December 21, 1999
By Linda Gorman
In a world sorely in need of it, the teachings of Jesus Christ, and the religion he founded, have been singularly important forces for good. With “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another even I have loved you” (John 13:35), Jesus single-handedly created a new moral ethic. No longer was a persons worth dependent on his “social, biological, psychological, physiological, intellectual, or educational differences and levels.” Because each individual was created in the image of God, each individual had value, regardless of his circumstances.
Merely loving humanity, a far easier abstraction all too common today, was not enough. Christians were enjoined to love their fleshly neighbors, the very same gossipy, loud, irritating, needy and inconvenient people who live down the street and always let their kids run wild. Charity, quite literally, was to begin at home.
Over the centuries, small acts of mercy performed by individual Christians attempting to live up to this impossibly high standard have created the ethic of social responsibility that is largely taken for granted today. As even articles in the Encyclopedia Britannica make clear, the abolition of slavery in civilized countries, the liberation of women, the education of the young, and the corporate responsibility to care for the sick, the dying, and the orphaned, have all been realized by the Christian response to Jesus commandment.
Those who bash Christianity for its supposed subjugation of women should consider the plight of women when Jesus was born. In a world where power, production, and protection depended on muscles, women were held in low esteem. Divorce practices “put women practically at mens complete disposal.” By condemning divorce and placing strict ethical requirements on both partners in a Christian marriage, Jesus revolutionized the status of women. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female;” wrote the apostle Paul, “for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). Women had equal rights as members of Christian congregations, and were honored along with men as martyrs for the faith.
Those who condemn slavery owe its virtual abolition to the efforts of the Christian activists who finally followed Jesus command to love thy neighbor to its logical extreme. An ancient institution, slavery was recorded as early as the 18th century B.C. in China. Slaves have been owned in black Africa throughout recorded history, in the Middle East at least since ancient Egypt, and throughout Asia and Europe. Europeans did not establish slavery on the American continent. The slave-owning practices of various groups of Amerindians, including the Klamaths, the Pawnees, the Yurok, the Creek, the Comanche, the Incas, the Aztecs, and the Mayans, are well documented.
Though isolated individuals have always condemned slavery, American and European Christians were the first to organize against it. During the Crusades, “one of the special tasks of the orders of knighthood was the liberation of Christian slaves who had fallen captive to the Muslims.” Jean Boudin (1530-96), a Frenchman who spent his early life as a Carmelite, considered slavery immoral.
In 1783, English Quakers began the British abolition movement, following the Pennsylvania Quakers who had condemned slavery in 1688. The Vermont constitution of 1777 prohibited slavery entirely, and the U.S. Constitution, in a compromise to create the union, forbid the importation of slaves after 1808 in hopes that it would die a natural death. After the abolitionists won the day in Britain, their efforts spread to other European governments with the happy result that “the European colonization movement ended slavery in many parts of Africa, East Asia, Southeast Asia” and India.
The corporate responsibility to heal the sick and help the poor and unfortunate was one of the earliest elements of Christian ethics. In the early Church, widows and deacons helped others under the leadership of a bishop. As early as the 4th century, Christians established orphanages to care for abandoned children. In the Middle Ages, monasteries caring for the sick invented the hospital. The 1800s saw the emergence of the modern hospital founded and staffed by Christian organizations.
By the 18th and 19th centuries, the commandment to love thy neighbor had impelled Christians to create local, national, and international organizations to, among other things, save the children, relieve the poor, educate the ignorant, help the addicted, reform the prisons, and provide shelter for the disabled. Modern welfare states have tried to duplicate these institutions, with only partial success. In The Tragedy of American Compassion, Marvin Olasky argues that the American welfare system has failed because the government cannot incorporate the key elements of doctrine, affiliation, bonding, categorization, discernment, employment, freedom, and God, that made the Christian efforts so successful.
So, merry Christmas. That one man could create so much good is ample cause for celebration.
 “Christianity,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed. vol. 16, p. 352.
 “Christianity,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed. vol. 16, p. 351.
 “Christianity,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed. vol. 16, p. 345.
 “Slavery,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed. vol. 27, p. 293.
 Marvin Olasky. 1995. The Tragedy of American Compassion, paperback, Washington,DC: Regenery Publishing Company, p. 101.
Linda Gorman is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado, https://i2i.org. This article originally appeared in the Colorado Daily (Boulder), for which Linda Gorman is a regular columnist.
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