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The Evangelical Faith of Jimmy Carter

One of the things that divided us was the inequality of men and women. Because a lot of the evangelicals—particularly the Southern Baptist Convention—decided that women were not equal to men and could not serve God in the same way that a man could. I look on the writings of Paul which expressed the opinion of Jesus Christ: There’s no difference between a Jew and Gentile in the eyes of God. There’s no difference between a slave and a master. There’s no difference between a man and a woman….But struggling with that idea of equality has divided our country for a long time.

MM: Do you think we struggle with equality as evangelicals too?

JC: We do. I think we do. A lot of the basis for the evangelical strength is a remnant or carry-over of the old distinction between black and white people in times of slavery. We changed the Constitution after the Civil War and did away with that with the 13th and 14th Amendments. We did the same thing with the Civil Rights Movement. But we had a problem even with the right of women to vote in a democracy for a long time.

I ask my classes quite often “When did women in America get a right to vote?” And many of them say “With the 20th Amendment back in 1919.” And I say “No, that was when white women got a chance to vote. But African American women didn’t get a chance to vote until the 1960s under Lyndon Johnson.” We still have progressive ways to make people equal, and until we learn how to live with each other in harmony and love and mutual respect and caring for one another, I don’t think the human race is sure to survive. We have the threat of nuclear war and environmental questions….

MM: You go to great length in the book talking about women. What can church leaders do right now to help women reach their potential?

JC: One of the things our own little church does—where you’ve been—is we’ve had a woman pastor, we’ve had women deacons—my wife is a deacon now. We treat women completely as equals in our church. We realize that women comprise a little more than half the total human race and if we exclude them from serving God in an equal and respectful way, then we’re cutting back on the strength of Christianity as well as the strength of our governments. I hope in the future we’ll see women treated completely as equals to men—which has a long way still to go.

I think it’s the worst single greatest violation of human rights on earth now is the violation of equality between men and women. And it’s due to the misinterpretation—sometimes deliberate by men in charge—of the Holy Scriptures, not only in Christianity with the Holy Bible but also with the Koran. We’ve found, by the way, around the world that Muslims have been very receptive to our effort to promote equality between men and women. They have made tremendous strides and are very cooperative. Much more so than some of the Americans…

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Maina Mwaura serves as Missions Pastor at West Ridge Church in Dallas, Georgia. Originally from Orlando, FL, Maina attended Liberty University and New Orleans Theological Seminary. Maina has served on staff at several churches. You can find more of Maina's written work at mainaspeaks.com.