A Review of Jimmy Carter's "A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power"

(Spectrumbot) #1

Jimmy Carter was the 39th President of the US and served as President from 1977-1981. He has been a deeply committed Christian throughout his lifetime, and was long a member of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Throughout his political career, as both Governor of Georgia and President, his Christian beliefs drove his principled approach to governing and also energized his growing concerns about human rights issues, and especially women’s rights. As President he made a concerted effort to increase the number of women serving in the federal district and senior appellate courts, one of many areas in which women were seriously underrepresented.

The year after leaving the Presidency he and his wife, Rosalynn, established the Carter Center, its mission being the championing of “human rights and the alleviation of human suffering . . . to prevent and resolve conflicts, enhance freedom and democracy, and improve health.” In 2002 Jimmy Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the Carter Center "to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development." The writing of “A Call to Action” was partly at the urging of Rosalynn, in the hopes that the work of the Carter Center on behalf of women’s rights could gain greater exposure and support.

In the Introduction Carter lays out the main premise for the book:

“My own experiences and the testimony of courageous women from all regions and all major religions have made it clear to me that as a result of these two factors[that are considered to be inferior to men and the tacit acceptance of violence in society] there is a pervasive denial of equal rights to women, more than half of all human beings, and this discrimination results in tangible harm to all of us, male and female.”

He also makes the point that for essentially all forms of human rights abuse, women are more heavily affected than men.

The topics covered take a very broad sweep that covers all aspects of women’s rights, from basic social and economic inequality, sexual assault and sex trafficking to slavery, spousal abuse, child marriage and “honor” killings. It is an extremely international view of the problems, in which the US could be a leader, but, as Carter points out, often sees the US lagging behind the rest of the developed world in addressing the issues.

More than just recounting of the many problems faced by women today, Carter also includes incisive analyses of specific issues, with data to support his conclusions. For example,

“a report funded by the U.S. Justice Department found that more than 95 percent of students who are sexually assaulted remain silent, a much larger proportion than among the general public. The report’s analysis, conducted at the State University of New York in New Paltz, revealed that an institution of that size, with about eight thousand students, would be expected to have more than 1,700 female victims of rape or sexual assault during the eleven years of the study. However, only six students reported a sexual assault to the office responsible for initiating proceedings, and only three cases resulted in a campus hearing—with one male student expelled.”

Additionally, of those sexual assaults that get reported, one third are perpetrated student athletes, according to a 2012 study in the Hopkins Undergraduate Research Journal.

Although lack of solutions to many of the problems is blamed on political and cultural barriers, Carter repeatedly returns to the role of religion.

“The relegation of women to an inferior or circumscribed status by many religious leaders is one of the primary reasons for the promotion and perpetuation of sexual abuse. If potential male exploiters of women are led to believe that their victim is considered inferior or “different” even by God, they can presume that it must be permissible to take advantage of their superior male status. It is crucial that devout believers abandon the premise that their faith mandates sexual discrimination. Islamic scholars assure me that there is no justification for this discrimination in the Koran, but there are specific verses in the Holy Bible that can be interpreted on either side of the issue, and some ascendant male leaders in all faiths take advantage of the interpretation most beneficial to them.”

In addition to his own words in this regard, Carter also includes quotes from other leaders that reflect this same concern, such as the following:

“It’s time for all people of faith to be outraged. It’s time for our Christian leaders to stand up and say that women, made in the very image of God, deserve better. And it’s time for us in the faith community to acknowledge our complicity in a culture that too often not only remains silent, but also can propagate a false theology of power and dominance. There is a growing understanding that women must be central to shaping solutions. . . . There is a new generation of young leaders determined to ensure the bright future of all people regardless of gender. JIM WALLIS, AUTHOR, FOUNDER AND EDITOR OF Sojourners MAGAZINE.”

Of particular interest to Seventh-day Adventist readers is Carter’s personal experience in his church, part of the Southern Baptist Convention. Much like in the Adventist Church, women’s ordination and leadership roles in the church are contentious issues, and in 2000 the leadership of the SBC decided that Baptist women could no longer hold positions such as deacon, pastor, etc. In response to this, Jimmy and Rosalynn decided to sever their relationship with the denomination with which they both had a life-long relationship. Nevertheless, they chose to remain active in their local congregation. Carter’s local congregation continues to employ a woman pastor and allows women in other roles from which they are otherwise excluded by the SBC decision. Similar to the current discussion of this same issue in the Adventist Church, the denomination is attempting to dictate to local congregations what they could and could not do in regard to the role of women in the church, inappropriately so in Carter’s opinion.

To anyone who is concerned about women’s issues, this is a must read. Jimmy Carter is a passionate supporter of women’s rights, and of human rights more generally. He provides an example of what a prominent individual can do to further women’s rights, both by example and by active participation in projects and diplomacy. It is inspiring to see one of our former presidents so committed to the betterment of human society and to the lifting up of women and others whose human rights are being trampled on.

Bryan Ness is a professor of biology at Pacific Union College in Angwin, California.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6751

(Kim Green) #2

It is an excellent book and this is a very good review of Carter’s book. I agree that it is an inspirational book that gives practical examples of what can be done to further women’s rights and promote the cause. It is refreshing to have a US president that has taken his Christian experience and duty so literally.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #3

I had the privilege to discuss briefly Higher education with President Carter… I found him very knowledgable, and supportive of scholarship. He. Felt access to higher education should be earned not subsidized, even though his education was governmentally funded. he saw his service subsequently was in payment in full. thus, I agree, if there were a broad range of service available even for a B.A. Degree. We need a peace corps larger than our armed forces. Tom Z


Thanks for this excellent review.

President Carter is a wonderful role model as a Christian who stands up for what he believes though the Heavens fall, who is true as the needle is to “north” on the compass. We need millions more like him.

(Kevin Paulson) #5

Let’s keep in mind that the Southern Baptist Convention has always been congregational, while the Seventh-day Adventist Church maintains a global structure because of our global message and mission. Maintaining that global cohesion is thus an imperative for Seventh-day Adventists in a way it might not be for other Christian communities.

(Bryan Ness) #6

It might be more appropriate to say we are “Divisional,” as Divisions have always had a fair degree of leeway in non-doctrinal matters, women’s ordination being one of those issues.

(Kevin Paulson) #7

Not true, Bryan. Women’s ordination is very much a doctrinal issue, as it involves gender roles extending back to creation. And the decision to be made in San Antonio is based on Scripture and the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy, according to the wording of the motion. That in and of itself will necessitate a NO vote, as the church has never relegated a Biblical issue for regional settlement.

The arguments on all sides at TOSC, of which I was a member, were based on various approaches to inspired writings. Anyone insisting this is a mere ecclesiastical issue needs to read the TOSC documents. The principal divide between the two major camps involves the largely cultural reliance of one camp and the strictly Bible/Spirit of Prophecy reliance of the other.

(Bryan Ness) #8

I have read it and simply do not agree. The Bible is extremely clear on the equality of men and women, including spiritual equality. It is an ecclesiastical issue. It also is not in the 28 fundamental beliefs, and should only be there if it becomes an equality statement. Sure there were those on the committee who saw it differently, but I consider them simply wrong.

(Kevin Paulson) #9

No one is denying that men and women are spiritually equal. The Biblical reality, however, is that while men and women are in fact equal, God has made their spiritual roles different. The home helps us best understand this. No one can say a mother’s role is of less value than a father’s. Yet their roles are not the same.

And whether this becomes part of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs will not matter, so long as the General Conference in session once more votes against women’s ordination.

(Billman) #10

I am still holding that guarantee that you made me Kevin, that Women’s Ordination will not be voted through at the GC session. Having said that, I don’t think I will be exercising the guarantee. So if there are any readers out there who want to acquire the guarantee from me, I am quite keen to sell it.

Any funds raised will be utilised for either a celebration party, or a commiseration party.


I was all for Carter, while reading through this. The great work he and his wife have done and continue to do. Indeed, men and women working together bring a more balanced and godly result. However, then I read this:

Rather than take their word, why does he not read the sources for himself:

Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand. (Qur’an 4:34) http://quran.com/

The Hadith are the collections of the reports of the teachings, deeds and sayings of Muhammad. While not all Muslims hold to all the teachings found in the Hadiths, they are still regarded by traditional Islamic schools of jurisprudence as important tools for understanding the Quran and in matters of jurisprudence. (wiki)

Iyas ibn Abdullah ibn AbuDhubab reported the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) as saying: Do not beat Allah’s handmaidens, but when Umar came to the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) and said: Women have become emboldened towards their husbands, he (the Prophet) gave permission to beat them. Then many women came round the family of the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) complaining against their husbands. So the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) said: Many women have gone round Muhammad’s family complaining against their husbands. They are not the best among you.

The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: A man will not be asked as to why he beat his wife.

(AbuDhubab: Book 11, Number 2141 & 2142)

It would be one thing to say that such things can be found in the quran, but that we believe they were only valid for that day. I would say, fair enough, at least their honest in admitting they exist and its their business how they try and deal with them. However, to claim that no such texts exist tends to drain all my energy. And btw, there are more than just these 3 I have quoted. I’m sure people can research it for themselves.

(George Tichy) #12

This is not about Church cohesion, for heaven’s sake! It’s about human decency, about discrimination of other human beings!

I know…, not everyone is sensitive to this issue of discrimination …

Carter is a great example of intelelctual and spiritual honesty. We should learn from him, and not start pointing to some differences between the SDAs and other denominations. This would lead us to, again, starting to proclaim the superiority of our Church…

(George Tichy) #13

:+1: Thanks for the offer, but no thanks! :slight_smile:

(Elaine Nelson) #14

If every student graduating high school were required to put in two years in organized community service such as Peace Corp, and paid a minimum wage PLUS college or vocational training based like the GI bill, it would be a help both to any community here or abroad but afterward would be a great incentive to take study far more seriously. Two additional years to mature is especially beneficial for young males.

(Elaine Nelson) #15

Why is it “imperative”? Millions of member are essentially only members of their local congregation and little concerned with the centralized organization. The “global cohesion” is fast coming frayed and loosened.

You continue with your opinion that not ordaining women is biblical, but didn’t the SdA theological society write a paper stating that there is no biblical reason AGAINST WO? Do you agree or disagree with that?

(Kevin Paulson) #16

I have great respect for the former President myself, George. His work with Habitat for Humanity has been a great blessing to thousands. But on this point I am constrained to differ with him.

And when it comes to gender relations, decency must be defined by the Word of God, not some outside standard of justice or equality. God has made men and women different, to fill different but equally important roles.

(Steve Mga) #17

Does Kevin have a number of friends like him who would devise a Doctrine on How to Treat Women in the SDA church, and attempt to push this through?
He sounds like this would please him.
Perhaps this is where the Voting at SA15 IS REALLY going.

Is the Seventh day Adventist church going MORE Fundamental than its nearest Fundamental Neighbor?

(Rheticus) #19

That’s right. We should take even more liberty away from people. Put even more constraints on how they choose to spend their lives. Force people who don’t want to be there into compulsory community service.

Seriously, I see a lot of problems caused by such a proposal.

(Carolyn Parsons) #20

I respect Carter deeply and find him to be a caring and honest Cristian. His focus on human welfare dovetails well with his support for equality of women. They are part and parcel of his theology and how he lives his life. If all Christians put their faith in practice like he and his wife do, the world would be a better place indeed.

(jeremy) #21

i wasn’t aware that our general conference is attempting to dictate anything, given that the question to be voted on in san antonio is all about divisional autonomy…and those divisions who do opt for wo, assuming a yes vote in san antonio, will not be acting wisely if they force conferences to appoint women where they aren’t appreciated or respected (and first of all, what woman in her right mind would want that)…