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Religious change

Current church & societal discrimination
based on race, gender & sex
ual orientation

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bulletMatthew Fox, Episcopalian priest and theologian: "Evil is the shadow of angel. Just as there are angels of light, support, guidance, healing and defense, so we have experiences of shadow angels. And we have names for them: racism, sexism, homophobia are all demons - but they're not out there."

The level of oppression and discrimination today:

With very few exceptions, Christian denominations have totally abandoned their original beliefs about race, human slavery and racial segregation. Most have abandoned or at least slightly modified their initial beliefs about the role of women. Some have abandoned their original beliefs about the nature of homosexuality and the status of homosexuals in the church and the rest of society.

The history of the United States and Canada contains many instances of groups who were originally oppressed, who organized and demanded equal rights, and who finally achieved at least equality in law. This included: African Americans, Roman Catholics, various waves of immigrants from Ireland, Europe, Asia, etc. Various forms of prejudice still exist at the personal level and in private organizations like the Boy Scouts of America's, discrimination against non-theists, gays, and bisexuals. However at least they are not supported by laws and the government.

Women seem to have followed the same path. They have not yet attained full equal rights, For example, they are currently refused consideration for positions of power and authority in many religious denominations, and in certain roles in the military. However, they seem well on the way towards equality. For example, as the first draft of this essay was being written in 2006-JUN, the Episcopal Church elected Right Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori to be its Presiding Bishop, and the first female Primate of the Anglican Communion -- much to the anger of many of the other primates whose provinces don't even allow women to be consecrated as bishops.

Gays and lesbians were nearly universally considered as sexual perverts and mentally ill until sexual orientation was first seriously studied in the 1950s. Within about one generation afterwards:

bulletThe Stonewall Inn riot in Greenwich Village, New York, NY (1969) had triggered the start of the gay liberation movement (1969).

bullet Canada removed homosexual behavior from its criminal code, thus fulfilling the belief of Prime Minister Trudeau that "There's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation." (1969)

bulletThe American Unitarian Association had become the first organized religion to promote an end to homophobia within their denomination and in society generally. (1970)

bulletThe American Psychiatric Association had removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. (1973)

Within about one more generation:

bulletLaws criminalizing same-sex behavior have been eliminated in the U.S. (2003).

bullet Same-sex couples can marry in the District of Columbia, in a handful of states, throughout Canada, and in some other countries. The current status of same-sex marriage in California is before the state Supreme Court.

bulletMore religious denominations allow the ordination of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in loving, committed same-sex relationships. Most notable among these are the United Church of Canada, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church, (U.S.A.), and the Episcopal Church, USA.

bulletPublic opinion surveys show that American youths and young adults are far more accepting of equal rights for gays and lesbians than older generations.

It is likely that this trend will continue until sexual minorities achieve equal rights. Religious and social conservatives are investing great effort in passing federal and state constitutional amendments to restrict marriage to one man and one woman -- thus temporarily preventing same-sex couples from marrying. However, support for marriage equality has been steadily increasing.

Debate over ordination of homosexuals and the recognition of their relationships is causing great stress in some mainline denominations and may yet cause major schisms. However, equal rights for homosexuals and bisexuals have greatly advanced over two generations. If past history is any indication, then the U.S. and Canada will continue to stumble in the direction of their often repeated goal of "liberty and justice for all."

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Copyright © 2006 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2006-JUN-25
Latest update and review: 2011-JUN-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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