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6 Things About Jesus' Followers That Will Sound Familiar To The LGBT Community

Christians had to overcome prejudice once before, too. Apparently, many of them today have forgotten about it.

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While some Christians are refusing to bake cakes for gay weddings, the LGBT community—and its allies—can savor the ultimate irony. Christians overcame prejudice once before, too. Apparently, many of them today have forgotten about it. Below are six things about Jesus' followers in ancient Rome that will probably sound strangely familiar to the LGBT community. (Christians might want to review them, too.)

1. Not every Christian was in to drama.

“The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer” by Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, 1824-1904). Now in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. Acquired by William T. Walters, 1883. Creative Commons License. / Via art.thewalters.org

Ever been told "the Christians" were Rome's rabble rousers? You'd think that after 2,000 years we could ditch the caricatures. Many Christians lived perfectly ordinary lives. Church leaders tell us us to ignore them in favor of the outspoken "martyrs," but quieter folks played an overlooked role in raising the profile of their movement, too. The reward? They were largely written out of history.

2. Early Christians were called hurtful names, too.

Pixshark.com / Via pixshark.com

Today, a popular campaign is trying to end the stigma associated with the word "gay." Christians did something similar once before. For almost 40 years after the crucifixion, Jesus' followers, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, were called, pejoratively, "Christians," or followers of "Christ." Later, a few members of the group decided to embrace the slur. They turned it into the badge of pride "Christians" still wear today. Quite a success!

3. They also lived in the closet.

Pixshark.com / Via etsy.com

Manger scenes may be non-negotiable signs of Christian identity in America, but in Rome no one ever erected anything remotely similar on their lawn. For their first two hundred years, Christians actually left no archaeological traces behind. No statues, no paintings, not even any crosses. The best explanation? It's not because they were poor and disenfranchised. Jesus' followers simply couldn't afford to be found.

4. Political milestones were important to them....

Emperor Constantine. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Open Access) / Via metmuseum.org

Christians certainly had their triumphs, though. The year 313 A.D. was the biggest. That's when Christianity was legalized. Christians didn't have to hide their worship from their friends and neighbors anymore. Churches popped up everywhere. Christians were encouraged to come "out"! Today, that year's still fondly remembered. In some denominations, the emperor responsible for the decision, Constantine, is even considered a saint.

5. ...Allies were also helpful.

Galerius on his death bed. From a 15th century manuscript. Getty Museum (Open Content). / Via getty.edu

Constantine didn't change Rome alone, however. Ever hear of the Edict of Galerius? Probably not. Two years before Constantine, Galerius legalized Christianity, too. So why don't we remember him? Well, for one thing, when he died, his edict was repealed. For another, he wasn't a Christian. How did such a "heathen" wake up to the changing times? Probably because, every morning, he woke up next to a Christian: his wife.

6. Christians didn't have to "convert" everyone to win greater rights.

Stefan Bauer, 2005, Wikimedia (Creative Commons License) / Via http://commons.m.wikimedia.org

So how many Christians were there when the group won its new rights? Best guess: they were ten percent of the empire. That's an inconvenient number, for some, especially for Christians who think their "superior" faith lulled Romans away from a life of spiritual misery. But Christians didn't topple the traditions of Rome by selling new "faith-based" rewards. The people of the empire were actually much more ready and willing to change than we usually give them credit for.

That's history everyone should know.

Douglas Boin is the author of Coming Out Christian in the Roman World: How the Followers of Jesus Made a Place in Caesar's Empire, now available from Bloomsbury Press. He is an assistant professor of history at Saint Louis University.

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