"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: Does Religion Subjugate Women?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Does Religion Subjugate Women?

President Jimmy Carter addresses the Parliament from Parliament of Religions on Vimeo.

From a Speech by Jimmy Carter to the Parliament
of the World's Religions, Melbourne, Australia, Dec. 3, 2009

Most Bible scholars acknowledge that the Holy Scriptures were written when male dominance prevailed in every aspect of life. Men could have multiple sex partners (King Solomon had 300 wives and 700 concubines), but adulterous behavior by a woman could be punished by stoning to death - then, in the time of Christ and, in some societies, 2009 years later.

I realize that devout Christians can find adequate scripture to justify either side in this debate, but there is one incontrovertible fact concerning the relationship between Jesus Christ and women: he never condoned sexual discrimination or the implied subservience of women. The exaltation and later reverence for Mary, as Jesus' mother, is an even more vivid indication of the special status of women in Christian theology.

I have taught Bible lessons for more than 65 years, and I know that Paul forbade women to worship with their heads covered, to braid their hair, or to wear rings, jewelry, or expensive clothes. It is obvious to most modern day Christians that Paul was not mandating permanent or generic theological policies.

In a letter to Timothy, Paul also expresses a prohibition against women's teaching men, but we know – and he knew – that Timothy himself was instructed by his mother and grandmother.

At the same time, in Paul's letter to the Romans, he listed and thanked twenty-eight outstanding leaders of the early churches, at least ten of whom were women. "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church … greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus … greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you… greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was … greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them."

It is clear that during the early Christian era 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.

My own Southern Baptist Convention leaders ordained in recent years that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors, chaplains in the military service, or teachers of men. They based this on a few carefully selected quotations from Saint Paul and also Genesis, claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin. This was in conflict with my belief that we are all equal in the eyes of God. The Roman Catholic Church and many others revere the Virgin Mary but consider women unqualified to serve as priests.

This view that the Almighty considers women to be inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or tradition. Its influence does not stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue, or temple. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths, creating an environment in which violations against women are justified.

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.

Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views and set a new course that demands equal rights for women and men, girls and boys.

At their most repugnant, the belief that women are inferior human beings in the eyes of God gives excuses to the brutal husband who beats his wife, the soldier who rapes a woman, the employer who has a lower pay scale for women employees, or parents who decide to abort a female embryo. It also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair and equal access to education, health care, employment, and influence within their own communities.

...we are calling on all those with influence to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices – in religious and secular life– that justify discrimination against women and to acknowledge and emphasize the positive messages of equality and human dignity.


  1. Jimmy Carter and others who are like-minded would do well to read Mulierus Dignitatem as a starting point. One appears foolish to rant about the Carholic Church without first making the effort to learn what the Church created by Christ himself actally teaches!

  2. Are you calling Jimmy Carter a foolish ranter? Methinks the lady doth protest too much. Carter's message seems thoughtful and measured. And it's hard to argue that the church hasn't been influenced by the sexism present throughout Western history in the last 2000 years.

  3. While Jimmy Carter is entitled to his opinion, I'm wondering why he is making it his business to urge Catholic, Orthodox and others who do not allow women pastors and priests to become "militant" (his word) in pushing for these changes. I agree with 75% of what he says, but in the end he seems to equate inequality in pay and position in the West to what happens to women in many other cultures, and there is simply no comparison. Where are his priorities? It seems he, of all people, would be especially aware of this. Is he just trying to be diplomatic by not becoming militant about religions that are truly dangerous to women and children? Is he afraid to do that, or does the West just simply come up short once again? Denominations have the right to make these decisions themselves, and in the West there are laws that can and should be enforced where there is true abuse. In other parts of the world religion is law, and it allows and enforces tremendous violations of human rights. No comparison.

    I did appreciate his comments about women having roles in the early church.

    My two cents.

  4. Women have never been priests or bishops. But it is true that there have been deaconesses. However, it is unclear what their exact role was in the early church. It is known that they were women who were older than 40, they were ordained, they assisted in the baptism of women and other parish actitivies relating to women, but the details of their ministry are not known very well.

  5. It's not a matter of males vs females. Jesus chose only men to start churches and be in positions of church leadership. Even many women today acknowledge this. The Catholic Church's position on Mary and women is balanced and very Biblical. It acknowledges she is blessed ("Blessed art thou among women") and also that the first apostles and church planters were men. Both are derived straight from the New Testament. We have people today fed up with tradition and so are just choosing whatever they feel good about--homosexuality, premarital sex, cohabitation, contraception, alcohol, women in the pastorate or priesthood, etc--and the Bible has a statement about that: "Hold the traditions you have learned, both by word and our epistle" 2 Thess. 2) and the tradition is opposed to the philosophy of "Whatever seems right or feels good is fine." Society is crumbling because of its disdain and hatred for such tradition.

  6. An interesting response to Carter's essay here.