23 Apr (#27) 6 Areas Where Christianity Has Brought Equality: Part 2
Across our phone surveys and focus groups for the project Christians Might Be Crazy, we often heard that Christianity is “unprogressive” and even “repressive.” Instead of supporting the ideals of the future it defends prejudices of the past. Nearly a third (29%) of our survey participants agreed that Christians don’t believe all people are created equal. There are at least six areas in which Christianity has brought equality. In today’s devotional we look at legal and social equality.
#2 LEGAL EQUALITY
Christians were pioneers for legal equality. In most places throughout human history, the dictum that might is right has prevailed. Those in charge made, enforced, bent, and changed laws to their advantage. But the kings and peasants of ancient Israel lived under the rule of law given by God. The Bible begins with five books referred to as “the Law” because they contain 613 rules governing God’s Old Testament people. Both the Old and New Testament contain other laws that grow out of God’s unchanging character. It’s important to note that Scripture holds these laws to be binding on all people—no matter who they are or where they rank in society.
We may assume that equality for all people under the law is normative, but it is in fact not so. In much of the world (past and present), those with power and money live completely above the law as a law unto themselves. The influence of the biblical concept of law ruling over all people equally has forever altered Western culture.
Christianity began as an unwanted and outlawed fringe ministry group that was often persecuted. With the Roman Emperor Constantine, things changed as Christianity found itself as the official religion of the famed Roman Empire. As a patchwork of previous political groups, there was no such thing as consistent laws across the empire. Making matters even worse, only the richest people could afford the professional help to navigate the complex legal system. As Christianity spread across the Roman Empire, spiritual leaders called bishops were given oversight of various geographic areas, and this included the legal right bestowed by the government to decide legal cases. Eventually, there was a Christian named Justinian who became Emperor, and he was largely responsible for establishing a more organized and formalized version of Roman law that helped pave the way for the legal systems in America and Europe today. As Rodney Stark notes, “Documents as important as the American Declaration of Independence or the European Charter of Human Rights can therefore be traced back to the ideas of the Christian legal system of Justinian.”1
Because all people equally bear God’s image, heterosexuals and homosexuals stand eye-to-eye as human beings and deserve equal protection under the law. For this reason, most Christian leaders I know agree that legal protection should be given to gay couples on issues like inheritance rights, hospital visitation, and end-of-life decisions. While many of us disagree with the gay community over the definition of marriage, we believe that all people—gay, straight, and otherwise—deserve legal equality.
#3 SOCIAL EQUALITY
Christians also took strides toward social equality—especially when it came to unwanted children. Children in the time of Jesus often lacked legal protection or parental affection. Sacrificing and abandoning children was common. Discarded children often died from exposure or were taken as slaves, prostitutes, or gladiators. This was especially true for children from the bottom rungs of society. But that’s just where Jesus came from. He was the King of the Universe come as a baby to a poor rural family. And in a society that dismissed and abused children regularly, Jesus loved kids and kids loved Him. They flocked to Jesus, and He welcomed, embraced, and prayed over them, as we learn from some of the fondest Bible stories ever. Because of His example, Christians began to treat children differently, including adopting discarded children. That work still continues with orphanages, foster care, and adoptions around the world developed and operated by Christians who have God’s heart for the value of all children from all backgrounds.
That same heart was extended to the way Christians cared for the needy. Hospitals in the Roman Empire were not open to the poor. But Jesus the Great Physician (Luke 4:23, 5:31) and healer inspired Christians to care for people’s physical as well as spiritual wellbeing. Luke the medical doctor and author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts wrote more of the New Testament by volume than anyone, attentively recording the healing ministries of Jesus and the early church. Later, the Council of Nicaea (AD 325) decreed that hospitals should be established wherever there was a Christian church. Many modern hospitals and senior care facilities trace their roots to Christian denominations. Even the Red Cross began as a medical ministry founded by a Christian businessman and activist, Henri Dunant.
- Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (New York: Random House, 2005), 28.