Monday, April 27, 2015

Carter Speaks Up For Women’s Rights


Despite his age, former President Jimmy Carter, 90, has had no trouble keeping a public presence since leaving office in 1980.  Along with multiple diplomatic shuttles, mostly at the behest of then-President Bill Clinton, serving as an election supervisor at the request of various countries and starting Habitat for Humanity, Carter has also been active in the area of human rights.

Most recently, the long-time Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher announced that he was leaving the sect because of its “rigid” stance on women. Last June, the group’s representatives voted at its national convention to reaffirm a 17th century decision that women cannot be ordained as pastors.

“My grandfather, my father and I have always been Southern Baptists, and for 21 years, since the first political division took place in the Southern Baptist Convention, I have maintained that relationship. I feel I can no longer in good conscience do that,” Carter told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

He continued, “I’m familiar with the verses they have quoted about wives being subjugated to their husbands.  In my opinion, this is a distortion of the meaning of Scripture. … I personally feel the Bible says all people are equal in the eyes of God. I personally feel that women should play an absolutely equal role in service of Christ in the church.”

Carter's Maranatha Baptist Church
That announcement was met with understandable cynicism.  After all, Carter will continue as a deacon at a Baptist church in his hometown of Plains, Ga.  He’s not leaving the faith, just the Southern Baptist faction that doesn't accept “separation of church and state … a free religious press, and equality of women.”

In addition, Carter waited almost a year since the vote to make the announcement. The timing of Carter’s resignation was not an accident.  He has a book coming out shortly on the issue.  Nothing boosts sales like good hype.

Then, too, this is the second time Carter has quit the Southern Baptists.  He did that same thing some eight years ago over the identical issue. Then, he sent out 75,000 letters and, of course, continued going to church.  This time, he opted for editorial pages in newspapers to make his decision known.
Besides, his religious zeal comes with question marks.  Carter only found religion after losing the 1966 nomination to be governor of Georgia.  He did win in 1970, which he credited to being “born again.”

All-male Catholic priesthood
To top it off, the Southern Baptists are not alone.  Roman Catholics and Orthodox Jews also prohibit women from becoming religious leaders.  In fact, most religions refuse to let women take leadership roles in worship.  Personally, I can’t fathom why any woman would want to head a paternalistic faith that treats her gender with disdain.  But such restrictions are piffle compared to the abuse women face worldwide where whole societies relegate women to second-class status.  

Islamic women
According to the World Health Organization, 33 percent of women worldwide will face sexual violence in their lives.  Another 4 million women are bought and sold annually into sexual slavery.  More than 125 million suffer genital mutilation.

In some countries, a woman who is raped can be charged with a crime. In others, simply exposing an arm or an ankle can lead to punishment.  In many countries, women are prohibited from getting an education and, in Saudi Arabia, from even driving a car.

Child brides with children
Religion plays a key role in such limitations.  In Islam, for example, arch-conservative organizations like ISIS sell women into sexual bondage and deny them basic human rights. In some Orthodox Jewish sects, women must shave their heads and can't get a divorce without their husband's approval.  Some religions even force arranged marriages on girls who are barely in their teens.

Not that life is perfect for women here, at least economically.  In our country, according to Labor Department figures, women compared with men are more likely to work part time and work in professions that pay less and are paid about 80 percent of what a man earns in comparative positions.

Women have been treated unequally because of religious tradition, cultural bias and the male desire to maintain power.  That’s despite the fact that women invest what they earn in their families, ensuring healthier and better-educated children.  As a result, society gains.

Carter is not a jimmy-come-lately to this situation.  As president, he appointed more women federal judges than any of his predecessors combined.  Later presidents continued the process: Clinton now holds the record at 38 percent, but George W. Bush was not far behind at 28 percent.  Carter also placed women in key positions of his administration, including Juanita Kreps and Patricia Harris in his original cabinet and a third, Shirley Hufstedler, as secretary of education. There were many more hired for other important positions.

Rosalynn Carter
In addition, his wife, Rosalynn, actively campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment and was recognized as a close adviser to the president.

As a result, Carter’s efforts to help women worldwide can only be praised.  Anything that focuses the spotlight on demoralizing sexist behavior deserves applause and support, even if it comes with a whiff of self-promotion.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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