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Equality and Justice
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It's Martin Luther King day today, and President Bush had these words to say:

"It is fitting that we honor Martin Luther King in a church," Bush said, "because I believe, like you, that the power of his words, the clarity of his vision, the courage of his leadership, occurred because he put his faith in the Almighty."

Okay, this part's all right. MLK's faith obviously played a large part in his beliefs, motivations, and actions.

But then...

"It is fitting that we honor this great American in a church because, out of church comes the notion of equality and justice," the president said at the First Baptist Church of Glenaden.

Huh? Out of church comes the notion of equality and justice? Churches, for the large majority of their existences, have been exactly the opposite.

The vast majority of churches have historically been hierarchical, top-down enterprises. From god, to the holy man, down to the lowly "flock". Yeah, the sheep are right on par with the shepherd.

And churches have always been the bastion of both racial and gender equality, right? I mean, since the very first churches were built, they opened their doors to anyone and everyone, right? Women had just as much right to lead local churches, hear the word of god, and lead others, didn't they?


The fact is, true equality and justice have arisen, in Europe, in America, and now in so many other countries out of secular traditions. Churches are not bastions of progress. They are not leaders for social change.

The churches in America are vastly more egalitarian that any churches in the past. Why is this? Is this because of the influence of the secular traditions inherent in our Constitution? Or is it because churches are historically such hallmarks of progression, spearheading changes in the rights for the disenfranchised? That's a pretty easy one to figure out. The secular notions of equality and democracy have transformed local churches, not the other way around.

Churches by their nature are not dynamic institutions. They exist by asserting large, immutable truths, and thus they have more inertia than any other social construct. Churches don't like to change...they only do so when their survival is at stake (see the Catholic Church circa now).

So Bush's words ring hollow. Equality and justice are not religious traditions, but secular ones. We would do well to remember that.

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