Former President Jimmy Carter says in his newest book, out Tuesday, that many religious institutions are responsible for instilling the idea that women are inherently inferior to men.
Promoting his forthcoming book “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power,” the 89-year-old former president appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Monday to discuss a number of human rights issues facing women today. Carter, who still teaches Sunday school at a Baptist church in Georgia, called out a number of ways in which religious interpreters distort sacred texts to disempower women.
“In the United States for the same exact work for a full-time employee, women get 23 percent less pay than men. And in the Fortune 500, only 21 of those leaders among the 500 are women, and in that high level, they get 42 percent less pay than average men,” Carter told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “That is really derived, I would say, indirectly from the fact that religious leaders say that women are inferior in the eyes of God, which is a false interpretation of the book of Scriptures.”
Carter added that religious leaders who claim women are inferior to men are directly harming women’s chances at a better life, comparing such views to those who justified slavery, segregation and racism.
“When they see that the pope and the Southern Baptist Convention and others say women can’t serve as priests and so forth equally as men, they say, well, ‘I’ll treat my wife the way I want to because she’s inferior to me. I don’t any real moral compunction against paying my employees less,’” Carter continued. “So women are abused, but men don’t want to really rock the boat because we men benefit from the superiority that we enjoy just like white people did in the segregation days when we benefited from racial deprivation of blacks’ equality.”
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In a separate interview with NPR on Sunday, Carter specifically called out the Southern Baptist Convention for its views on women. Carter spent more than six decades of his life as a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, America's largest Protestant church, before leaving the church over its views on women in 2000.
“In the Southern Baptist Convention, from which my wife and I have resigned — we go to a more moderate Baptist church — I don't think that they are likely to change their policy that a woman must be not only inferior to her husband, but also deprived of an opportunity to be a pastor, or a missionary, or a chaplain in the Army, or to be even a deacon in the church,” Carter said.
The 39th president did more than criticize religious groups for their treatment of women, however. He declared that the Bible and other religious texts support equality between men and women and that he hopes to make progress with Pope Francis about increasing the role of women in the Catholic Church.
“I wrote to Pope Francis a letter concerning some of the issues I described in my book,” Carter told MSNBC. “He responded that it was his opinion that the role of women in the Catholic Church in the future should be greatly enhanced, without going into any detail. So I hope that, I’ll obviously send him a copy of my book as well.”
Watch Carter’s interview with MSNBC below.