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President Jimmy Carter’s “Call to Action” on Women, Religion, Violence and Power; (Excerpt Features 2009 Parliament)

From A CALL TO ACTION by Jimmy Carter. Copyright © 2014 by Jimmy Carter. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

All the elements in this book concerning prejudice, discrimination, war, violence, distorted interpretations of religious texts, physical and mental abuse, poverty, and disease fall disproportionately on women and girls.

I saw the ravages of racial prejudice as I grew up in the Deep South, when for a century the U.S. Supreme Court and all other political and social authorities accepted the premise that black people were, in some basic ways, inferior to white people. Even those in the dominant class who disagreed with this presumption remained relatively quiet and enjoyed the benefits of the prevailing system. Carefully selected Holy Scriptures were quoted to justify this discrimination in the name of God.

There is a similar system of discrimination, extending far beyond a small geographical region to the entire globe; it touches every nation, perpetuating and expanding the trafficking in human slaves, body mutilation, and even legitimized murder on a massive scale. This system is based on the presumption that men and boys are superior to women and girls, and it is supported by some male religious leaders who distort the Holy Bible, the Koran, and other sacred texts to perpetuate their claim that females are, in some basic ways, inferior to them, unqualified to serve God on equal terms. Many men disagree but remain quiet in order to enjoy the benefits of their dominant status. This false premise provides a justification for sexual discrimination in almost every realm of secular and religious life. Some men even cite this premise to justify physical punishment of women and girls.

Another factor contributing to the abuse of women and girls is an acceptance of violence, from unwarranted armed combat to excessive and biased punishment for those who violate the law. In too many cases, we use violence as a first rather than a last resort, so that even deadly violence has become commonplace.

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 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.

My wife, Rosalynn, and I have visited about 145 countries, and the nonprofit organization we founded, The Carter Center, has had active projects in more than half of them. We have had opportunities in recent years to interact directly among the people, often in remote villages in the jungles and deserts. We have learned a lot about their personal affairs, particularly that financial inequality has been growing more rapidly with each passing decade. This is true both between rich and poor countries and among citizens within them. In fact, the disparity in net worth and income in the United States has greatly increased since my time in the White House. By 2007 the income of the middle 60 percent of Americans had increased at a rate twice as high as that of the bottom 20 percent. And the rate of increase for the top 1 percent was over fifteen times higher, primarily because of the undue influence of wealthy people who invest in elections and later buy greater benefits for themselves in Washington and in state capitals. As the conservative columnist George Will writes, “Big government inevitably drives an upward distribution of wealth to those whose wealth, confidence and sophistication enable them to manipulate government.”

Yet although economic disparity is a great and growing problem, I have become convinced that the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls, largely caused by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and a growing tolerance of violence and warfare, unfortunately following the example set during my lifetime by the United States. In addition to the unconscionable human suffering, almost embarrassing to acknowledge, there is a devastating effect on economic prosperity caused by the loss of contributions of at least half the human beings on earth. This is not just a women’s issue. It is not confined to the poorest countries. It affects us all.

After focusing for a few years on the problem of gender discrimination through our human rights program at The Carter Center, I began to speak out more forcefully about it. Because of this, I was asked to address the Parliament of the World’s Religions, an audience of several thousand assembled in Australia in December 2009, about the vital role of religion in providing a foundation for countering the global scourge of gender abuse. My remarks represented the personal views of a Christian layman, a Bible teacher for more than seventy years, a former political leader.

I reminded the audience that in dealing with each other, we are guided by international agreements as well as our own moral values, most often derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Bible, the Koran, and other cherished texts that proclaim a commitment to justice and mercy, equality of treatment between men and women, and a duty to alleviate suffering. However, some selected scriptures are interpreted, almost exclusively by powerful male leaders within the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and other faiths, to proclaim the lower status of women and girls. This claim that women are inferior before God spreads to the secular world to justify gross and sustained acts of discrimination and violence against them. This includes unpunished rape and other sexual abuse, infanticide of newborn girls and abortion of female fetuses, a worldwide trafficking in women and girls, and so-called honor killings of innocent women who are raped, as well as the less violent but harmful practices of lower pay and fewer promotions for women and greater political advantages for men. I mentioned some notable achievements of women despite these handicaps and described struggles within my own religious faith. I called on believers, whether Protestant, Catholic, Coptic, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or tribal, to study these violations of our basic moral values and to take corrective action.

No matter what our faith may be, it is impossible to imagine a God who is unjust.

— Zainah Anwar, founder of Sisters in Islam, Malaysia

In the following pages I will outline how I learned more and more about these issues, as a child, a submarine officer, a farmer, and a church leader during the civil rights struggle, as a governor and a president, as a college professor, and in the global work of The Carter Center. During the nine decades of my life I have become increasingly aware of and concerned about the immense number of and largely ignored gender-based crimes. There are reasons for hope that some of these abuses can be ended when they become better known and understood. I hope that this book will help to expose these violations to a broader audience and marshal a more concerted effort to address this profound problem.

I will explore the links between religion-based assertions of male dominance over women, as well as the ways that our “culture of violence” contributes to the denial of women’s rights. I maintain that male dominance over women is a form of oppression that often leads to violence. We cannot make progress in advancing women’s rights if we do not examine these two underlying factors that contribute to the abuse of women.

In August 2013 I joined civil rights leaders and two other American presidents at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered there in 1963. As I looked out on the crowd and thought about the book I was writing, my thoughts turned to a different speech that King made, in New York City four years later, about America’s war in Vietnam, in which my oldest son was serving. King asserted, “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.” King went on to ask that we Americans broaden our view to look at human freedom as inextricably linked with our commitment to peace and nonviolence.

Using this same logic, it is not possible to address the rights of women, the human and civil rights struggle of our time, without looking at factors that encourage the acceptance of violence in our society — violence that inevitably affects women disproportionately. The problem is not only militarism in foreign policy but also the resort to lethal violence and excessive deprivation of freedom in our criminal justice system when rehabilitation alternatives could be pursued.  Clearly, short-term political advantages that come with being “tough on criminals” or “tough on terrorism” do not offer solutions to issues like persistent crime, sexual violence, and global terrorism.

I realize that violence is not more prevalent today than in previous periods of human history, but there is a difference. We have seen visionary standards adopted by the global community that espouse peace and human rights, and the globalization of information ensures that the violation of these principles of nonviolence by a powerful and admired democracy tends to resonate throughout the world community. We should have advanced much further in the realization of women’s rights, given these international commitments to peace and the rule of law. Instead many of the gains made in advancing human rights since World War II are placed at risk by reliance on injury to others as a means to solve our problems.

We must not forget that there is always an underlying basis of moral and religious principles involved. In August 2013 Pope Francis stated quite simply that in addition to the idea that violence does not bring real solutions to societal problems, its use is contrary to the will of God: “Faith and violence are incompatible.” This powerful statement exalting peace and compassion is one on which all faiths can agree.

In June 2013 The Carter Center brought together religious leaders, scholars, and activists who are working to align religious life with the advancement of girls’ and women’s full equality. We called this a Human Rights Defenders Forum. Throughout this book I have inserted brief statements from some of these defenders that offer a rich array of ideas and perspectives on the subject.

“A Call to Action” © 2014 by Jimmy Carter. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster Inc., N.Y

Studying Sacred Texts Online to Encounter Another View of God

Martin Luther King, Jr. --ON Scripture

by Matthew L. Skinner

Research consistently shows that people—and I’m thinking primarily of those in my home country of the United States—know alarming little about the basic contours of the world’s religions.

Runaway ignorance about the foundational tenets or central writings of religions, whether of other religions or even one’s own, threatens to undermine the prospects for constructive inter-religious dialogue and cooperation. But a corollary ignorance should generate as much concern. Consider how widespread is misunderstanding of or unfamiliarity with the ways that religious beliefs and texts are interpreted or put into practice.

People of faith can promote religious literacy and better acquaint our neighbors (and ourselves) with our beliefs; but to do so without showing them how our faith is meaningfully lived out, how it helps us makes sense of our lives and our world, accomplishes little. Worse, it risks reducing the notion of “religion” to a list of definable assertions or a set of historical processes.

In my vocation as a scholar who educates students to serve in Christian ministry, I emphasize the need for biblical interpreters to be more forthcoming, more public, about their hermeneutical presuppositions and tendencies. Pastoral leadership, I believe, is less about transmitting “what the Bible says” than it is about attending to the ways faithful imaginations get shaped through attentive, critical, and corporate interaction with the Bible. Other Christians may approach scripture out of a different set of values, but I would expect them to agree that the goal of having and reading a Bible is not to amass more information so much as it is to meaningfully indwell and practice their faith.

Given these convictions, it makes sense that I became part of an editorial team responsible for launching nearly six months ago a Web-based resource called ON Scripture—The Bible. Produced weekly by Odyssey Networks, the multi-faith media coalition, and published on their website, Huffington Post Religion, and the Protestant preaching site Day 1, ON Scripture—The Bible is simply an investigation of a biblical text, offered in a way intended to show readers how the Bible might affect people’s interactions with the trends and events that inform our lives. An accompanying video follows the biblical themes or a current event, making for a richer exploration into lives of faith.

I knew ON Scripture—The Bible would, as it has done, provide Christians a forum for learning more about—and vigorously discussing—how the Bible is faithfully interpreted in light of current news and social realities. My pleasant surprise has been discovering that it brings others, especially those interested in reading the Bible over Christians’ shoulders, into the conversation, as well. Whether out of curiosity, worry, or respect, others want to see what Christians are doing with their scriptures.

By making the study of scripture more public, ON Scripture—The Bible welcomes others into discourse around the nature of the Christian Bible, hermeneutics, and practices of faith, whether they realize that this is what they are doing or not.

Having glimpsed the potential for a resource like this to attract and promote not just intra-faith but also interfaith conversation, Odyssey Networks expects to launch ON Scripture—The Torah in early 2012. This will feature rabbis and Jewish scholars writing weekly on Torah passages. The possibility of a third ON Scripture resource, dedicated to interpretation of the Quran, sits on the horizon.

These resources cannot make up for our culture’s shortcomings in “religious literacy.” But they do much to promote “religious fluency,” which consists of a curiosity and ability to be in informed, constructive conversation with a religious tradition, whether one’s own or someone else’s. It is about becoming familiar with people’s ways of living their faith.

The focus on sacred texts provides a fitting arena for welcoming others to observe a religious worldview in action. At the same time, it affords anyone with a computer the opportunity to examine other religious perspectives. For in doing so, I do not just read another’s sacred text; I watch another person enter into creative and expectant dialogue with this text. The encounter becomes personal, and a clearer window into a lived faith. To peer inside other people’s scriptural interpretation—and inside another religion’s scripture—is to gain a better sense of their understanding of who or what God is, and their understanding of what it means to respond to this God.

Matthew L. Skinner is Associate Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, MN, and a contributing editor to ON Scripture—The Bible.

 

Jimmy Carter: the Role of Faith in Peace Talks, Politics, and Private Devotions

by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush
from Huffington Post

Jimmy Carter is the 39th president of the United States, founder of the Carter Center and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He has authored many books, the most recent being “Through the Year with Jimmy Carter: 366 Daily Meditations from the 39th President.” In this wide-ranging interview, HuffPost’s Senior Religion Editor spoke to President Carter by phone about the role faith played in the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, the time of his greatest alienation from God, faith in the White House and his personal daily devotional practice.

In addition to being a Governor of Georgia and President of the United States, you are known as a Sunday School teacher. Are you comfortable with that identity?

I started teaching Sunday school when I was 18 at the Navel Academy Chapel. I led services when we were out at sea while I was in the navy; taught Sunday school 14 times when I was U.S. President at First Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. I just finished my 650th lesson at Maranatha Baptist Church, so you might say I have been a Sunday school teacher all my life.

Who were some of your most influential religious teachers?

Well, my father was the main one. He was a Baptist deacon and Sunday school teacher, and I started going to Sunday school when I was 3. He shaped my early knowledge of Jesus, and I was baptized as a Christian when I was 11 years old.

Later, Billy Graham was probably the closest one to me. I believed what my father taught me about the separation of church and state, so when I was President I never invited Billy Graham to have services in the White House because I didn’t think that was appropriate. He was injured a little bit, until I explained it to him.

Among the theologians, I think Paul Tillich is probably the one I have read the most because he shaped my thoughts about the relation between religion and politics and the fact that religious faith was not incompatible with political service. I tried to apply my religious beliefs when I was governor and later president without being ostentatious about it.

But I don’t claim to be knowledgeable about theology. Most of my knowledge comes out of my experience and the lessons in the Bible. Every Sunday I’m home I teach 45 minutes and we boiled them down to one page for the new book, “Through the Year with Jimmy Carter.”

Click here to read the full article

An Open Letter to Congress From Leaders of the Faith Community: Don’t Cut Foreign Aid!

By Rabbi Jack Bemporad, Imam Abdullah Antepli and Rev Dr. James A Kowalski
from Huffington Post

The human condition is a precarious one; we cannot separate ourselves from others who are suffering. All of us are vulnerable, and in these particularly vulnerable times, we have to be counted upon to do more to alleviate suffering in the world.

But with all the chatter about religion these days, too often the faith-based imperative–to help those in need–has been missing from the conversation. That includes, unfortunately, some discussions on Capitol Hill around funding for development assistance. As a country founded on religious freedom and equality, we must remember what the faiths actually call on us to do for people in need.

Priests, imams, reverends and rabbis all recognize the significance of the individual and our obligation to him or her.

The ancient rabbinic text, the Mishnah, states: “A single man was created in the world, to teach that if any man has caused a single soul to perish, scripture imputes it to him as if he had caused a whole world to perish, and if any man saves alive a single soul, scripture imputes it to him as if he had saved alive a whole world…” Similarly in the Qu’ran, “the destruction of one innocent life is like the destruction of the whole of humanity and the saving of one life is like the saving of the whole of humanity.” (Al-Ma’idah “the Tablespread” 5:32). Matthew 25 famously states, “As you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.”

Equality has special meaning in the Abrahamic faiths. Equality does not refer solely to the spiritual equality of every human being, nor primarily to those of equal rank, or those of the same class, or who have equal possessions. And it is more than justice in the sense of rectification of wrong.

Equality is something positive and it refers to those who are weaker than oneself i.e. the poor, the stranger, the widow, orphan and the slave. Equality means raising those who are vulnerable, disadvantaged, to the status of those who are secure. Thus the Biblical legislation mandates that there be one law for the home born and the stranger. (Exodus 12:49)

These laws and teachings spell out the rights of the poor, the orphan, the widow and the stranger, who share a common bond. All of them lack a protector that can stand up for them. They do not have a next of kin to intercede for them and therefore the law intervenes as the next of kin. And the guarantee is God.

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Former Judge Kirby Urges Contextual Reading of Bible on Homosexuality

Former High Court Judge and Parliament major speaker Michael Kirby spoke today about the Bible and sexual orientation, reports The Age.  The remarks, given alongside Abdullah Saeed and the Rev. Dorothy McRay-McMahon was part of the Parliament panel discussion Interpreting the Text: Apostasy and Homosexuality.  During the talk, Kirby argued that Biblical sources are often considered selectively and out-of-context, leading to an erroneous and ahistorical interpretation.  Saeed also commented on Islamic theology and sexuality.

To read the full article, click here.