Here is a question: how is it in a country where equality before the law is guaranteed by the Constitution that established that country, that some people are more equal than others? Indeed, that people insist some people have no right to…well, rights.
I’m not going to talk today about the gap between the rich and the poor, or between corporations and private citizens. Those are real problems but problems for another day.
There Have been plenty of other victims over the past twenty centuries: pagans, blacks, gays and lesbians, women, atheists, Jews, Muslims, various “heretics.” One group after another has been relegated to second-class status – or worse, outright slavery.
People like to quibble over what constitutes a civil rights issue but if it is an issue that has to do with rights and the extension or withholding of those rights, isn’t that by definition a civil rights issue?
The LGBT community in the United States is being deprived of its rights. And despite a growing consensus that they should have those rights, a disturbing proportion of the American public seems to think it’s perfectly all right to treat some people one way and other people another.
We don’t have to look far to find out who is behind all this rights-taking.
It was Christians who used the Bible to justify slavery. It was a Pope who first said black men were slaves.
It was in the 15th century that the African slave trade began, in 1441 to be precise, when two Portuguese captains, Antão Gonçalves and Nuno Tristão, captured a dozen unfortunate Mauretanians and returned home with the new slaves. Black slavery caught on quickly. On August 8, 1444, six caravels sent to capture “black Moors” unloaded 235 slaves at Portuguese-controlled Lagos. Castile and Genoa were also early participants in this lucrative enterprise. It cannot be argued that this was simply a bit of secular economics. On18 June 1452 Pope Nicholas V issued a Papal bull, the infamous Dum Diversas, which authorized the Portuguese to reduce “Saracens [Muslims] and pagans and any other unbelievers.”
Much is made of the numbers of slaves in Roman cities and as a percentage of the empire’s population as a whole, but there were so many slaves in Spain that by 1565 one tenth of the population of Seville – six thousand people – were slaves. The same figure holds true for Portugal’s capital, Lisbon in 1527 – some five to six thousand all told – and by 1573 there were some forty thousand slaves in Portugal.  It was from this beginning that America was populated with black slaves, and it is to Christian thought, to attitudes established before the first European settled in North America, that racism owes its origins.
So much for all men being free in Christ.
Muslims and Pagans may not still be enslaved but we’re not faring well in this country right now during this upswing in fundamentalist fervor. It was easy enough for Falwell and Robertson to blame pagans (first on their list) for 9/11, and all Muslims since have taken the blame.
Women were held back by Christianity too. They still are. Catholic women cannot be priests. Women in other denominations are deprived of rights and standing. Some Christians still argue that women’s place is in the home and pregnant, and that they have no rights to their own bodies, their own reproduction, or that a man cannot be guilty of raping his own wife because it is the woman’s duty to submit.
In 1 Timothy, one of the Pastoral epistles, we see Pseudo-Paul say, “I do not want a woman to teach” (1 Tim. 2:12). This injunction has had far reaching and long-lasting effects in the Christian world, as the world saw recently in the case of a Watertown, New York woman who was dismissed as a Sunday School teacher. The letter the church sent to her containing her dismissal cited this verse from 1 Timothy.
This may seem stifling enough, but the full passage must be quoted to do it justice (1 Timothy 2.9-15):
I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who process to worship God. A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the only deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
It isn’t atheists making this argument. It isn’t us pagans. It isn’t secularists or feminists or homosexuals.
Second century apologist Tertullian’s attack on women was vile:
Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the Devil’s gateway: You are the unsealer of the forbidden tree: You are the first deserter of the divine law: You are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert even the Son of God had to die.
It isn’t us “godless pagans” of Falwell and Robertson’s prurient imaginations that make these claims. Is it any wonder with thinking like that as an antecedent that women are held responsible for their own rapes, rather than the men who rape them? Or that feminists, who actually insist on being treated as human beings, are so reviled by Christian fundamentalists?
The reformation did not change things for the better. Martin Luther infamously stated, “If they [women] become tired or even die, that does not matter. Let them die in childbirth, that’s why they are there.”
Is it any wonder that these fundamentalist Christians would allow a woman to die to save a fetus? It’s her job, after all. Ask Martin Luther.
The argument being put forward is that nobody but Christians are really Americans, really have a right to be citizens, really have a right to vote and to hold office, all this despite the guarantees put forward by the Constitution.
The Republicans are right, our liberties are under attack, but they are not under attack from “gay agendas” or atheists. The culprits are Christians. The very Christians who are most hysterical about those rights.
Next time you see something being opposed – reproductive rights, women, feminism, gays and lesbians, same-sex marriage, freedom of religion, paganism, Islam, secularism, the Constitution, science, the environment, etc, look at who is doing the opposing. It’s not a secretive homosexual cabal. It’s fundamentalist Christianity. Gay folks just want the right to live their lives. Fundamentalist Christians want the right to live YOUR lives.
They’ve been at this for 2,000 years. Don’t expect them to change now. You may not take them seriously, but you should. Because in the game they’re playing, one side wins, the other side ends up dead.
 A.J.R. Russell-Wood, “Iberian Expansion and the Issue of Black Slavery: Changing Portuguese Attitudes, 1440-1770,” The American Historical Review 83 (1978), 16-27.
 Tertullian, De Cultu Feminarum, book 1, chap 1.
 Helen Ellerbe, The Dark Side of Christian History (Morning Star Books, 1995), 136 n. 103. Ellerbe’s position is that the Christian legacy fosters sexism, racism, and intolerance.