Jimmy Carter is the first president I remember being elected. I was living in what was then West Germany because my dad was in the Army and that’s where we were stationed. The thing I remember most about that election was all the talk about The Race. Who was ahead? Who was going to win? I was a little kid and I thought the race was actually a foot race. (It was an Olympic year. Who can blame me for being confused?) I pictured Carter and Ford lined up, wearing shorts and numbers, ready to sprint to the finish line. Imagine my disappointment and eventual disinterest when I realized our new president was chosen by votes and not by foot speed.
President Carter’s recent return to the news because of his fight with cancer brought his book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power, to mind. Published in 2014, it looks at the way religion has impacted and continues to impact the justice issues that make the lives of many women and girls so difficult. Whether you agree or disagree with his politics, President Carter’s foundation, The Carter Center, has serious street cred for its commitment to improving the lives of women and girls.
“The relegation of women to an inferior or circumscribed status by many religious leaders is one of the primary reasons for the promotion and perpetuation of sexual abuse. If potential male exploiters of women are led to believe that their victim is considered inferior or “different” even by God, they can presume that it must be permissible to take advantage of their superior male status. It is crucial that devout believers abandon the premise that their faith mandates sexual discrimination.” (19) Carter, Jimmy. A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.
Wow. That’s a powerful statement and one that goes to the core of the sincere faith and the deeply held beliefs of many. Some loving and faithful Christians believe women are meant to be subordinate to men. Other loving and faithful Christians don’t believe that at all.
I’m in the crowd who believe God created women and men to be equals. I know both sides find support for their arguments in scripture. I’m not going to make all those arguments here but if you want to read more on the issue, there’s an excellent book called, Why Not Women?. You can find it in the Resources section of our website.
I grew up in a loving church. Like a lot of churches, it was trying to sort these issues out. On the one hand, women were allowed to preach but on the other hand, a woman who’d had a child out of wedlock wasn’t supposed to wear white at her wedding because she was no longer pure. Even as a kid, I wondered why a man didn’t have to wear anything to indicate whether or not he was a virgin. The double standard knocked my juvenile socks off. It was my first moment of understanding that women didn’t play on a level field.
It’s often said, and I used to believe, that men and women are different but have equally important roles—and it just so happens that the man’s role is to be the decision maker. I don’t believe that anymore. Saying that someone is different but equal just doesn’t work —just like “separate but equal” was a fallacy. It didn’t work in race relations and it doesn’t work in gender relations. There are inevitable abuses— an inevitable descent into a system of the powerful and the powerless, those in control and those at the mercy of others. Even if a woman is treated well by her father or her husband, should a person’s well being rest fully on how someone who has power over them decides to treat them?
Carter wrote these words about all the major religions of the world, including Christianity, a faith he has professed for decades:
“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,” from an article written by President Carter in 2009.
For me, it boils down to this—Do I believe the God I adore created one group of people to be dominated by another group of people? Does He love me less? Does He think I should have fewer rights, less free will to shape my future, less access to safety, food, healthcare, security, education because I was born a girl? That’s not the God I love. I can’t even begin to imagine that God.
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Casandra Morgan-Loyer Regional Leader for North America // Casandra is an Emmy-nominated writer who joined the staff of Tirzah in January 2014. Casandra loves all kinds of stories and believes in the power of the individual's story to inform and move people to action. Her personal mission is to help women and girls thrive, prosper, believe, hope, laugh uncontrollably and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they matter. She gets a huge thrill out of connecting people in North America with the justice issues that impact women and girls globally and she really, really doesn't like when people are mean to those who have less power. She lives in California with her very creative husband, Erik and their two children.