Thursday, May 28, 2009

When does equal not mean equal?

The status quo is a funny thing. It provides a normalizing context where everything seems to be 'in order', the 'way it should be'. Throughout our history we've had different opportunities to take a look at what is 'normal' and decide that, well, perhaps normal isn't such a great idea.

Remember slavery? Once upon a time in our country it was normal to own another human being. They were treated as less than human. We could do what we want with them. We bred slaves like animals and then sold their children away from them. Millions of people taken from their homes in Africa or were born into bondage in America. And yet, it was normal. Heck, even our Presidents owned slaves. The practice was so normal that even the church used the Bible to justify slavery. (Not all churches mind you, the Quakers were out front and during the Abolitionist movement many other churches joined in condemning the practice. If you haven't seen the movie Amazing Grace I highly recommend it). Still, slavery lasted for 258 years in America, from the founding of Virginia in 1607 until the Thirteenth Amendment was passed in 1865.

So African American's won their freedom and everything was hunky-dory right? Wrong. The status quo still said African American's weren't equal. Remember the term Separate but Equal? Today we know it's not but the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) that it was. It wasn't until Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that it wasn't. That's a long status quo. And let me assure you, people were none too happy about these changes in their communities. Everyone knows blacks know their place - at the back of the bus right? Wrong!

Oh, and what about those women? Silly girls, thinking they are equal to boys. People actually thought this. It took a movement to even allow women to vote. Once again, people weren't happy about suggesting women had a place in society. Women were beaten and jailed. They were harassed and persecuted. I pray my own daughter won't ever forget the sacrifice by other women, decades before she was born, that will allow her to pursue her dreams. And the torch was passed down to women in the 60's and 70's who fought for equal pay. But why did they need to fight? Because the status quo said women don't need to earn as much - they aren't the breadwinners. (By the way - that fight isn't over. In 2007 women still earned 77 cents on the dollar to what men were making).

Interracial marriage. We don't think a thing of it today. Why wouldn't people get married if they loved each other. Richard and Mildred Loving fell in love and got married. The only problem? They did it in Virginia where interracial marriage was illegal. The Virginia district judge Leon Bazile ruled against them saying:

"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, 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 shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

Today we look at statements like that and think - how crazy?!? Still, it took a Supreme Court decision to allow couples of different races to marry. June 12, 1967 the Loving decision was handed down, striking down state laws that prohibited interracial marriages.

Then the 80's rolled around and gaybashing became all the rage. I find it alarming that in many of these cases the church is complicit in supporting the status quo. We can be so rightous about our believes.

We stand on the "moral authority of God" on these issues. But when we look back, that authority seems to bleed away. Does God support slavery? Condemn interracial marriage? Does God think that Separate is Equal? Would Jesus call women to be second class citizens? (I know this one is still being hashed in in many churches today - and that too makes me sad).

"But Chris" I hear you say, "the Bible is clear about this."
I'm sure it seemed clear when it supported slavery too. That doesn't make it right.

When we look back, years or decades from now. Which side of the fight do you want to say you stood for?

Equal means Equal.

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