Jimmy Carter, Nobel laureate and former president extraordinaire, has been all over the twittersphere in the past week, because he pointed out that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. All of this reminds me of the statements he made in 2009, when he broke all ties with the Southern Baptists because of their discriminatory attitude about women. After working for many years to encourage change from within the church, he finally, figuratively threw up his hands and walked away, saying:
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 . . . [emphasis mine]
At the same time, 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.
Sadly, even while taking such a strong stand for women’s rights, he pointed out how hard it can be to do that, especially as a politician. His statement mentioned that he and his fellow Elders (an independent group of global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity) were in a good position to say unpopular things, since they no longer have political ambitions.
Reading his statements again today, I started thinking, does this explain how we got to where we are now, with bipartisan debate on the never-before-controversial Violence Against Women Act, and a host of new obstacles to the legal access to birth control and abortion? Is it because some politicians know that most Americans want leaders who have Christian values, so they grab for any handhold they can get on something that can be twisted into looking like a Christian value? Even when there is no consensus that it really is a Christian value? Is it mainly so they have an opportunity look principled, moral, and committed (which many see as leaderly qualities) in an election year?
What do you think about Jimmy Carter’s 2009 statements on religion and women’s rights, and how that relates to the current “war on women”? If you have some insight about why the "war on women" has arisen recently, please leave a comment!
Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado. She has a deep passion for helping survivors of sexual violence.