Friday, November 02, 2012

[the right side of history]

"Here's the funny thing about history: sometimes you can't tell you're on the wrong side of it, especially when it's being made."
John Boyle, Citizen Times, Aug 11/12 (source)

Here is a review of history, and some of the times that the church has been on the wrong side of it. Note that in most cases, there were also believers on the right side of history, but it seems it took quite some time before that became clear to all involved.

Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, in an article about Evangelicals and the Wrong Side of History, says the following:
While evangelicals used Bible verses to deny women the right to vote, a very religious Fredrick Douglass and the suffrage movement used the Bible to support the full enfranchisment of women.

... the largest and most powerful evangelical denomination in the country, the Southern Baptist Convention, does not allow women to serve as pastors and through its lobbying arm has supported anti-choice, anti-gay marriage, and anti-immigrant agendas.

Rev. Billy Graham is another example of the evangelical tendency to lag behind in social progress. Rev. Graham, the undisputed leader of American evangelicalism for the past five decades, used a biblical argument to support the passage of North Carolina constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.... In the same manner, Graham refused to denounce segregation after a direct appeal from Dr. King in 1957. (source and full article)

150 years ago100 years ago50 years agoToday
Abolishment of slaverySuffragette / right to voteDesegregationMarriage equality / civil rights for LGBT people
Churches used the bible to defend slaveryChurches used the bible to keep women "in their place" and deny the right to voteChurches used the bible to justify lesser status of blacksChurches use the bible to put down lgbt people

Most Christians, looking back at history, would be loathe to return to the days when black people were enslaved, aboriginal people were beaten down, women had no vote and so on. In other words, they now accept that history was right. Yet in today's current hot issue – the acceptance of gay and lesbian people, they fight and object and "stand firm".

Further Reading:

Jews and Gentiles

The Jewish people not only believed they were the chosen people, but looked down on Gentiles (non-Jews). Peter was on the wrong side of history until God corrected him in a dream, showing him that Gentiles are not unclean and that he should not treat them as such. See Acts 10. Debates about Gentiles and the church continued (see Acts 15).

Interestingly enough, the first non-Jewish convert spoken of is the Ethiopian eunuch. This would have been rather shocking culturally, as he was black and probably couldn't even come into the temple (Deut 23:1).

For many years, the church promoted slavery as a perfectly Christian belief and activity.
When the abolitionists began their fight to end slavery, the dominant Christian voice spoke in favour of slavery and against its abolition.
The church was on the wrong side of history and today, the vast majority of churches stand against slavery.

Churches and Christians supported slavery for centuries, using the Bible as justification, with a specific focus on these verses:

Leviticus 25:44-46:  As for your male and female slaves, whom you may have: You may buy male and female slaves from the nations that are around you. They may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever.”
I Timothy 6: 1-4:  All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves. These are the things you are to teach and insist on. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing.

Dan Savage has said about the I Timothy passage, "This is a verse that was thrown in the face of American abolitionists, before and during the second—or the Civil War. The Reverend Richard Fuller, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, in the years before the Civil War was able to say, with a straight face and because it’s true, “What God has sanctioned in the Old Testament and permitted in the New cannot be sin.”" (source)

Women's Right to Vote

For many years, the church considered women as second class and subservient to men. This was proclaimed in the pulpits, practiced in the church, and lived out in their homes. Some of this was based on the Apostle Paul's instructions regarding women not teaching men and being quiet in the synagogue.
Women's movements over many years sought for equality at multiple levels, including the right to vote and the right to be in public ministry.
Churches fought this for a long time too. While many churches have moved forward on most of these points, there are still many where women are not considered equally suited to preach or minister in public ways.


Churches -- specifically in the United States and South Africa -- taught that God had ordained the separation of the races. A key verse for this was Acts 17:26:  From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. (NIV)

The Rev Benjamin Palmer, leading proslavery advocate before the war, in 1887: "The color line is distinctly drawn by Jehovah himself; it is drawn in nature and in history in such a form as to make it a sin and a crime to undertake to obliterate it." Pointing to the confusion of tongues at Babel as a divine measure to "restrain sin within tolerable bounds," Palmer suggested that "race distinctions were probably developed at the same time, and for the same purpose." Quoted in C.R. Vaughan, "The Southern General Assembly," Presbyterian Quarterly 1 (1887-88). (source)


  1. The same could be said about non-Christians too. Considering how many Christians led the movement against slavery, etc, this seems a very one-sided and biased /critical view that doesn't take into consideration a full range of what was happening.

    What would happen if you substituted "Black people" for "Christian" in this comic or the text accompanying it? It would still be valid, except you wouldn't be in vogue anymore. Or if you said "Chinese" or perhaps "Indians". You could use "Whites", too, but that would be fashionable these days and thus allowed.....


    1. Dear Anonalex:

      Would it help if the cartoon had said "some Christians", to make it clear that it wasn't "all Christians"?

      I'm not sure about substituting "black people" (etc.) into the cartoon. Certainly there are black Christians who use(d) the Bible to do some of these things, but to simply suggest that an ethnic group used the Bible to do something would not only not be in vogue, but would be too general. And perhaps that was your real point -- that the cartoon was smearing all Christians with these actions because it didn't say "some"??

      What I wanted to point out with this cartoon, is that just as in the past some Christians used the Bible to defend things which many of us now agree are wrong, some Christians are repeating this mistake by the way they use the Bible to justify mistreatment of gay and lesbian people. And they think that somehow this is different than what was done in the past.

      Alright, I admit it. I just like to be fashionable, and as this is next to impossible for me to accomplish in my attire (due both to lack of money and poor fashion sense), I find this blog to be a great place to be in vogue.

      Fashionably yours, and looking forward to your reply,

      rob g

  2. I should be more specific. If the comic said:
    Did you know that Chinese people used to defend slavery, objected to women voting, and support racial segregation?
    And now they're doing it again with lgbt people?

    Did you know that people named Rob used to defend slavery, objected to women voting, and support racial segregation?
    And now they're doing it again with lgbt people?

    Would that be okay? Why or why not?

    Is it okay to smear Christians, because some of them smear lgbt people. In some circles, yes. What about replacing 'Christians' with 'Blacks' or with 'Young People' or 'the Elderly' or 'Bankers' or ... whatever. With which of these labels / communities is it okay/fashionable, and which not? Why?


    1. Is your primary concern that the cartoon said "Christians" rather than "some Christians", and thus you feel all Christians were smeared by it?

      Or is it rather than it's okay to talk about bad things that some Christians did in the past/present but not okay to say similar things about people of certain ethnic groups?

      If some Chinese people had defended slavery, etc., that would be okay to say. But this blog is not looking at the Chinese community. It is looking at the Christian community which I am part of, and is examining the things that some Christians do (or have done) and the things which the Christian culture (or various subcultures within it -- for example, western middle-class Christians, or orthodox Christians) promotes, communicates, perpetuates, encourages, etc.

  3. I think my initial reaction was two-fold:

    1. The initial pane states 'Christians' and seems to include all Christians. (Ha ha.)
    2. I'm wondering what the line is between encouraging one another (as we are commanded to do) versus judging and condemning (which we are heavily cautioned against).