a part of Christianity.
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.
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.
In his letter, Carter discusses the independent group of global leaders to which he belongs, called The Elders. Founded by the late Nelson Mandela, the members have come together on this issue and collectively published this statement to all religious leaders around the world:
“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.” – The Elders
Carter says this discrimination can and must end:
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.