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Losing My Religion for Equality by Jimmy Carter

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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.

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Comment by Helen M. Downs on August 8, 2009 at 8:04pm
Hear hear!! Thanks for posting these great understandings. May Divine Grace bring these concepts swiftly & easily into being recognised and acted upon in our world.

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