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The gradual abandonment of racism, sexism,
homophobia and transphobia by faith groups.

Parts 1 & 2:
A shift within conservative faith groups
toward less discriminatory beliefs
about race and gender.

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Overview (repeated from this section's menu):

Many faith groups have promoted racist, sexist, homophobic, and/or transphobic beliefs and policies in the past. Some still do. However, the long-term trend -- as measured over decades or sometimes even generations -- is for faith groups to follow the leadership of secular organizations and more liberal faith groups, by eliminating discrimination. Thus, there has been a gradual evolution towards: "... one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." 1

Two examples follow in this essay: racism and sexism.

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1. Racism: Restrictions on civil rights based on race, with blacks as the main victims:

  • Many conservative denominations once taught that God created the different races of humans and placed them in separate regions on the earth: blacks in Africa, whites in Europe, etc. They taught that God intended persons of different races to remain apart, and not intermingle socially, and most importantly, not to intermarry. Thus, these faith groups once supported discriminatory Jim Crow laws in the southern U.S. and anti-miscegenation laws in most of the states in the southeast quadrant of the U.S. (The two terms "anti-miscegenation" and "miscegenation" refer to laws that once prohibited marriage between two persons of different races.)

  • The Roman Catholic Church, many religious moderates, and essentially all religious liberals and secularists 2 have accepted the theory of evolution. That included hard evidence that modern humans first lived in Africa and then later migrated to Europe, Asia, Oceania, and more recently to the United States and South America. Their skin color changed in response to different climates and evolutionary forces. Historically, the evidence shows that all Americans are of African origin. However, it is most unlikely that many white supremacists would accept this evidence.

During the 1960's, the Honorable Judge Leon M. Bazile in Virginia expressed the former belief when he refused to withdraw the guilty verdict of a young interracial couple who had married in the District of Columbia and returned to Virginia to live. They were plaintiffs in the famous and ironically named case "Loving v. Virginia."

Judge Leon M. Bazile wrote his sincere belief that:

"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races show that he did not intend for the races to mix." 3

"Loving" was the lawsuit that led to the U.S. Supreme Court declaration in 1967 that anti-miscgenation 4 laws in 16 contiguous U.S. states from Virginia to Florida to Texas were unconstitutional and void. The high court's ruling was based on the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees that the federal and state governments must treat Americans equally. Over four decades later, the same argument is being used in federal courts to fight bans on same-sex marriage.

Although such extreme racist beliefs are not common today, Sunday morning still remains the most racially segregated time of the week as most blacks go to predominately black churches and most whites go to predominately white churches.

A poll by Public Policy Polling (PPP) in 2011 was taken of likely Republican voters in Mississippi. The results showed that a 46% plurality of voters believed that interracial marriages should be re-criminalized. 5 These beliefs do not appear to be widespread throughout the U.S. About 15% of new marriages in the U.S. are now interracial or interethnic. 6

To their credit, a few conservative faith groups have issued formal apologies to the black community for their past racism. A notable example is the Southern Baptist Convention. According to USA Today:

  • The Southern Baptist denomination was "founded in 1845 to defend slavery." 7

  • "The denomination made front-page news nationwide at its 150th anniversary meeting in 1995 when it passed a resolution of apology and reconciliation for its racist past." 8

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2. Sexism: Restriction on women's roles within the family, the Church, and the rest of society:

Many theologian have concluded that the Bible appears ambiguous concerning the roles of women in religion and society:

  • In the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament) women were frequently discriminated against. For example:
    • Males were released from slavery after being in bondage for seven years. Female slaves were enslaved for life.

    • A man who raped an unmarried, unengaged woman would simply pay a fine and marry her.

    • A female who was not a virgin when she married was stoned to death. There was no similar punishment for males.

    • A priest's daughter who engaged in prostitution was executed by being burned alive.

    • Only males were allowed to enter the priesthood.

  • In contrast, some passages in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) honored women as equal to men:
    • There are numerous references to Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) treating women and men equally, even though this meant violating Jewish traditions of the time.

    • Some of the Gospels that were widely used by various groups of Christians in the first two centuries of the Christian Church referred to Mary Magdalene as the "Apostle to the Apostles." 9 These writings were among the 40 or so Gospels that were not accepted into the Biblical canon when it was established in the early 4th century CE.

    • Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28:

      "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus."

    • Paul referred in Romans 16:7: to a male apostle, Andronicus, and a female apostle, Junia, as:

      "...outstanding among the apostles" (NIV).

      This passage in the original Greek has been so offensive to many Bible translators that they have intentionally mistranslated the phrase to imply that Junia was male.

    • There are numerous references in very early Christian writings that describe women as religious leaders.

However, there are many references in other Epistles in which the early Christian Church restricted positions of authority in the Church to men, and then only men who were married to one woman.

Many mainline and liberal theologians have concluded that some of the epistles that treated women as equals and which identify their author as Paul were actually written by him. However, others epistles state they were written by Paul, had negative assessments of the allowable roles of women, and were actually written by anonymous authors during the second century CE, long after Paul had died. They reached these conclusions by analyzing doctrinal conflicts among the epistles.

Generally speaking, conservative faith groups have followed the latter passages, while more liberal groups stressed the equality of women.

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Ordination of women in various faith groups:

During the 19th century, the The Universalist, Unitarian. Salvation Army, and Society of Friends (Quakers) denominations ordained women. Most of the mainline denominations followed suit in the 20th century. The Southern Baptist Convention was unique: it ordained its first female pastor in 1964. However, in the year 2000 -- following a fundamentalist takeover of the denomination -- the "Baptist Faith and Message" doctrinal statement was changed to prevent future female ordinations. 10 To our knowledge, this was the only North American Christian denomination that one ordained women and and subsequently reversed their decision.

To our knowledge, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations is the only large faith group in which female clergy outnumber male clergy.

The Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination in North America that automatically rejects all female candidates for the priesthood. However an anonymous public opinion poll conducted during 1993-SEP to 1994-JAN by the Los Angeles Times found:

  • 44% of priests supported the ordination of women.
  • 57% of nuns supported the ordination of women.
  • 69% of priests would have liked to see sexism formally declared a sin by the U.S. bishop. That is very unlikely to happen as long as the Church maintains that all priests must be male.

The margin of error of this poll was ±3 percentage points among priests and ±4 percentage points among nuns. 11

A Gallup® poll taken during 1993-AUG found that 63% of Catholic laity favor allowing female ordination. However, the nuns, priests and laity have no real power to change policies in the Catholic Church; decisions on ordination and similar matters is made by an all-male group at the Vatican in Rome.

In 1994, Pope John Paul II reiterated the Church's ban on the ordination of women. This triggered the creation of a new organization of Catholic women called the "Roman Catholic Womenpriests" who promote an end of sexism in the church's policy on ordination. They regard themselves as defying the Church to answer their call from God to be priests.

Shortly after his ordination in 2013, Pope Francis described Pope John Paul II's decision as definite and declared the matter closed. 12

A followup poll in 2002 showed that 46% of priests favor female ordination -- a 2 percentage point increase over 9 years. 13

Secularists, religious liberals and moderates have made major steps towards gender equality. Many consider discrimination against female ordination -- and against women in positions of power generally -- to be a form of bigotry, on a par with racism.

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This topic continues with a discussion of homophobia 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. These are the last nine words of the Pledge of Allegiance, from 1892 to 1954.
  2. We use the term "secularist" to include freethinkers, Agnostics. Atheists, Secular Humanists, and other non-theists.
  3. Book cover image Fay Botham, "Almighty God Created the Races: Christianity, Interracial Marriage, and American Law," University of North Carolina Press, (2013) Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  4. Anti-miscgenation laws -- sometimes called miscegenation laws -- prohibited persons of different races from marrying. By 1967, there were laws in 16 states prohibiting such marriages in the southeast quadrant of the U.S.
  5. "46 Percent of Mississippi Republicans Want Interracial Marriage Banned, AOL News, 2011-APR-06, at: http://www.aolnews.com/
  6. Jeffrey Passel et al., "One-in-Seven New U.S. Marriages is Interracial or Interethnic," Pew Research, 2010. at: http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/
  7. Barry Hankins & Thomas Kidd, "," USA TODAY, 2012-JUN-24, at: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/
  8. Rick Jervis, "Pastor to become first black leader of Southern Baptists," USA TODAY. 2012-JUN-17, at: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/
  9. "Mary Magdalene, 'The Apostle to the Apostles'," The Nazarene Way, undated, at: http://www.thenazareneway.com/
  10. John Pierce, "Addie Davis, first woman ordained as Southern Baptist pastor, dies at 88," Associated Baptist Press, 2005-DEC-09, at: http://www.abpnews.com/
  11. Larry B. Stammer, "Amid Questions, Priests, Nuns Back Key Doctrine," Los Angeles Times, 1994-FEB-20, at: http://www.latimes.com/
  12. Sadhbh Walshe, "For women priests, a moment of justice – and excommunication," Aljazeera America, 2014-MAY-23 at: http://america.aljazeera.com/
  13. Susan Pinkus, "Poll Analysis: Priests Satisfied With Their Lives," Los Angeles Times, 2002-OCT-21, at: http://www.latimes.com/

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Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance 
Originally written: 2014-JUN-02
Latest update: 2014-JUN-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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