July 17, 2015 marked the 35th anniversary of the signing of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) by former president Jimmy Carter. 189 countries have ratified this United Nations treaty, which is designed to bring equality to women around the world. The United States is just one of a few countries that has not. In the United States, treaties require not just the signature of the president but Senate confirmation as well.
On June 24, 2014, Senators Elizabeth Warren, Mazie K. Hirono, Heidi Heitkamp, Tammy Baldwin, Dianne Feinstein, Debbie Stabenow, Amy Klobuchar, and Patty Murray testified in support of ratification before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. In spite of compelling testimony showing that 30 percent of women around the world will experience physical or sexual violence sometime in their lives from a man, the Senate did not ratify the treaty.
Lest the reader think that the United States is a safer place for women, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network states that one out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or complete rape in her lifetime. The vast majority of rape victims are female.
Why did the Senate not ratify this important document?
The president who signed CEDAW, Jimmy Carter, may have hit the nail on the head. In an interview with CNN on February 15, 2015, he noted that in the United States, many Christians do not support gender equality.
But still, there is a very great reluctance among some Protestants, like Southern Baptists, among others, (to) treat women equally in the eyes of God. And that sends a signal that it is OK to discriminate against girls and women.
Let’s take a look at what Jimmy Carter was talking about. These Southern Baptists, like all Christians, look to guidance for their beliefs from the Bible. It is a text that is replete with violence toward women. Much of this explicit violence is either directed by God or by one of his prophets.
In one passage, the Israelite army returns to camp after defeating the Midianites. They bring with them the women and children they had spared. This is the rebuke they receive from God’s prophet Moses.
And Moses was angry with the officers of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, who had come from service in the war. Moses said to them, “Have you let all the women live? Behold, these caused the people of Israel, by the counsel of Balaam, to act treacherously against the LORD in the matter of Pe’or, and so the plague came among the congregation of the LORD. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” (Number 31: 14-18 RSV).
Notice that even though all the women are blamed for the plaque, the virgins are allowed to live in order to be raped by the soldiers. In another passage, a type of law or directive is given to the Israelites in a situation where a virgin is raped. Rape is not limited to times of war and these women are not foreigners.
If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her; he may not put her away all his days. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)
How can women sit in church with this book in front of them? Do women want to teach their daughters that God sanctioned rape? Isn’t it time to repudiate the Bible as an Iron Age myth written by men?
Many Christians will state that the New Testament contains a revised and better message about God. However, Jesus was a Jew who upheld the law of the Torah. “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17) Both the writers of the gospels and early leaders of what came to be called Christianity relied heavily on the Old Testament in interpreting the new Jesus movement. The Genesis story of Adam and Eve figured prominently in discussions about the status of women. Tertullian, a prolific writer from the end of the second and beginning of the third century in the Roman province of Carthage, summed up the church’s attitude toward women in the following.
And do you not know that you are Eve? God’s sentence hangs still over all your sex and His punishment weighs down upon you. You are the devil’s gateway; you are she who first violated the forbidden tree and broke the law of God. It was you who coaxed your way around him whom the devil had not the force to attack. With what ease you shattered that image of God: Man! Because of the death you merited, even the Son of God had to die…Woman, you are the gate to hell.
Today the church’s view toward women is in evidence in their exclusion of women, depending on the denomination, from leadership positions, thus continuing the traditions of the early church leaders. This exclusion continues beyond the churchyard to the halls of Congress. 80% of those serving in the United States Congress are men. 92% of Congress has identified themselves as Christians. In addition, women lead only 5% of CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies.
Vestiges of the powerful patriarchy of the dominant religions in the United States continue today in all aspects of our society and culture. It is never easy to leave faith behind. In some religions, it means being ostracized forever from your family. In most, it means leaving the comfort that the church or synagogue community provides including the rituals, music, and images. But is the right thing to do.
Be strong. Do it for your children. Do it to create a world that isn’t divided by religious beliefs but is bound by a common humanity. Do it today.
Karen L. Garst
The Faithless Feminist
July 20, 2015
P. S. I am always looking for contributions to my blog. If you are interested in writing, you can contact me here.
 Steffanelli, Al. (2012) Free Thoughts: A Collection of Essays by An American Atheist. UAF Publications at Smashwords, p. 17.