Former President Jimmy Carter said on June 28 that both Christian and Islamic religious leaders share the blame for mistreating women across the world.
During an international conference on women and religion, Carter’s examples of religious authorities continuing doctrines of male superiority included the Catholic Church’s practice of banning women from the priesthood and some African cultures’ mutilation of the genitalia of young girls.
Describing these doctrines as theologically indefensible, Carter said they contribute to an environment in which political leaders passively accept violence against women, sex-trafficking, and inequality in the workplace.
“There is a great aversion among men leaders and some women leaders to admit that this is something that exists, that it’s serious and that it’s it troubling and should be addressed courageously,” Carter said at The Carter Center, the human rights organization he founded in 1982 after he left the White House.
Carter’s event, called Mobilizing Faith for Women, was attended by representatives from 15 countries. A goal of the conference was to emphasize to world leaders that religious institutions can be forces for equality, Carter said.
The nations participating at the Carter conference included Afghanistan, Botswana, Egypt, Iraq, Malaysia, Nigeria, Senegal, and the Sudan.
Carter said widespread oppression of women is found in both nations dominated by Islam as well as western countries where Christianity is the primary cultural influence.
Referring to St. Paul and his writings, Carter said, “Paul said there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, slaves or masters, man or woman.” However, he noted “gross abuses of religious texts in the Koran and in the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament. Singular verses can be extracted and extorted to assert the singular dominance of men.”
Carter was especially critical of the Roman Catholic Church whose leaders established the male-only priesthood. He noted that the early Christian churches included leaders of both sexes.
Carter and his wife Rosalynn recently separated from the Southern Baptist Church, noting its ban on ordaining women or allowing them to serve as deacons. The couple’s new independent Baptist church has both male and female pastors and divides deaconships equally between men and women.
In citing more inequalities for women around the globe, Carter said that, in Saudi Arabia, women are not permitted to drive or vote; that, in some cultures, girls are forced to marry before their tenth birthdays; and that, in the United States, women are paid about 70 percent of what men earn for the same work.
“The point is that the voices demanding these circumstances change are few and far between,” Carter said.