I read an article on CNN that reminded me of history. I had forgotten some of these facts, but I remembered them when I read the article. In reading these facts, I realized that I no longer agreed with Christian thought of the early 1970’s. This raises some interesting epistemological issues for me, but let me list this history of which I speak.
1. Get a credit card: In the 1960s, a bank could refuse to issue a credit card to an unmarried woman; even if she was married, her husband was required to cosign. As recently as the 1970s, credit cards in many cases were issued with only a husband’s signature. It was not until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 that it became illegal to refuse a credit card to a woman based on her gender.
2. Serve on a jury: It varied by state (Utah deemed women fit for jury duty way back in 1879), but the main reason women were kept out of jury pools was that they were considered the center of the home, which was their primary responsibility as caregivers. … In 1961, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld a Florida law that exempted women from serving on juries. It wasn’t until 1973 that women could serve on juries in all 50 states.
3. Go on the birth control pill. In 1957, the FDA approved of the birth control pill but only for “severe menstrual distress.” In 1960, the pill was approved for use as a contraceptive. Even so, the pill was illegal in some states and could be prescribed only to married women for purposes of family planning, and not all pharmacies stocked it. …
4. Get an Ivy League education: Yale and Princeton didn’t accept female students until 1969. Harvard didn’t admit women until 1977 (when it merged with the all-female Radcliffe College). … Brown (which merged with women’s college Pembroke), Dartmouth and Columbia did not offer admission to women until 1971, 1972 and 1981, respectively.
5. Experience equality in the workplace: Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women produced a report in 1963 that revealed, among other things, that women earned 59 cents for every dollar that men earned and were kept out of the more lucrative professional positions. When the 1964 Civil Rights Act was going through Congress, an amendment made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender as well as race. …
All five items above were opposed by many Christians on the grounds that they violated Scripture. Now, let me state very carefully. I strongly respect Roman Catholics who are opposed to point 3. The Greek Orthodox Church has a different view on that point. We respectfully disagree with point 3, but it is a disagreement full of respect. Some Orthodox agree with the Roman Catholic Church, so it is not an issue that divides us.
Here is the problem. Except for point 3 on the birth control pill, theologically conservative Christians no longer agree with their 1960’s counterparts. However, to this day, all too many Evangelicals disagree with the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). To this day, Tea Party Christians have opposed equal pay for equal work. I am aghast at the idea that it is justifiable for a woman to be paid less than a man simply because of her gender.
The reasons given for opposition to the ERA are often somewhat amazing. I can remember Christians arguing that the ERA would lead to unisex bathrooms. Oddly enough, European countries that have a version of the ERA do not have unisex bathrooms, but that is the line that was proposed and is still proposed by some. Other, equally unlikely scenarios, are often proposed that serve only as straw arguments to allow a Christian to oppose equality.
But, there is a much more important problem. Today’s young conservative Christians will no longer back any of the points listed above, with the exception of point 3. They do not agree with their parents that the other four points are somehow correct. More to the point, their parents have changed their minds on those same points!
So, what is the epistemological issue? Well, it is a point made by theological liberals. Given the changes by supposedly “true” Christians from the struggle to free slaves in the early 1800’s, through the struggles to allow women to have rights, how can we know that anything that we proclaim is true? In fact, our constant changes through the decades since the 1960’s (even since the early 1800’s), how can we be sure that anything we are proclaiming nowadays will be considered as true by “conservative” Christians in the 22nd century?
This is the challenge that theologically conservative Christians face today. How can we impact today’s generation when it can easily be argued that what we argue today may not be what we argue tomorrow? More than that, if today’s Christians cannot even look back at recent history and admit that they were wrong, then how can we convince the current generation that we ought to be trusted to be honorable people?
I do not have a good answer for this. But, it is important that we acknowledge where we were wrong, openly and without excuse. If we fail to do this, then we should not be surprised if our credibility is doubted. We can only gain credibility to the measure that we acknowledge our imperfections. In today’s climate, our previous opposition to what is considered to be human rights today, even by us, needs to be explained and/or apologized for, otherwise our credibility is on the line.
Unfortunately, all too many theologically conservative Christians are unwilling to acknowledge past mistakes in order to open the doors to evangelism and to reaching this culture.