Religious discrimination against women, including in Catholicism, is largely to blame for violence and injustice against women around the world. And that violence and injustice “is the most important and unaddressed and serious affliction of human rights on earth,” former US president Jimmy Carter said this week.
Treating women “as inferior in the eyes of God” gives tacit approval to subjugate them in all other aspects of life, from the courts to the military to the business world, Carter said an interview with me this week on WGBH radio. Carter also spoke at Harvard Divinity School to promote his provocative new book, “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power.”
“I wrote the pope a letter after publishing the book,” Carter said, forwarding the book and urging Francis to rethink the prohibition on women priests. In a “very nice letter back, [the pope said] women’s involvement in leadership should be enhanced or increased, but he didn’t say how.”
Carter called restrictions on women priests, imams, and pastors a misinterpretation of the Bible and the Quran. This subjugation, he said, has played a role in the epidemic of sexual assaults on American campuses and in the military, where cases are often poorly prosecuted or not prosecuted at all; unequal pay for women, and an unabated sex trade here and worldwide. Some Muslim countries, he pointed out, bar girls from school and, most horribly, enforce genital mutilation.
Since leaving office, Carter, now 90 years old, has won the Nobel Peace Prize and become a tireless crusader for social justice and human rights. He has written more than two dozens books; he said he wrote “A Call To Action” to bring more attention to the abuse of women and girls, calling it “almost beyond comprehension.”
After 70 years as a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, he and his wife Rosalyn left in protest about 15 years ago because they could no longer justify its discriminatory policies. The denomination refuses to allow women to be pastors or deacons or chaplains in the military. Now he teaches at Emory University in Atlanta. He also teaches Sunday school at his new church: “a little church in Plains with a woman pastor, where Rosalyn is a deacon and my sister-in-law is chairman of the board of deacons.”