“This is the most important book that I’ve ever written.”
Speaking to Charlie Rose about his latest book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, Jimmy Carter – the author of 27 previous books – explained why he believes that violence and discrimination against women and girls is “the greatest human rights violation that I’ve ever known.” He was interviewed on Rose’s show on PBS last Tuesday as part of a set of media appearances to discuss A Call to Action, published last week by Simon & Schuster.
160 million girls missing from the face of the earth
Valuing women less than men leads to severe consequences, including female infanticide and human trafficking, according to Jimmy Carter. Joining the discussion on Morning Joe on MSNBC, he pointed out that “there are 160 million girls missing from the face of the earth now who were killed or strangled by their parents at birth because they didn’t want a girl, they wanted a boy. And now with the advent of sonograms that can detect that a foetus is female, they abort girl foetuses selectively to prevent girls being born.”
Discrimination against women and girls is a characteristic of societies all across the world. In the United States, men and women are not treated equally. “Women get paid about 23 per cent less than a man for the same exact work,” he told Rose. “And if you look at the Fortune 500, less than two dozen of them have women CEOs, and they get about 42 per cent less pay than a man doing the same job.”
The false interpretation of holy texts
Interviewed at The Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia, for Meet the Press on NBC, Carter explained to Andrea Mitchell why he has singled out religious tradition as a major cause of discrimination – also an important focus of The Elders' work to challenge gender inequality.
For Carter, the abuse of women by men derives in part from “the fact that religious leaders say that women are inferior in the eyes of God – which is a false interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. But when they see that the Pope and the Southern Baptist Convention and others say that women can't serve as priests and so forth equally with men, they say ‘Well, I’ll treat my wife the way I want to because she's inferior to me.’”
He said that he and his wife Rosalynn left the Southern Baptist Convention for this reason: “The convention decided in its annual meeting [in 2000] to require that women be subservient to their husbands and that women could no longer serve as a pastor or priest or even as a deacon.”
“Jesus exalted women’s status”
Carter expanded on this during his conversation a few days later on the Diane Rehm Show on NPR. He spoke about growing up in a rural community in Georgia before the civil rights era, when religious leaders would say that Holy Scripture “ordained” that white people were superior to black people.
A decades-long Sunday school teacher, Carter told Rehm: “I am pretty well familiar with all 36,000 or so verses in the Bible. I know that you can select a particular verse to suit your own inclinations, that would make you feel superior to a black person or to a woman, or to a Christian if you're a Jew or vice versa, or to members of other religions.”
“What I do when I get into a quandary about how these conflicts might be resolved is to go to the words and actions of Jesus Christ […] And I think there’s no possible way to find a verse in the Bible where Jesus indicates any inferiority of women compared to men, or any derogation of women's rights under the auspices of God the Creator. In fact, he exalted women's status much more than any predecessor had ever done. And the way Jesus treated women is much better than the way we treat them now, two thousand years later.”
The tendency of religious leaders to interpret holy texts in this way is not limited to Christianity. Carter added: “The Koran is quite balanced and quite uniform in saying that men and women are created equally.”
A full list of media appearances can be found on The Carter Center website.