Friday, September 03, 2004

Bush's Speech, Part 1

"the sin of slavery"

Someone once told me to compliment before you criticize. It makes people more amenable to what follows. With this salutary principle in mind, I'd like to point out something that I really liked in Bush's speech.

It is perhaps unsurprising that President Bush spoke of "sin" in his speech. What is surprising, though, is that Bush's reference to sin didn't involve homosexuality, pre-marital sex, abortion or pornography. Indeed, Bush's reference to "sin" didn't involve an individual sin at all. The only time he spoke of sin was clearly a reference to social sin.

Towards the end of his speech, Bush praised the liberty-loving Americans of the 19th century for "end[ing] the sin of slavery." Notice that Bush condemned slavery rather than slaveholding. The latter is an individual action while the former is its social manifestation. Like poverty is today, the institution of slavery was the devastating sum total of countless selfish actions. It was an institution which many of our ancestors - even if they didn't personally own slaves - contributed to with toleration and inaction.

That Bush chose this context, rather than homosexuality or abortion, to evoke the language of sin is heartening. Unfortunately, Bush's recognition of social sin appears to be purely historical. What a change in course we would see in this self-proclaimed Christian if he were able to recognize similar social sins existing in 21st century America.

Ending slavery was a dramatic step into the Kingdom of God. But there is a long way to go yet.

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