Dr. Weeks Comment: perhaps he was a disappointing president because he was a good man and as we know, he has walked the talk in the years since his elected and become perhaps our best public example of a man doing good.
Losing my religion for equality
July 15, 2009
Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted
interpretation of the word of God.
I HAVE been a practicing Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible
teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to
me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the
world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist
Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however,
an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few
carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second
to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be
“subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons,
pastors or chaplains in the military service.
This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one
religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role
in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of
the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination,
unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or
excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for
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. 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.
The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives.
They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls;
why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face
enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their
basic health needs are not met.
In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished
for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education,
prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman
is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the
The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in
pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root
of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every
day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The
evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits
for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely
to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her
It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half
its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated
attitudes and practices – as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the
forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.
I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about
stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and
sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from
many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes
or avoiding controversy – and we are deeply committed to challenging
injustice wherever we see it.
The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought
together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their
influence and experience to support peace building, help address major
causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We
have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of
religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights
and have recently published a statement that declares: “The justification
of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or
tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is
We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful
teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify
discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all
religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasize the positive
messages of dignity and equality that all the world’s major faiths share.
The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the
superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of
male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. Similar
biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and
the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.
I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which
women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early
Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles,
teachers and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant
Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to
perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.
The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an
option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women.
They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.
Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much
of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This
is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and
the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of
whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of
God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.