(See Updates Below based on commenter input)
At first glance. Bill Barrow's write-up of Jimmy Carter's speech at his center's Mobilizing Faith for Women conference appears to have covered the facts about the conference and the specifics of the former U.S. president's outrageous attempts at moral equivalency in comparing how the world's religions treat women reasonably well.
But the AP writer left out two important contextual elements: 1) Christianity's historical and ongoing contribution to the improvement of women's status, leading to the indisuptable fact that women today are far better off in countries which have Judeo-Christian traditions than they are in those which don't; 2) government-encouraged or mandated abortion, which has disproportionately prevented women from being born -- the ultimate and final form of oppression -- and which many religions have done far too little to stop.
Having gone to the video of Carter's speech, it's also clear that Barrow gave Carter a pass by failing to report other offensive statements our former president made which should have been considered newsworthy (I will cover those in Part 2). But first, a few excerpts from Barrow's report relating to religion (bolds are mine throughout this post):
CARTER: WORLD RELIGIONS PERPETUATE WOMEN'S PLIGHT
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter says religious leaders, including those in Christianity and Islam, share the blame for mistreatment of women across the world.
The human rights activist said Friday religious authorities perpetuate misguided doctrines of male superiority, from the Catholic Church forbidding women from becoming priests to some African cultures mutilating the genitals of young girls.
Carter said the doctrines, which he described as theologically indefensible, contribute to a political, social and economic structure where political leaders passively accept violence against women, a worldwide sex slave trade and inequality in the workplace and classroom.
"There is a great aversion among men leaders and some women leaders to admit that this is something that exists, that it's serious and that it's it troubling and should be addressed courageously," Carter said at an international conference on women and religion.
The 39th president is hosting representatives from 15 countries at The Carter Center, the human rights organization he launched in 1982 after leaving the White House.
... Nations represented at the Carter conference include Afghanistan, Botswana, Egypt, Iraq, Malaysia, Nigeria, Senegal and the Sudan. Carter mentioned widespread oppression in many of nations where iterations of Islam dominate, but also had criticism for the developed Western world where Christianity is the strongest cultural influence.
A common thread, he said, are "gross abuses of religious texts in the Koran and in the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament. Singular verses can be extracted and extorted to assert the singular dominance of men."
You would think from what Barrow wrote that the Catholic Church is the only Christian faith which forbids women from becoming priests (that obviously isn't the case), and that Carter didn't single out any other faith. But he did. Here is exactly what Carter said on the subject. Note the final excerpted sentence:
(at the 2:20 mark) They (religious leaders) try to convince their own fellow worshippers that women are inferior in the eyes of God. And with many great religions, both Protestant, Catholic, Islamic and others, there is an ordination by men that women are not fit to serve God on an equal basis. They're precluded from being priests; they're precluded from being pastors; they're precluded from being chaplains. And (only) men are considered to be worthy to hold those positions in the service of God.
(at the 9:10 mark) But in the Southern Baptist convention, there's a policy that women cannot be pastors, they cannot be deacons, they cannot be chaplains. And in some of the Southern Baptist seminaries or universities, it is prohibited for a woman to teach a classroom that has boys as students.
And we know that the Catholic Church ordained back in the third or fourth century that women cannot serve as priests. They can be teachers. They can be nurses. But they can't be priests.
This was not the case with the early Christian church. Paul said that there is no difference in the eyes of God between a Jew and a Gentile, or between a slave and a master, or between a man and a woman. And when he wrote to the Romans in Chapter 16, you can look it up, he points out that the heroes of the early Christian Church, almost half of whom were women, who were apostles and priests in the early Church. But later when men took over, they began to express their opinion, which has now become almost law, that a woman is not equal in the eyes of God.
Well, this leads to much of the abuse of women.
The fact that Carter cited the fact that women can't become priests as an example of oppression, that he considers those policies to be contributors to the abuse of women, and that he included the topic at a conference whose topics include far more gravely serious concerns like genital mutilation, the slave trade, and forced marriages of young women, shows how desperate he is to create false moral equivalency at any cost. The cost in this case is to any semblance of credibility he believes he might have.
At its website, the conference's core question is: "Can religion be a force for women's rights instead of a source of women's oppression?"
The question assumes that all religions oppress women to some unacceptable degree, and that said oppression is doctrinally based.
The history of Christianity gives lie to that contention, as the late Dr. James Kennedy explained in his timeless essay, "What If Christmas Never Happened?":
... Women and children
In classical Rome or Greece, it was dangerous to conceive a baby. Abortion was rampant and abandonment of infants commonplace. Infirm or unwanted babies were often taken out into the forest or the mountainside and left to be consumed by wild animals or to starve or for others to pick them up for their own perverted ends.
Then Jesus came. He did not disdain His conception in a virgin’s womb but humbled himself to be found in fashion as a baby. Since that time, and because of Jesus’ care for the poor and the infirm, Christians have cherished life as sacred, even the life of the unborn. In ancient Rome, Christians saved many abandoned babies and brought them up in the faith. Other believers started foundling homes, orphanages and nurseries. These new practices, based on this higher view of life, created a foundation for Western civilization’s ethic of human life — although it is under severe attack.
Women, too, have immensely benefited from Christ’s influence. In ancient cultures, the wife was the property of her husband. In India, China, Rome and Greece, men believed that women were not able or competent to be independent.
Prior to Christian influences in India, widows were voluntarily or involuntarily burned on their husbands’ funeral pyres. And female infanticide was common. These centuries-old practices ended in the early 19th century through missionary intervention with the British authorities.
Charles Spurgeon told of a Hindu woman who said to a missionary: “Surely your Bible was written by a woman.”
“Because it says so many kind things for women. Our pundits never refer to us but in reproach.”
As to abortion, there is little dispute that enough couples to make a difference, given the option of deciding whether their first child will be a boy or girl, will choose to have a boy. The abortion statistics prove it, as does the one-child policy in China, which over a period of several decades has led to over 60 million "missing girls" and a culturally destructive gender imbalance.
But somehow, abortion isn't an issue involving the oppression of women. The heck it's not.
UPDATE: A couple of NB commenters have pointed out that Romans Chapter 16 does not say, as Carter claimed, that "women ... were apostles and priests in the early Church." I have re-read that Chapter. They are right. Paul refers to them as "my co-workers in Christ Jesus." Carter is wrong.
UPDATE 2: NB commenter Buckeye Physicist lays out the Church's position on the priesthood perfectly in the comments section, and emphasizes that there never were female priests in the Church, again contrary to Carter's contention. More comprehensive treatments of the Catholic Church's position are here, here, and here -- oh, and Pope John Paul II had the final word on the subject in 1994.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.