By Kathy Schiffer
Ave Maria Radio
Muslims and Catholics discriminate against women?
That was the message of former President Jimmy Carter, speaking June 28 at an international conference on women and religion. Carter expressed concern that some religions—specifically Islam and Catholicism—continue to unfairly suppress women’s rights.
The former president cited two examples of what he considered attitudes of male superiority, as enforced by religious authorities:
1. Some African cultures’ mutilation of the genitalia of young girls, and
2. The Catholic Church’s practice of banning women from the priesthood
These attitudes, Carter warned, are theologically indefensible and contribute to an environment in which political leaders passively accept violence against women, sex-trafficking, and inequality in the workplace.
Speaking at the Carter Center, the human rights organization he founded in 1982 after leaving the White House, Carter said:
“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 troubling and should be addressed courageously.”
Dr. Susan Berry, writing on Breitbart.com, explained Carter’s judgment against adherents of both Islam and Christianity:
Carter said widespread oppression of women is found in both nations dominated by Islam as well as western countries where Christianity is the primary cultural influence.
Referring to St. Paul and his writings, Carter said, “Paul said there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, slaves or masters, man or woman.” However, he noted “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.”
Carter was especially critical of the Roman Catholic Church whose leaders established the male-only priesthood. He noted that the early Christian churches included leaders of both sexes.
Carter and his wife Rosalynn recently separated from the Southern Baptist Church, noting its ban on ordaining women or allowing them to serve as deacons. The couple’s new independent Baptist church has both male and female pastors and divides deaconships equally between men and women.
Al Kresta, CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of “Kresta in the Afternoon”, took exception with President Carter’s charges.
Kresta explained how Carter had gotten it wrong, and how his misunderstanding of Catholic theology was reflected in his June 28 remarks. Kresta explained:
Jimmy Carter represents an earlier generation of Southern Baptists that didn't understand or try to understand Catholic distinctives. He doesn't understand that the Catholic theology of priesthood is qualitatively different from Protestant conceptions of an ordained minister.
Many Catholics respect Protestant denominations' right to ordain women, since they do not act in persona Christi in the way that a Catholic priest does.
Carter is in all likelihood clueless on this point. He assumes that the Catholic reservation of the ordained priesthood to males is just one more example of men lording it over women—which is a predicted consequence of the Fall of Adam and Eve. He tries to reduce St. Paul's complex teaching on the role relationships between men and women to a single verse: Galatians 3:28; and he doesn't even reference the puzzling Pauline remarks in 1 Tim 3 or Eph 5 which might run counter to his opinion.
He is so quick to identify with the "other" that he regularly dismisses or chastises people who would be glad to work with him. The Catholic Church is a natural ally of his on the issues of poverty, world debt relief, AIDS ministry, homelessness, Middle East peace and so on. For him to say Catholicism and Islam in the same breath is careless. The first mass educator of women was the Catholic Church. The first religious tradition to set up communities controlled by women was the Catholic Church, through its religious orders. The Catholic understanding of Mary entitles her to be called the first disciple, the representative daughter of Sion and the most perfected human being.
President Carter's big problem seems to be a failure to understand who his friends are. Remember the Shah and Brezhnev? Carter rejected his fellow evangelicals, calling them belligerent—and then cozied up to the Shah and Brezhnev. Evangelicals who had voted for him in 1976 as the "born again" president went over to Reagan in 1980, and they've never gone back to the Democrats. Had Carter not abandoned his pro-life position as governor of Georgia, he might have changed the history of American politics.