Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter had strong words for religious groups that do not allow the same opportunities to women as men during his address at the Parliament of the World’s Religions on Tuesday.
Carter, who left the Southern Baptist Convention nearly a decade ago in part because it does not allow women to be ordained as pastors, said discrimination against women in religious settings not only contradicted the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of the world’s major faiths, according to Christian Today.
“It is ironic that women are now welcomed into all the major professions and other positions of authority but are branded as inferior and deprived of the equal right to serve God in positions of religious leadership,” Carter told the thousands of religious delegates gathered in Melbourne, Australia.
“The plight of abused women is made more acceptable by the mandated subservience of women by religious leaders,” he added.
In particular, Carter pointed to male religious leaders who interpret the teachings of their faith in a way that “subjugate” women.
The “overwhelming” number of male religious leaders have chosen to “subjugate” women for their “own selfish means,” contended the former U.S. president, who is presently a member of The Elders – an influential group of global leaders who support peace-building efforts.
“Women are prevented from playing a full, equal role in many faiths, creating an environment in which violations against women are justified,” Carter continued. “The truth is that male traditional leaders have had and still have an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or to subjugate women.”
Carter had made similar remarks earlier this past summer and had drawn considerable response from social and theological conservatives for them, including some from the Rev. Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries.
In an op-ed submission to U.K.-based Guardian and Australia-based The Age in July, Carter had said The Elders sought to “change the harmful and discriminatory practices against women and girls and give their full support to the equality of all.”
“This discrimination [against women], unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women's equal rights across the world for centuries,” Carter wrote.
“At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime,” he added. “But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.”
In response, Colson criticized Carter’s suggestions regarding the Bible’s teachings, especially over the parallel he draws between such teachings and the horrors of forced prostitution, genital mutilation, rape, and slavery.
He also criticized Carter for making statements that paint every religious tradition with the same brush.
“Scripture teaches that men and women play complementary roles. For example, the wife is to submit to her husband exactly as the Church submits to Christ. The husband is to give his life for his wife, as Jesus gave His life for the Church-hardly discrimination or oppression,” Colson clarified.
“So, please, let’s not confuse Christian teachings with the offensive practices of other faiths-such as radical Islam’s deplorable treatment of women,” he added.
Despite the backlash, Carter made similar remarks to his op-ed at the World’s Religions conference –the world's largest interfaith gathering.
To his credit, however, Carter said major religions can play a vital role in “correcting the scourge of violence and discrimination against women.”
In his conclusion, Carter made a call to people of faith to challenge discrimination against women and demand equal rights for women and men.
Convening every five years since 1993, the Parliament of the World's Religions exists to foster interreligious, civil and cross-cultural dialogue on important local, national, and global issues.
This year’s interfaith gathering in Melbourne drew nearly 8,000 attendants for dialogue on issues such as climate change, indigenous rights, and the relationship between Islam and the West.
Among those who attended were Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Baha'is, Buddhists, Sihks, Christians, and other religious groups.
Notable speakers this year included Rabbi David Saperstein, Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter,and the Dalai Lama, who gave the conference's closing address on Wednesday.
The gathering was held Dec. 3-9.
Christian Post reporter Eric Young in San Francisco contributed to this article.