Q&A with President Jimmy Carter

The 39th president discusses issues related to his latest book, “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power.”
by Ken Raymond Published: April 6, 2014
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Jimmy Carter, the soft-spoken 39th president of the United States, has penned a hard-hitting 28th book, “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power.”

The book focuses on the dual problems of violence against women and religious/political biases toward women, injustices Carter says he witnessed as a Georgia farm boy, a governor, a president and as head of The Carter Center, which works with some of the most impoverished people on the planet.

Carter, who has never stopped working in the 33 years since his presidency ended, spoke with The Oklahoman by telephone. This is a sparsely edited transcript.

Q: If you were to condense your book down to its essential kernel, what would it be? What is the problem you’re identifying?

A: The most terrible example of human abuse and murder in the world is what is now being done to women and girls, including in the United States, without being adequately recognized or corrected. It’s the most terrible crime and human rights abuse on Earth.

Q: You identify 23 actions that you and The Carter Center support in terms of promoting and protecting women. It’s such a diverse and sweeping call for change. How do you think it can be accomplished?

A: It applies to the different kinds of abuse. It’s designed not only for leaders but also for people who read the book. ... Those 23 things, as I wrote the book, I made notes: What can we do about this? When I talk about prostitution, I point out what’s being done in Sweden. When I talk about spouse abuse in this country, I talk about what’s being done very effectively, again, in Massachusetts. And when I talk of abuse of girls on universities and colleges in America, I talk about what can be done to inspire or force the presidents and deans of these universities to bring these rapes to the attention of the authorities. The same thing applies to the military, to do away with the obstruction that can be offered by the commanding officers who don’t want to see rape cases brought to the public or to the attention of their superiors because it makes them look bad.

So I tried to identify the abuses around the world, and also to put forth some corrections for it. The slavery issue is also one that affects the United States. We have about 100,000 girls who are sold into slavery in America every year. These are statistics from the U.S. State Department. Congress has refused to act on basic laws that other countries have adopted, that were promoted by the United Nations Security Council in some cases, the General Assembly in others. ... We have failed to have the implementation on the Abuse of Women Act because we don’t want to get involved and be responsible for what happens when other countries look at us. That’s why I delineated all these 23 different things, was just to bring it to the attention of people hopefully until they read the book, and if they have a question of what can be done about this terrible situation, at the end of the book they can find an answer to that particular question.

Q: You discuss at length the way religious leaders, primarily male, define doctrine based on carefully selected verses that seem to privilege men. It’s something that rakes across the whole strata of religion. By and large, these institutions defy change. What can be done to make them embrace women as equals and grant them equal status as clergy?

A: Two good examples of that. One is the Southern Baptist Convention decided in the year 2000 — I had been a Baptist all my life, at that time about 70 years; I was a Sunday school teacher and a deacon and a member of the Southern Baptist Convention itself — (but) they voted that from then on women would be inferior to men officially and they couldn’t any longer serve as priests or pastors or deacons or chaplains in the Army. They also further ordained that a woman who taught in a Baptist seminary couldn’t teach in a classroom if one of the students was a boy, so I decided to withdraw from the Southern Baptist Convention for that and a few other reasons.

Then the other thing is the Catholic Church, which I admire very much. I met with John Paul II. I communicated recently with Pope Francis. They have ordained since at least the third century that a woman couldn’t be a priest or a deacon. I wrote a long letter to Pope Francis and outlined some of the things I just mentioned to you, in a briefer way, perhaps, and asked him to help me remove the abuse of women and girls. I didn’t ask him to change the Catholic policy of women priests. He wrote me back a very nice letter and said he agreed with me. His opinion was that women should play a much stronger role within the Catholic Church in the future, which was encouraging.

Last week — I had nothing to do with this — he appointed an eight-person committee to look into the problem of priests abusing children, and four of those eight on the committee were women, one of whom had been abused by a priest when she was a little girl. ... I hope this book itself, just one person talking about it and promoting it, will gather others concerned about the same question that already exists, so that we can work in concert and get leaders of the world to take more action along these lines. ...

Another case is the terrible rape of women in war zones in the eastern part of Zaire — it used to be Zaire, now it’s the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I covered that (in the book). Angelina Jolie is working with the foreign minister of Great Britain, and ... he is actually getting the United Nations Security Council, which has some teeth in its rulings, (involved). Slowly but surely I think the world is becoming a little bit more aware of this problem. The biggest issue is that most people don’t want to face the fact because it’s an unsavory, unpleasant subject.

Q: This book is, in part, an indictment of America’s warlike tendencies, capital punishment, drone attacks and legal system ... all of which, as I read this, encourage violence against women. Explain that a little, if you would.

A: It would be an unavoidable fact, if I left it out of the book, it’d just be a big vacuum there, because that’s one of the reasons that the United States is a key player. ... The abuse of women, students on university campuses, is horrendous in this country, and it’s not addressed, and you know the same problem exists in the military. Commanding officers and presidents of universities don’t want to raise the issue. That proves they’re not a very good leader because they permit women to be raped on the campus or in company or battalion in the Army. This is another problem that I hope the book will stimulate, at least, discussion about, and we have a horrible trade in women slaves in this country. ... About 800,000 women on a global basis are sold (annually) across international borders. Our own State Department estimated that 80 percent of those slaves sold are young girls sold into sexual slavery. Those things ought to be known. ... Where are you now in Oklahoma?

Continue reading this story on the...

by Ken Raymond
Book Editor
Ken Raymond is the book editor. He joined The Oklahoman in 1999. He has won dozens of state, regional and national writing awards. Three times he has been named the state's "overall best" writer by the Society of Professional Journalists. In...
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