The Church’s Response to Change in Society
by Barrett Wolf
Everything changes: One of the few things I know for certain – Things change. People discover and learn new things all the time. And it affects what societies believe is true about a particular thing. Also, people shouldn’t be overly dogmatic on those beliefs because, without a doubt, people will continue to discover and learn new things. (The earth is spherical, not flat. The earth revolves around the sun, not vice versa. Slavery and ownership of human beings is immoral. A woman’s ovaries produce an egg (discovered in 1827), resulting in a mother’s equal contribution along with a father’s contribution to the genetic code of a child. This list can go on and on.)
These discoveries make a significant impact on what people believe, religions, laws, social and cultural pressures and expectations, human rights, etc.
How The Church Has Dealt With Change
Religious people resist change: When new discoveries or learning through thoughtful reason results in progress and advancement, there are always a group of people that remain in denial about these things. The religious take the lead in resisting change, when a discovery or progressive idea threatens their religious structure in any way. A dangerous combination is when the religious are threatened during a time when they are empowered with governing authority or can influence those in governing authority.
During various periods and forms of the Inquisitions, many were killed, tortured, imprisoned or excommunicated for their “heretical” ideas, writings and preaching. Even Galileo, who was praised as the “father of modern physics” according to Albert Einstein, was sentenced to prison for life. His accusers were leaders in the Christian Church in Rome and judged him for his ideas (discoveries) and writings (which included the “heresy” that the sun did not revolve around the earth, but the earth around the sun.) They bolstered their accusations with Bible references that stated “the world is firmly established, it cannot be moved”, “the Lord set the earth on its foundations”, “the sun rises and returns to its place”, and others (Psalm 93:1, 96:10, 104:5, 1 Chronicles 16:30, Ecclesiastes 1:5).
Similar occurrences have taken place in 20th Century and 21st Century America. Some examples include the Baptists that supported the prohibition of alcohol, Southern Christians that resisted the civil rights of black Americans and evangelicals that use political clout to propagate the illegality of gay marriage. All these groups use the Bible to support their positions (similar to Galileo’s Roman adversaries). And all of these slow-to-change resisters die out to make room for the next generation to embrace these necessary changes for advancement in our societies.
Future generations always look back with contempt on previous generations for their lack of wisdom, stubbornness, narrow-mindedness and cruelty. The same will be true in future generations who look back on us.