Jimmy Carter and Co. Confront 'Religious Prejudice' Against Women

Former president Jimmy Carter and a group of "Elders" is calling on 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."

"Religion and tradition are a great force for peace and progress around the world," The Elders expressed in statement released this month to mark the launch of the organization's latest initiative.

"However, as Elders, we believe that 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," added the 12-person organization brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela.

In an effort to bring change to and end religious and traditional practices that discriminate against women and girls, The Elders are using their latest initiative to reveal how the "deep-rooted belief that women are worth less than men has infected every aspect of our societies."

They say such beliefs 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.

"It is not just women who are paying an enormous price for this cultural and religious prejudice. We all suffer when women and girls are abused and their needs are neglected. By denying them security and opportunity, we embed unfairness in our societies and fail to make the most of the talents of half the population," The Elders state.

Last week, former President Carter attempted to draw greater attention to The Elders' gender equality initiative by submitting an op-ed to newspapers including the U.K.-based Guardian and Australia-based The Age.

In his piece, Carter recalled his "painful and difficult" decision to sever ties with the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000 after having been a part of the denomination for six decades.

The decision, he said, was "unavoidable ... 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."

"It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population," Carter charged. "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."

While Carter's remarks unsurprisingly drew praise from a number of women and advocates for women's rights, they also drew criticism from some for its use of "weasel words."

"By using words and phrases like 'abuses,' 'discrimination,' and 'equal right,' Jimmy Carter is essentially combining the Complimentarians with Chauvinists and even criminals," noted Ben Mordecai, an engineering student at University of Georgia and an active contributor to the Rebelution forum for young Christians.

While chauvinism is the belief that one's own gender or kind is superior to another, complimentarianism is the theological belief that men and women are designed to complement one another and that differing, often non-overlapping roles between men and women - manifested in marriage, church leadership, and elsewhere - is biblically required.

A third belief, egalitarianism, holds that all people should be treated as equals, and have the same political, economic, social, and civil rights.

"When God created Eve, he created her as Adam's helper. This is to say that Eve is complementary to Adam. She is not inferior to him, for they both were made in the image of God," argued Mordecai on Monday.

"If it bothers you that Eve is called a helper, remember that the Holy Spirit is also called the Helper in John 14, 15, and 16, yet the Holy Spirit is coequal with the Father and Son," the evangelical blogger added.

Aside from criticizing Carter's use of words like "abuse" – which Mordecai said "creates mental images of violent, oppressive and criminal offenses, not something as innocuous as restricting pastoral ministry to qualified males" – the young scholar and fellow Georgian also called Carter out on his failure to distinguish between religions.

"If you are going to make the radical accusation that religion is the cause of abuse (which is a crime), then all religions, regardless of their treatment of women, are now to blame for abuses which they did not incite or commit," he exclaimed.

In his op-ed last week, Carter said male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women but 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," Carter maintained.

"It is time we had the courage to challenge these views," he concluded.

Formed by Nelson Mandela in July 2007, The Elders is an independent group of public figures who seek to solve problems using "almost 1,000 years of collective experience."

Members of the group include, among others, Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations; Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu; and Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank.

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