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Religious conflicts

Apologies by Christian groups for past racist acts.
Solar system: Religious beliefs/scientific findings.

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This is continued from a previous essay

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Apologies by Christian groups for past racist acts:

  • During 1995-JUN, on the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention, messengers (delegates) passed a powerful resolution on racial reconciliation. The SBC had the decency to apologize for the pain that it caused African-Americans and for any residual racism that remains in the organization. They noted:

    "WHEREAS, Our relationship to African-Americans has been hindered from the beginning by the role that slavery played in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention; and

    WHEREAS, Many of our Southern Baptist forbears defended the right to own slaves, and either participated in, supported, or acquiesced in the particularly inhumane nature of American slavery; and

    WHEREAS, In later years Southern Baptists failed, in many cases, to support, and in some cases opposed, legitimate initiatives to secure the civil rights of African-Americans; and

    WHEREAS, Racism has led to discrimination, oppression, injustice, and violence, both in the Civil War and throughout the history of our nation; and

    WHEREAS, Racism has divided the body of Christ and Southern Baptists in particular, and separated us from our African-American brothers and sisters; and

    WHEREAS, Many of our congregations have intentionally and/or unintentionally excluded African-Americans from worship, membership, and leadership; and

    WHEREAS, Racism profoundly distorts our understanding of Christian morality, leading some Southern Baptists to believe that racial prejudice and discrimination are compatible with the Gospel; and

    WHEREAS, Jesus performed the ministry of reconciliation to restore sinners to a right relationship with the Heavenly Father, and to establish right relations among all human beings, especially within the family of faith.

    Therefore, be it RESOLVED, That we, the messengers to the Sesquicentennial meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, assembled in Atlanta, Georgia, June 20-22, 1995, unwaveringly denounce racism, in all its forms, as deplorable sin; and

    Be it further RESOLVED, That we affirm the Bibles teaching that every human life is sacred, and is of equal and immeasurable worth, made in Gods image, regardless of race or ethnicity (Genesis 1:27), and that, with respect to salvation through Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for (we) are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28); ..." 1

  • Many Christian denominations, including the Southern Baptists, are now in the forefront of the continuing fight against residual pockets of racism. In 2012-JUN, the SBC elected Fred Luter Jr, a black pastor, as its president.

  • Perhaps the most famous fundamentalist Christian university in the U.S. is Bob Jones University (BJU). They have also made the transition from active racism to issuing an apology for their past racist attitudes:

    • Prior to the 1970s it automatically refused admittance to any black students.

    • In 1988, BJU spokesperson Jonathan Pait commented on their policy of forbidding interracial dating, saying:

      "God has separated people for his own purposes. He has erected barriers between the nations, not only land and sea barriers, but also ethnic, cultural, and language barriers. God has made people different from one another and intends those differences to remain. Bob Jones University is opposed to intermarriage of the races because it breaks down the barriers God has established."

    • In the year 2000, BJU ended its prohibition of interracial dating among students.

    • In 2008, BJU president Jones issued a apology:

      "For almost two centuries American Christianity, including BJU in its early stages, was characterized by the segregationist ethos of American culture. Consequently, for far too long, we allowed institutional policies regarding race to be shaped more directly by that ethos than by the principles and precepts of the Scriptures. We conformed to the culture rather than provide a clear Christian counterpoint to it.

      In so doing, we failed to accurately represent the Lord and to fulfill the commandment to love others as ourselves. For these failures we are profoundly sorry. Though no known antagonism toward minorities or expressions of racism on a personal level have ever been tolerated on our campus, we allowed institutional policies to remain in place that were racially hurtful." 2

  • In 2000, Pope John Paul II issued a wide ranging, confession asking God's forgiveness for sins committed or condoned -- not by the Roman Catholic Church which is considered always free of error by its heirarchy, but by individual Catholics during the preceding two millennia. He cited heretics, Protestants, Jews, other non-Christians, immigrants, ethnic minorities, women, children, and the unborn as victims. There was considerable pressure on the Pope to not give the confession because it was felt that some believers might draw the logical conclusion that if members of the Church had been so abusive in the past, that abuse would be present now and in the future. He was criticized by others because his confession lacked specificity. No names were mentioned. 3

  • In 2006, at their 75th General Convention, the Episcopal Church, USA issued an apology for supporting human slavery back in the 19th Century. They issued a resolution stating that slavery:

    "is a sin and a fundamental betrayal of the humanity of all persons who were involved. ... The Episcopal Church lent the institution of slavery its support and justification based on Scripture, and after slavery was formally abolished, the Episcopal Church continued for at least a century to support de jure and de facto segregation and discrimination." 4

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Some conflicts from past centuries that are now settled:

  • The solar system: is the Earth or Sun near its center?:

    The writers of the Bible adopted the Hebrew concept of a flat earth with a solid metal dome a few thousand feet up called the firmament. There were windows in the firmament that were opened in order to pour water down upon the earth and produce rain. Above the dome was Heaven. This cosmology was derived from Middle Eastern Pagan religions. Angels were believed to push the stars, sun, planets, and moon along the underside of the firmament. The Christian church subsequently adopted Plato's ancient Pagan Greek geocentric principle: the belief that the earth was at the center of the universe and that the moon, sun and stars rotated around it.

    Copernicus sounded the initial death knell of the geocentric principle in his most important book De Revolutionibus Orbium Caelestium (On the Revolution of the Heavenly Orbs) in 1543 CE. It described a crude model of a sun-centered solar system which is correct in many ways. However, he was unable to break away from an obsession with perfect circular motion by the planets. Planets are know known to follow an elliptical orbit. A Lutheran theologian wrote the preface to the book, which presented it as an hypothesis - a work of imagination. This minimized friction between Copernicus and other Christians.

    There is a great deal of misinformation circulating about the reaction of the Catholic and Protestant churches to the Copernican theory. For example:

    • Giordano Bruno, (1548-1600) an early supporter of Copernicus' theory, is commonly believed to have been burned at the stake because of his support for the geocentric principle -- specifically that the earth was not the center of the universe, and that it was a mere planet revolving around the sun. 5 He was in fact tried by the Court of the Inquisition on theological charges for his many heresies -- largely dealing with salvation and the human soul. 6 According to the SETI League:

      "There is nothing in his writings that contributed to our knowledge of astronomy in any substantial way, indeed his astronomical writings reveal a poor grasp of the subject on several important points." 7

    • Martin Luther is often quoted as having mentioned Joshua's command in Joshua 12:13 that the sun stand still as proof that the Copernican theory was false. This citation is in doubt.

    Initially, the Church took no action against the geocentric principle. It was not until 1616, that De Revolutionibus Orbium Caelestium and other similar books were placed on the Index of Forbidden Books. The concept of heliocentricism was finally condemned by Pope Alexander VII who banned "all books which affirm the motion of the earth.'' 7

    To defend the status-quo, Protestant and Catholic theologians often quoted biblical passage. for example:

    • Psalms 19:4-5 in which the sun "cometh forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber." This implies to some people a moving sun.

    • Ecclesiastes 1:4 which refers to: "The earth standeth fast forever". This implies to some people a stationary earth.

    Early in the 17th century, Galileo's telescope revolutionized the science of astronomy. He was able to use primitive telescopes to detect that the planet Venus went through phases, that there were spots on the Sun and that Jupiter had moons circling around it . The church arrested Galileo and tried him for heresy. The Inquisition showed him the instruments of torture that would be used to force his recantation. He abandoned his teachings under pressure. He was found to be "vehemently suspect of heresy," and was required to "abjure, curse, and detest" those opinion. He was sentenced to prison for an indefinite interval; the next day this was commuted to house arrest which continued until his death in 1642. A ban was placed on the publishing of all of his works including any that he might publish in the future. It wasn't until 1835 that Copernicus' book De Revolutionibus and Galileo's book Dialogue were removed from the Catholic Church's index of forbidden books, and the teachings of Copernicus and Galileo were finally accepted by his Church. 7

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Resolution on racial reconciliation on the 150th anniversary of the Southern Baptist Convention," Southern Baptist Convention, 1995, at: http://www.sbc.net/
  2. "Bob Jones University apologizes for its racist past," The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 2009, at: http://www.jbhe.com/
  3. Richard Boudreaux, "Pope Issues Landmark Apology for Church Sins / Homily alludes to racism, sexism and anti-Semitism," About.com, 2000-MAR-13, at: http://racerelations.about.com/
  4. Nadra K. Nittle, "How four Christian denominations in the U.S. atoned for racism," 2013, at: http://racerelations.about.com/
  5. "Great theosophists: Giordano Bruno," Theosophy, Volume 26, #8, 1938-JUNE. See: http://www.wisdomworld.org/
  6. "The folly of Giordano Bruno," SETI League, at: http://www.setileague.org/
  7. "Galileo affair," Wikipedia, as on 2013-OCT-18, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/

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Copyright 1996 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2013-OCT-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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