Over the past five years, many Christians are going through a profound change in their views on LGBT issues. More and more Christians are coming around to supporting the civil rights of LGBT individuals, and many are changing their views on whether homosexuality is a sin. As one sign of this, Evangelical Christian groups like The Marin Foundation and Str8 Apology have attended LGBT Pride Parades across the nation to apologize to LGBT individuals for the way the Christian Church has harshly treated them. This is not a unique thing for Christians. In the recent past, Christians have apologized for the Church’s past support of racism, sexism, antisemitism, islamophobia and other prejudices that have done great harm to a minority group. These Christians realize that whenever the Church has supported unfair prejudices that cause bigotry against a group, it does great long term harm to the Christian religion. In the same way some Christians today use the Bible to justify homophobia, many Christians in the past used the Bible to justify racism, antisemitism, sexism, among other bigotries. This had the effect of demeaning the Bible and to overshadow the many good things that the Bible has to offer. To make amends for these past actions, Christians have issued formal apologies to the targeted group of people and attempted to build relationships and learn about the things that bind different people together.
CHRISTIANS APOLOGIZE FOR THEIR ROLE IN SUPPORTING SLAVERY, SEGREGATION, AND OTHER FORMS OF RACIAL INJUSTICE
One of the greatest mistakes among American Christians is its past support of slavery, segregation and other forms of institutionalized racism. Before the civil rights movement, many northern churches segregated their pews so that African Americans would sit in separate pews from their white coworshippers. In the South they would have to go to different churches since they weren’t allowed in white churches. During the slavery era, many Christian segregationists used Biblical verses like Ephesians 6:5, “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling”and Titus 2:9, “tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect, as Biblical justifications of the slavery system. One Biblical verse that many Christians used to justify slavery and racism against African Americans was Genesis 9:25-27. According to ReligiousTolerance.Org:
The Christian church’s main justification of the concept of slavery is based on Genesis 9:25-27. According to the Bible, the worldwide flood had concluded and there were only 8 humans alive on earth: Noah, his wife, their six sons and daughters in law. Noah’s son Ham had seen “the nakedness of his father.” So, Noah laid a curse — not on Ham, who was guilty of some undefined type of indiscretion. The sin was transferred to Noah’s grandson Canaan. Such transference of sin from a guilty to an innocent person or persons is unusual in the world’s religious and secular moral codes. It is normally considered highly unethical. However, it appears in many biblical passages. The curse extended to all of Canaan’s descendants:
Genesis 9:25-27: “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers. He also said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japeth live in the tents of Shem and may Canaan be his slave’. ”
Christians traditionally believed that Canaan had settled in Africa. The dark skin of Africans became associated with this “curse of Ham.”
After the civil rights movement of the 1960s, many Christian denominations moved away from past racist church teachings and began to accept African Americans and other minorities as equals in the sight of God. Nadra Kareem Kittle wrote about some of the churches that apologized for their past support of racism.
Racism has touched every institution in the United States—the armed forces, public schools and universities and, yes, even the church. After the civil rights movement, a number of religious denominations began to racially integrate. In the 21st century, several Christian factions have apologized for their role in supporting slavery, segregation and other forms of racial injustice. The Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention and the United Methodist Church are just a few of the Christian denominations that have admitted to engaging in discriminatory practices and announced that they would instead strive to promote social justice.
In June 1995 the Southern Baptist Convention voted overwhelmingly to apologize to the African American community for its past support of slavery, segregation and racism. In a long resolution of its past sins, the Southern Baptist Convention wrote “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 or unconsciously”.
The United Methodist Church in their 2000 General Conference apologized to black churches that left the Methodist church because of pervasive racial discrimination and they apologized to black United Methodists who still face racial prejudice. They acknowledged that the process of ridding the Church of racism would be a long and difficult road, but they have made efforts to build racial-ethnic involvement at all levels of the church. In the 1800s issues of slavery and racism split the church into black and white, north and south. Three primarily black denominations–the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church–all split from the largely white churches. Black and white church leaders led more than 1,000 delegates and visitors in public prayers of contrition:
“Christ, our mediator, we acknowledge the sin of racism within our body against those who left and against those who stayed; We lament what we have done and what we have left undone. We are heartily sorry and we humbly repent.”
At its 75th general convention in 2006, the Episcopal Church apologized for supporting the institution of slavery. The convention acknowledged the Episcopal Church’s complicity in giving Biblical justification for the institution of slavery and of gaining economic benefits derived from the said system. The Episcopal Church was committed to spiritual healing and reconciliation among the races. It wrote:
Resolved, That we express our most profound regret that (a) The Episcopal Church lent the institution of slavery its support and justification based on Scripture, and (b) after slavery was formally abolished, The Episcopal Church continued for at least a century to support de jure and de facto segregation and discrimination;
and be it further Resolved, That The Episcopal Church apologize for its complicity in and the injury done by the institution of slavery and its aftermath; we repent of this sin and ask God’s grace and forgiveness
In the year 2000, Pope John Paul II prayed for God’s forgiveness for sins committed or condoned by Roman Catholics over the past 2,000 years, including sexism, racism, hatred of Jews and violence in defense of the Catholic faith. Though it was a more general list of sins that the Pope was apologizing for, John Paul II did acknowledge the Catholic Church’s role in support of racism. He said at the time,
“We ask forgiveness for the divisions among Christians, for the use of violence that some Christians have committed in the service of the truth and for the attitudes of mistrust and hostility sometimes assumed toward followers of other religions.”
Pope John Paul II’s general apology for the sins of the Catholic Church in the year 2000 was part of a more focused apology to the two other Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Islam. The Christian Church has had a history of antagonism towards Jews and Muslims, from various pogroms and Inquisitions to the Crusades in the Middle Ages. For centuries, Christians reviled Jews as Christ-killers, and Jews were accused of things like draining the blood of Christian children to bake in matzoh. Protestant reformer Martin Luther wrote a book titled On the Jews and Their Lies which argued that Judaism should be outlawed, synagogues should be burned down and Jews should be enslaved for forced labor. Christians justified their anti-semitism by using specific verses in the New Testament that seemed to collectively blame the Jews for Jesus death. Adam Lee wrote an article detailing this misuse of the New Testament:
Consider some specific examples of biblical anti-Semitism. While all the gospels record Jesus as engaging in debate with the scribes and Pharisees, only the Gospel of John elevates these disputes to an accusation of corporate guilt against “the Jews” in general: “And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him” (5:16). The fourth gospel also says of Jesus:
“He would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him” (7:1) and adds darkly that “no man spake openly of him for fear of the Jews” (7:13). In the crowning accusation, John depicts Jesus as accusing “the Jews” as follows:“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.”
When Jesus is tried before Pilate, John writes:
“The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die” (19:7), and adds: “Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend” (19:12).
Ironically, the single most anti-Semitic verse of the gospels comes in the book that otherwise shows the most understanding and sympathy for the Jewish viewpoint, the Gospel of Matthew. In this bloodcurdling verse, the Jewish spectators demand that responsibility for Jesus’ death be placed on themselves and on all their descendants:
“When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.”
…Rivers of innocent Jewish blood have been spilled through the ages because of verses like these.
After the Holocaust, Catholic reformers realized that the Church’s teachings against the Jews fed into the antisemitic culture that the Nazis exploited. For 20 years these reformers worked inside the Church to change opinions and come up with theological arguments against antisemitism. Finally in 1965 the Vatican II council produced the document Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions, which gave the Catholic Church a better relationship with Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and other nonChristian religions. It denounced all forms of antisemitism and said that though some Jewish authorities conspired to put Jesus to death, the Jewish people were not collectively responsible for Jesus death. It is stated in Nostra Aetate:
Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues.
True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.
Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.
After Nostra Aetate, the succeeding Popes have tried hard to build a spirit of ecumenism with various religions. Pope John Paul II worked especially hard to improve the Roman Catholic Church’s relationship with Jews. During World War II, John Paul II lost many Jewish friends to the Holocaust. In the year 2000, Pope John Paul II visited Israel and publicly apologized for the persecution of Jews by Catholics over the centuries, including the Holocaust. He deposited a note pleading for forgiveness in a crack in the Western Wall.
In 1994 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American apologized to the Jewish community for its support of antisemitism. It acknowledged that Jews suffered much discrimination and harassment in countries with a large population of Lutherans. And it acknowledged that Martin Luther wrote many diatribes against Jews that fueled antisemitic feelings among many Protestants. In its apology, the Evangelical Lutheran Church stated:
Lutherans belonging to the Lutheran World Federation and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America feel a special burden in this regard because of certain elements in the legacy of the reformer Martin Luther and the catastrophes, including the Holocaust of the twentieth century, suffered by Jews in places where the Lutheran churches were strongly represented.
…In the spirit of that truth-telling, we who bear his name and heritage must with pain acknowledge also Luther’s anti-Judaic diatribes and the violent recommendations of his later writings against the Jews. As did many of Luther’s own companions in the sixteenth century, we reject this violent invective, and yet more do we express our deep and abiding sorrow over its tragic effects on subsequent generations.
In concert with the Lutheran World Federation, we particularly deplore the appropriation of Luther’s words by modern anti-Semites for the teaching of hatred toward Judaism or toward the Jewish people in our day. Grieving the complicity of our own tradition within this history of hatred, moreover, we express our urgent desire to live out our faith in Jesus Christ with love and respect for the Jewish people.
In 1965 a leading Protestant theologian, Rev, Carl Herman Voss, told the 24th annual Institute on Judaism at Temple Emanu-El here that both Protestants and Catholics owed “a lamentably late” apology to the Jewish people.
Nostra Aetate also worked to improved the Roman Catholic Church’s relationship with Islam. Nostra Aetate had this to say:
The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.
In the Vatican’s 1999 declaration, Memory and Reconciliation subtitled “The Church and the Faults of the Past,”gave a framework for how it would apologize and reconcile with those to whom the Church has wronged. Pope John Paul II later that year apologized for the atrocities that Christians committed against Muslims during the Crusades. One especially horrific episode, the Crusaders took Jerusalem, massacred 40,000 Muslim men, women, and children when they took over Jerusalem in 1099. Pope Innocent III (1161-1216) identified the Prophet Muhammad as the Anti-Christ and vilified the Islam religion, and this led many Christians to hate Muslims. Pope John Paul II continued to champion the cause of Muslims after 9/11, asking for a nonviolent response to the terrorist attacks. He cautioned the world not to demonize all Muslims for the actions of a group of extremist Muslims and he opposed the American invasion of Iraq.
The Christian community has many other things to apologize for. Though Pope Benedict apologized to the victims of the priest/pedophilia scandal, the Roman Catholic Church still needs to help those victims and bring those who perpetrated the crimes to come to justice. In a similar way, Evangelicals need to apologize to the LGBT community for the harm that it has done to LGBT individuals.
In Uganda, Evangelical missionaries have fed into the anti-LGBT climate that has led to proposed death penalty laws against LGBT individuals and a law that passed that would imprison LGBT individuals.
Kansas just recently passed a law that would allow any individual, group, or private business to refuse to serve gay couples if “it would be contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.” Private employers can continue to fire gay employees on account of their sexuality. Stores may deny gay couples goods and services because they are gay. Hotels can eject gay couples or deny them entry in the first place. Businesses that provide public accommodations—movie theaters, restaurants—can turn away gay couples at the door. And if a gay couple sues for discrimination, they won’t just lose; they’ll be forced to pay their opponent’s attorney’s fees.
Though these are horrible news, I am confident that Evangelicals will eventually change their views on LGBT issues. Though over 70% of older white evangelicals were against gay marriage, 51% of younger Evangelicals support marriage equality. Just as Christians changed their views on racism, sexism, antisemitism, and islamophobia, they will change their views on homophobia. In around 10 to 20 years, Evangelical church leaders and leaders in other denominations will be apologizing for their treatment of LGBT individuals.
When Christians apologized for its past racism, antisemitism, sexism, and islamophobia, it did not invalidate God or Jesus or the Bible. These Church sins were the result of human failing and the limits of human understanding. They were not the fault of God. I think we learn more about God’s vision of justice and compassion over the span of history. The Jewish community of the Old Testament had a greater understanding of God over the 2,000 year period that the various documents of the Old Testament were written. In the past 200 years, we learned about the evils of racism, sexism, antisemitism, islamophobia and such when African Americans, women, Jews, Muslims and other oppressed individuals decided to fight against their oppression and to speak out about their experiences. Christians learned by listening to them. In the same way, LGBT individuals are now speaking out and fight back. More Christians are learning by listening to them too.
Thirty one gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and straight Christians are went to Pride Charlotte in August 2012 to apologize to the LGBT community
Excerpt from the NAACP Image Award nominated documentary “Dare Not Walk Alone” describes white racism in 1964 and an apology 40 years later from the same church that had African Americans arrested for trying to worship there
Fred Luter, from New Orleans, was elected as its first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention and talks about the significance of the event
Pope John Paul II visited Yad Vashem on March 23, 2000 and participated in a memorial ceremony in Yad Vashem’s Hall of Remembrance
Local Muslims and Jews paid respect to the death of Pope John Paul II
Christians attend a gay pride parade in London in 2013 to apologize to the LGBT community