Why does Christianity, as a religion, seem to lag behind society in its lack of acceptance of people who are different in some way? When confronted with truth we can listen to reason, even change our minds on an issue, but dealing with the emotional impact of a new way of thinking takes time before we can whole heartedly embrace the truth. What am I talking about? Take the abolition of slavery as an example.
The Abolition of Slavery
The apostle Paul said around 2,000 years ago, “There is neither slave nor free”, but he did not speak out against slavery which was endemic in the Roman Empire at the time. It took 1800 years before slavery was abolished, in Britain and eventually in the United States. Now, in the 21st century, slavery is no longer legal in any country of the world (though it still exists in its criminal form even in my country, the United Kingdom – but that’s another story).
In 2018 we can look back in horror and wonder why slavery was not only tolerated, but justified by sections of the Church as biblical and God’s intention for mankind!
But just for a moment put yourself in the place of an ordinary Englishman living around the year 1800. You have been brought up to believe that dark-skinned people are somehow less than human. You have been told that God has ordered things so that everyone fits into their class – and some are meant to be slaves. You have also been told that the economy would collapse if ever we abolished the system.
But then people like Wilberforce and Wesley came along and pointed out the evils of the slavery system. You are open to the truth and want to believe that slaves have equal rights and equal value as human beings. You change your mind and support the abolition movement but struggle to overcome your upbringing. The fact is that it takes time to overcome the emotional aspect and move the acceptance of truth from the mind to the heart.
I believe that God is still active in society and is gradually changing minds and hearts. Why did it take 1800 years? I do not know.
What is true of slavery is also true of true of racism. Most people have learnt to use politically correct language but sadly racism is still very much alive. It is difficult to legislate against all but extreme forms of racism so we cannot look to the law to abolish racism. Overcoming racism can be a struggle as we wish to deal with it in our hearts as well as our minds. But there is hope, especially as we look at children and the way that they accept people of another race or culture.
Acceptance of the role of women in the church
The apostle Paul had quite a lot to say about women’s role in the church. The culture of the day would not allow any sort of leadership role for women. Indeed they had to dress in certain ways, keep quite and rely on their husbands to answer spiritual questions. But we now (largely) regards these rules as cultural – specific to the Greek/Roman society – and now most Christians regard women and men as equals in terms of value and opportunity.
Paul’s glimpse of God’s Plan
I have knocked Paul a little but he grasped an important truth. In Christ Jesus and in the Church there should be no distinctions – all are of equal value. I believe that he also glimpsed a part of God’s plan for society.
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile,
neither slave nor free,
nor is there male and female,
for you are all one in Christ Jesus“. Galatians 3:28 (NIV)
Same sex marriage
This is a contentious issue and I am not talking about promiscuity and infidelity which harm human relationships. I am taking about two women or two men who are committed to each other in a loving relationship. I have struggled with this issue for many years but have come to believe that such a relationship can be blessed by God and is not sinful. As a christian I need to justify that statement biblically and I believe that I can – but that must be for another blog.
God is still active and changing hearts and minds
We can either believe that the world is getting worse and worse or that God is still active in society. I am convinced that what Jesus taught us to pray is his eternal plan.
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10 (NIV)
Maybe in the 22nd Century people will look back in horror at our attitudes and beliefs!