Religious teaching has been misused to justify stigma and hostility against Native Americans, African-Americans, women, interracial couples and other religious minorities.
Misusing religious teaching to justify treating others as inferior is simply wrong. “We know full well how uniquely harmful it is for a vital part of one’s very being to be subjected to a moral and religious stamp of disapproval.”
The particular religious teachings of any given religious majority cannot be used to deny minority groups their civil rights in a democracy. California Supreme Court Justice Joyce L. Kennard said it best in her concurring opinion in the May 2008 ruling for marriage equality:
“The architects of our federal and state Constitutions understood that widespread and deeply rooted prejudices may lead majoritarian institutions to deny fundamental freedoms to unpopular minority groups, and that the most effective remedy for this form of oppression is an independent judiciary charged with the solemn responsibility to interpret and enforce the constitutional provisions guaranteeing fundamental freedoms and equal protection.”
In American history, we easily find a pattern of religious teachings being misused to promote inequality and injustice. Passages in the Bible were used to advance the argument that African-Americans were inferior and undeserving of full human dignity. Similarly, passages in the Bible were used to advance the view that women were inherently inferior to men, and thus could not be trusted with equal rights, including the right to vote.
And of course, many of us remember how religious teachings were once used to justify banning interracial marriage.
The good news: People can learn to understand the very unique and destructive harm that is caused when religious teaching is misused to justify stigma and hostility against others.
Not only did people recognize the wrong but they saw a need to apologize.
Ethnicity – Native Americans… Apology by U.S. Catholic Bishops in 1977
“All of us need to examine our own perceptions of Native Americans ‐ how much they are shaped by stereotypes, distorted media portrayals or ignorance. We fear that prejudice and insensitivity toward Native people is deeply rooted in our culture and in our local churches.”
US Bishops: A Time for Remembering
Statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops on American Indians, May 4, 1977
Race – African-Americans – 1995 apology by Southern Baptists
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); and
Be it further RESOLVED, That we lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest, and we recognize that the racism which yet plagues our culture today is inextricably tied to the past; and
Be it further RESOLVED, That we apologize to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime; and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously (Psalm 19:13) or unconsciously (Leviticus 4:27);
Resolution On Racial Reconciliation
On The 150th Anniversary Of The Southern Baptist Convention
Gender – Women – Pope John Paul II apology to women 2005
“Unfortunately, we are heirs to a history which has conditioned us to a remarkable extent. In every time and place, this conditioning has been an obstacle to the progress of women. Women’s dignity has often been unacknowledged and their prerogatives misrepresented; they have often been relegated to the margins of society and even reduced to servitude. This has prevented women from truly being themselves and it has resulted in a spiritual impoverishment of humanity.”
And should we not also regret, among the shadows of our own day, the responsiblity shared by so many Christians for grave forms of injustice and exclusion? It must be asked how many Christians really know and put into practice the principles of the Church’s social doctrine.
John Paul II, “Tertio Millennio Adveniente (As the Third Millennium Draws Near),” 1994-NOV-14
Religious affiliation – John Hagee apology to Catholics 2008/strong>
“Hagee, an evangelical who has been outspoken in his support for Israel, had enraged Catholics with statements about the “apostate church” and the “great whore.” He said in his letter that he meant neither of those to apply to the Catholic Church.”
Media Matters may 14 2008
Billy Graham apology to Jews
About the same time, another shocking revelation broke into the news. The National Archives made public thousands of tape recordings of conversations of the late President Richard Nixon, who was notorious for his slurs against Jews. On some of these tapes, were exchanges between him and the famed evangelist, Rev. Billy Graham. In 1972, Graham agreed with Nixon that our nation’s problems lie with the satanic Jews. Both accused Jews of dominating the media, one of the oldest anti-Jewish canards. Graham went on to blame Jews for putting out pornographic stuff. He told Nixon that the Jewish stranglehold has to be broken or the country will go down the drain. He admitted to Nixon that Jews do not really know his true feelings about them.
“Although I have no memory of the occasion, I deeply regret comments I apparently made in an Oval Office conversation with President Nixon. They do not reflect my views, and I sincerely apologize for any offense caused by the remarks. Throughout my ministry, I have sought to build bridges between Jews and Christians. I will continue to strongly support all future efforts to advance understanding and mutual respect between our communities.”
New York Times, Sunday, March 3, 2002
Today in America, history is speaking again – against the misuse of religious teachings to attack and dehumanize LGBT people, especially youth and their families. Religious ideals must uplift those around us – not tear them down.
Religious ideals must uplift those around us – not tear them down. That is what the voice of history is speaking again today.