Evangelical Leaders Rebuke Carter for 'Reckless' Discrimination Claims

Evangelical leaders chastised former president Jimmy Carter this week for comments he made regarding the alleged faith-based discrimination of women.

"It is true that some have abused Scripture in pursuing oppressive agendas, like arguments for slavery, apartheid, and the denial of rights to women and minorities. But these abuses cannot be supported by an appeal to God's word, especially when Scripture is interpreted according to the grand tradition of the Church," said Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries.

Last week, Carter submitted an op-ed to newspapers including the U.K.-based Guardian and Australia-based The Age to draw greater attention to a new initiative launched by The Elders, an independent group of public figures who seek to solve problems using "almost 1,000 years of collective experience."

The initiative, announced earlier this month, seeks to get men and boys – particularly religious and traditional leaders – to "change the harmful and discriminatory practices against women and girls and give their full support to the equality of all."

"This discrimination [against women], 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," wrote Carter, who is among the members of the 12-person organization brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela.

"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," he added. "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."

In comments Thursday, the Rev. Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. said the former president's arguments "should embarrass any serious person who considers this question, for it is grounded in little more than his own sense of how things ought to be."

"He makes claims about the Bible that are reckless and irresponsible and historical claims that would make any credible church historian blush," the highly respected evangelical theologian added.

Colson similarly criticized Carter's suggestions regarding the Bible's teachings, especially over the parallel he draws between such teachings and the horrors of forced prostitution, genital mutilation, rape, and slavery.

He also criticized Carter for making statements that paint every religious tradition with the same brush.

"Scripture teaches that men and women play complementary roles. For example, the wife is to submit to her husband exactly as the Church submits to Christ. The husband is to give his life for his wife, as Jesus gave His life for the Church-hardly discrimination or oppression," Colson clarified.

"So, please, let's not confuse Christian teachings with the offensive practices of other faiths-such as radical Islam's deplorable treatment of women," he added.

In a video that Carter appears in to spread word of The Elders' latest initiative, the United States' 39th president describes religious practice as one of the "basic causes of the violation of women's rights."

Others on the video include Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the former Brazilian president who says "the idea that God is behind discrimination is unacceptable," and Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of Ireland who articulates the effect that religion and tradition can have on women's lives.

"They are submissive," Robinson says.

"[T]o be well thought of by God, they must accept their role. This goes on to more difficult issues like female genital mutilation," she adds.

The video and Carter's op-ed are part of The Elders' effort to bring change to and end religious and traditional practices that discriminate against women and girls.

They say the "deep-rooted belief that women are worth less than men has infected every aspect of our societies," has led to brutal violence and mistreatment against women, and has denied girls and women fair access to education, health, employment, property and influence within their own communities.