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“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28).

So quoted former US president Jimmy Carter in The Observer last month in response to the Southern Baptist Convention’s declaration that women must be subservient to their husbands and may not serve as members of clergy in the military.

Frustrated by widespread discrimination against women throughout religious orders, and the manipulation of religious verses to encourage such behavior, Carter decided to sever his 60-year relationship with the Southern Baptist Convention.

“At their 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,” writes Carter. "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 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.”

No longer restrained by a political agenda, he and The Elders are doing just that – they recently challenged religious and traditional leaders with a statement declaring: “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on the grounds of religion and tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”

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