Introduction to religious change (Cont'd)
visitors' reactions; why is it so touchy?
What are racism, sexism and homophobia?
The most important changes in religious beliefs over the past two centuries
have involved the abandonment of racism, sexism and homophobia -- specifically the abolition of
human slavery, the attainment of equality by women, and seeking equal rights for
homosexuals and bisexuals. On the horizon and closing in quickly are equal rights for transgender
persons and transsexuals.
Unfortunately, the English language lacks precision in matters related to
these words. Consider the term "racism." It has at least three main meanings:
||A belief that people of other races are inherently inferior to individuals of one's
||Hatred, fear, or rejection of persons of one or more races.
||Promoting or applying laws or customs that discriminate against persons
of one or more races.
Often, one must study the context in which the term is used in order to
determine which meaning is intended.
The three meanings are related. A racist will often start with a belief that
people of a given race are inferior. This leads to hatred, fear, or rejection. The
final stage is to actively discriminate against persons on the basis of race.
In this section of the web site, we will use the third definition
for racism when describing how
Christian denominations changed their teachings on the ultimate manifestation of
racism: human slavery in North
America. Similarly, we will describe changes in Christian teachings on
discrimination against women, homosexuals and bisexuals, and transsexuals.
Visitors' reactions to this section:
This section generates many irate Emails from readers.
||Many believe that their interpretation of the Bible requires that women
and men be restricted to certain specific roles in the
family, church and the rest of society. They conclude that such restrictions
cannot be considered to be sexism because they see it as part of as God's
will for humanity. There is not much that we can do in response to such
Emails, except to point out the definition that we use of the term "sexism."
Sexism is an action; it is still sexism even if it is motivated by religious
Others believe that same-sex behavior is profoundly sinful, irrespective
of the nature of the relationship. Because their interpretation of the
Bible's "clobber passages" on homosexuality, they
conclude that discrimination against persons with minority sexual
orientations is God's will and cannot be considered on a par with racism and
sexism. Again, all we can do is point to the main
definition of "homophobia."
Still others are distressed because, to them, "homophobia" means fear of
homosexuals. They do not fear gays and lesbians; they merely want to
discriminate against them by withholding fundamental human rights including the
right to marry, and
perhaps imprisoning them for their behavior. Actually, the term has many
meanings, and nobody has created a word that refers uniquely to
discrimination against homosexuals. Until such a term surfaces and becomes
generally accepted, we are forced to use "homophobia."
Why is religious change such a touchy topic?
Faith groups do change their beliefs and teachings over time in response to
secular pressures, cultural pressures, and theological developments. However,
a topic that many denominations do not handle well. After all, if a denomination
openly discusses how it has committed errors in the past, or has changed its teaching
or behavior, its
members may wonder which of its current teachings are in error. They may ask
which will need to be changed in the future; what current church beliefs and
practices will be seen as sinful by future generations?
The Roman Catholic Church ran into this problem in the year 2000 when Pope
John Paul II issued the "Memory and Reconciliation"
document. It apologized to "women,
[Roma], other Christians, and Catholics" for mass murders and other forms
of oppression committed by church leaders during the previous 16
centuries. Some observers were critical of the document:
Joan Ryan of the San Francisco
Chronicle asked: "But what about the mistakes of the present? Let's hope
acknowledgment of today's exclusion and rejection of women won't have to
wait for whoever is pope during the next Jubilee." 1
Father Jean-Louis Brugues
noted that Roman Catholics from outside the United States and Europe had
expressed discomfort at atoning for the sins of past church leaders. He
said: "There was also concern, especially in areas where Christians are
in a minority, that seeking forgiveness might be seen as a sign of weakness.''
And so, many denominations tend to ignore past changes and teach that they
follow the faith unchanged from the time when it was once delivered unto the saints
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Joan Ryan, "A partial confession from the pope," San Francisco
Chronicle, 2000-MAR-14, at:
Crispian Balmer, "Catholic Church establishes forgiveness framework," Reuters, 2000-MAR-1. See:
http://dailynews.yahoo.com/ This article appears to be offline.
- From Jude 1:3: "Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of
the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort
you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered
unto the saints." (King James Version).
Site navigation: Main path
Other paths too numerous to list
Copyright © 2006 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2006-MAY-29
Latest update: 2009-MAY-15
Author: B.A. Robinson