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    Losing my religion for equality

        by Jimmy Carter

        July 15, 2009

        Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.
        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.
        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, 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 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 hierarchy.
        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 president of the United States from 1977 to 1981.)

    Magdelene Nashira

    Kind of reminds me of something I’ve been turning around in my mind as a Bible possibility.  I started thinking about it because I disagree with some of the things that were alluded to in the movie “The Davince Code”.  In particular, the idea that the painting was supposed to indicate that Jesus and Mary Magdelene were married.  That whole idea has just never set with me because I sort of see Jesus as everyone’s husband.  Or sort of a husband to the husbandless.  Whatever, but that isn’t my point.  The point is that I was looking at that picture with the idea that art can be interpreted in different ways by nearly anyone who looks at it.  I don’t think it really possible to get at Davinci’s real motivation because when we look at a painting we reflect on what we see according to our experience.  So I was looking at the picture to see what I might see about it.  The idea that occured to me is that if Davinci was hinting at anything, perhaps what he was alluding to is that Mary Magdelene and John the apostle are the same person.  Just like the lady who wrote the book “Frankenstein” used her husband’s name as a pen name, perhaps Mary Magdelene in truth, was a full fledged disciple, one of the chosen 12, but people named her “John” to protect her real identity.  Though that could be bogus too.  I don’t know why I’m even writing about it, but the thought just needed an escape.


    Lol, well, the Davinci code is fiction, so while it can bring up lots of interesting ideas, it isn’t meant to reflect reality either.  however, there are quite a few credible biblical scholars who say Mary was a disciple, but the women were practically written out of the bible as things became more and more patriarchal. 

    Either way, religion has been used as an excuse to treat women poorly for far too long, and it’s really time people step up and change it. 


    What a great idea Magdelene!  It makes the book of John read so differently.  Especially all the places where John refers to him/herself as, “the disciple whom he loved.”  In John 19:25, there is a list of all the women who are at the cross, but no men are listed.  Then suddenly Jesus begins talking to the desciple whom he loved.  I think the theory is a bit tenuous, but no more so than the theories of Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln and look how much money they made.  You should write a book!

    Magdelene Nashira

    LOL!  It’s kind of funny because I am actually a “want to be” writer, but I would never have thought of that as a possibility for a book idea.  I’m more of a fiction writer, but when you think about it that does bring out a lot of possibilities.  It would probably require a lot of research too, so I don’t know.


    Who says it can’t be pure fiction inspired by real life? That’s where all those celestine books came from, among plenty of others.  :-)

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