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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William W. Finlator, April 19, 1985. Interview C-0007. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Selective reading of the Bible turns Christians against the ERA

Finlator condemns selective readings of the Bible. Some Baptists have used the Bible to support their belief that women should be subservient position, and thus opposed the Equal Rights Amendment on religious grounds. Finlator looks back on the strategy of the ERA's supporters and wishes that they had placed women's rights in an economic context. Had they done so, he thinks, they may have been able to convince more women to support the amendment.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William W. Finlator, April 19, 1985. Interview C-0007. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JAY JENKINS:
The Equal Rights Amendment was another of your concerns. Did you see that in the context of civil rights?
WILLIAM W. FINLATOR:
Yes indeed I did. And this was something that used to worry me (and still does) about my Baptist people. They go to the Bible to justify their position on keeping women "in their place." And they remind us that St. Paul says it is wrong for a woman to speak in the church, and that man should be in control of the household and woman should be subject to man. Like women to men, the church should be subjected to Christ. All this is in the Bible. And they justify their opposition to ERA biblically because all of us have a tendency to read the Bible selectively and we find in the Bible something that justifies what we already believe. And then we give our beliefs Biblical sanction. And the Bible says many things. St. Paul also says in Christ there's neither male or female. In the early church women were deacons, leaders. So that there's the other picture. And so in fighting for ERA, you have to fight the church because the church stands in the way—it often stands in the way—of simple human justice. But we saw, and vividly see, that the Constitution must really mean women but it doesn't say women. And we know that when Thomas Jefferson went home from the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia to tell his family about the Bill of Rights and the new Constitution, it didn't mean poor people, black people or even Thomas Jefferson's wife. So that through the years we have tried to indicate that the spirit of the Constitution has got to include those poor people, all women, and all ethnic groups. And the only way we can do that … after the Civil War we adopted amendments which talked about race, previous condition of servitude, that meant black—though we had never put women in there, is to put women in the Constitution; hence, ERA. And in the civil liberties movement we found out, Jay, it's incredible … We found out there was law after law, statute after statute passed to keep women from being full citizens in this country. And I thought about those words of the great Samuel Johnson, they kept coming to my mind: he said somewhere that God had given women so many natural endowments superior to men, that men had found it wise legally to restrict her. And so we founded this country legally restricting women. And the simple ERA statement means that you just can't do that. But we were not quite prepared to find so many women in opposition to ERA and we made a mistake in not trying to understand why women oppose ERA. And we were not able to persuade them to see that it was an economic issue as much as a social issue and we tried to talk of the feminization of poverty. If ERA was passed … think about all the women at work, particularly the women who are the leaders of the household whose numbers are increasing, who are rearing the children. They are the poor people. The children will be poor until women have equal economic treatment with men. This is simple justice, fairness, kindness. And we are just saddened that women don't see it. We understand why economic powers don't want it because they'll have to pay out more money. You can't pay a bank teller woman one salary and a man on the way up another salary when this comes.