Jimmy Carter has met the enemies, and they are Catholics

Says Catholicism essentially teaches that women are not equal to men in the eyes of God.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, wearing a baseball cap, addresses students and invited guests at St. Genevieve High School in Panorama City, Calif., in October 2010. (CNS photo)Situating comments on religion and related matters made by the 39th President of the United States could, without much effort, turn into a grim, surreal drinking game. Hyperbole? Gulp! Historical falsehood? Gulp? Vapid pontification? Gulp! Catholic-bashing? Gulp, glug, choke! Dan Brown has nothing on Mr. Carter, who writes and thinks with about the same level of theological and historical erudition as the best-selling mangler of words from New Hampshire.

My low esteem for Carter’s often loopy opinions are clearly outlined in this 2009 post; I won’t revisit every detail here. Suffice to say, Carter has become a sort of Hans Küng of liberal Baptists (without any of Küng’s impressive intellectual background), coming out of the woodwork from time to time to utter some ridiculous broadside against the Catholic Church and other “conservative” Christian bodies. Meanwhile, the usual media suspects bow low in homage to a man whose failures as POTUS were matched, with sad robustness, by his many years of sticking up for nearly every murderous despot and vicious thug to stomp upon and across the international stage.

Carter’s recent interview with TIME magazine is more of the same. Speaking about religion and equal rights for women, Carter hones in immediately on that most dastardly, violent, bloody, and oppressive religion of our time—the one that has (brace yourselves!) kept women from being priests and deacons:

Well, religion can be, and I think there’s a slow, very slow, move around the world to give women equal rights in the eyes of God. What has been the case for many centuries is that the great religions, the major religions, have discriminated against women in a very abusive fashion and set an example for the rest of society to treat women as secondary citizens. In a marriage or in the workplace or wherever, they are discriminated against. And I think the great religions have set the example for that, by ordaining, in effect, that women are not equal to men in the eyes of God.

This has been done and still is done by the Catholic Church ever since the third century, when the Catholic Church ordained that a woman cannot be a priest for instance but a man can. A woman can be a nurse or a teacher but she can’t be a priest. This is wrong, I think. As you may or may not know, the Southern Baptist Convention back now about 13 years ago in Orlando, voted that women were inferior and had to be subservient to their husbands, and ordained that a woman could not be a deacon or a pastor or a chaplain or even a teacher in a classroom in some seminaries where men are in the classroom, boys are in the classroom. So my wife and I withdrew from the Southern Baptist Convention primarily because of that.

But I now go to a more moderate church in Plains, a small church, it’s part of the Cooperative Baptist fellowship, and we have a male and a female pastor, and we have women and have men who are deacons. My wife happens to be one of the deacons.

So some of the Baptists are making progress, along with Methodists.

What I wrote three years ago works just as well today as it did then, and saves me the trouble of wasting too much effort on such rot:

In all honesty, I wouldn’t bother with all of the political stuff (as important as it is), except there is something deeply disturbing about a man of such importance and influence being so willing to verbally aid and abet thugs while trashing the motives and character of those who believe, as Catholics do, that only certain men are chosen by God to be priests. It’s truly repulsive, intimating that women not being able to be Catholic (or Orthodox) priests is the same as beating, raping, torturing, and even killing women. I have long found Carter to hold views and say things that are deeply revolting (both morally and intellectually), but this tops it all. And since when did Billy Graham—a nice man but hardly a theological heavyweight—become the in-house theologian for the Magisterium of Jimmy Carter? The level of sheer arrogance in Carter’s statement is mind-boggling.

An irony, of course, is that Carter is simply engaging in a crude form of sola scriptura, albeit one that is not  fundamentalist Protestant in nature, but openly fundamentalist secularist. But Carter also resorts to the sort of unsubstantiated falsehoods (well, of course, since falsehoods cannot be substantiated!) that make both theologians and historians tear at their hair, as there were no female priests, bishops, or apostles in the early Church. But this form of argumentation is hardly new for Carter, who seems to enjoy misrepresenting the beliefs, motives, and actions of “conservative” Christians.

I then pointed out another one of Carter’s favorite bits of reality-challenge chaff: pro-lifers don’t really care about babies once they are born. “Then why are there so many Christian adoption agencies?” I asked, “Why do so many Christians pursue adoption, even while the costs skyrocket and red tape nearly chokes many agencies and programs to death? And why is it that abortion businesses such as Planned Parenthood show little or no interest in adoptions?”

But, back to the recent interview: what does it indicate about Carter that when the topic of the religious oppression of women comes up, he first mentions, immediately and at length, the Catholic Church? Why not also the Eastern Orthodox Churches, who hold to the same doctrinal position as do Catholics? And what of Jewish groups that won’t allow women to be rabbis? And what of Islam? As it turns out, Carter does eventually mention Islam, saying:

In the Islamic world that varies widely depending on what the regime is in the capital. Sometimes they try to impose very strict law, misquoting I think the major points of the Qur’an, and they ordain that a woman is inferior inherently. Ten year old girls can be forced to marry against their wishes, and that women can be treated as slaves in a marriage, and that a woman can’t drive an automobile, some countries don’t let women vote, like Saudi Arabia. …

It is much worse in some of the third world countries where genital cutting is condoned and girls are forced to marry when they are as young as 8 or 10 years old and they have no voice in who their husband might be or when they get married. And you see the extreme case with Al Qaeda and particularly with the Taliban in Afghanistan. So these are the kind of things that permeate society in a very general way and it afflicts almost every single community in America and almost throughout the world. There is a sense that women are not quite equal to men both politically and economically and in religious terms.

They “try to impose very strict law”? Try? As in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Yemen, to name a few of the obvious examples?
Even more disturbing, however, is the lax implication (due to laziness? or something worse?) that the sort of violent, oppressive, and deadly actions against women occurring on a regular basis in many Islamic countries are merely different in degree, not in essential character, from what is found in countries such as America and in religions such as Catholicism. Again, the strange thing about Carter’s approach is how it is an illogical combination of a fundamentalist sort of sola scriptura and a deeply ideological form of modern feminism. He assumes the Bible has the final say on these matters—he appeals to the writings of Paul to support women’s ordination—but then interprets Scripture using feminist assumptions about male authority (bad, all bad!) and the development of doctrine (also bad!) which undermine his first assumption.

This is especially the case when he states, quite incorrectly, that “after about the third century when men took over control of the Catholic Church, then they began to ordain that women had to play an inferior position, not be a priest.” Nevermind that the Church was only just starting to get around to sorting out and establishing, in local synods, the canon of the New Testament. This is no better than when Jehovah’s Witnesses claim the New Testament actually dismisses any belief in the Trinity while also claiming, with nary a flinch or a pause, to accept the authority of that same collection of 27 books, even though said canon was named and defined by the very Church (“one, holy, catholic, and apostolic”) they insist was the lying, heretical source of the dread dogam of the Trinity.

And, finally, there is the fairly obvious fact that Carter has apparently never bothered to seriously study or understand why the Catholic, Orthodox, and Ancient Oriental Churches do not ordain women. Or why it is, to take it a step further, that those churches believe in apostolic succession and believe that the Eucharist is the true Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. In short, Carter is not only not theologically savvy, he’s apparently lazy and even bigoted, if we understand bigotry as a rigid, reactionary intolerance that will not, for various reasons (ideology, notably), allow the opposition’s arguments to be considered, let alone tolerated. Gulp, gulp, glug!

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About Carl E. Olson 1216 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.