The Constitution requires the president to “from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union.” Though technically not a State of the Union address, President Biden fulfilled this obligation last night in front of a joint session of Congress. While most recent presidents have delivered such an address earlier in the year, the Coronavirus and other factors combined to delay last night’s report.
Biden began his speech with an update on where the country stands with vaccines before moving on to a general overview of his legislative priorities going forward. Among the most discussed were jobs, healthcare, immigration reform, climate change, foreign policy, and education.
He spoke for just over an hour and took a generally optimistic and conciliatory tone, with the phrase “the country supports it” used several times to portray a general agreement among Americans on several of the issues he discussed.
But while Americans may agree on the problems that need to be addressed, there remains a general lack of consensus on how to best address them. Tim Scott, in his response to the president on behalf of the Republican party, emphasized that reality on several occasions.
Scott spent much of his speech lamenting the partisan divides that still exist and outlining how the disparate views on how to move forward have often been at the heart of such conflict. He argued for a greater emphasis on taking a bipartisan approach to crafting legislation rather than just in support of legislation as a key component of the solution.
That emphasis is one of two I would like to highlight from last night’s affairs that can help us better understand how God is calling us to serve others and advance his kingdom today.
Focus on the issues
President Biden began his speech by stating, “Tonight, I come to talk about crisis and opportunity.” And while segments of his speech sought to depict a unifying path forward, he could not seem to consistently avoid relying on unnecessarily extreme rhetoric and examples to help elucidate how he views our current situation as a country.
In his depiction of the January 6th assault on the Capitol, for example, he stated it was “the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.” While what occurred that day was both embarrassing for our country and frightening for what could have happened, placing it above events like the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the September 11th attacks is needlessly reckless and inaccurate.
Senator Ted Cruz’s description of what Americans could expect from the speech, published in an opinion piece yesterday morning, was not much better. The tone and content of the article, in which he began by stating “Let me save you an hour of your time this evening and sum up President Biden’s speech in three words: boring, but radical,” included little intended to bring Americans together unless they were coming together in opposition to the president.
In both cases, we see either the inability or the disinterest of political leaders to disagree in a way that does not give the other side cause to disengage from the conversation. And while that hardly makes either man unique in recent times, it does reinforce that we should probably look elsewhere for our examples of how to engage with others.
Fortunately, the Bible gives us a much better option.
As Christians—literally, “little Christs”—our example is Jesus. And while he was hardly above engaging in spirited debate with others, he never did so in a way that deviated from the truth or inaccurately maligned the other person. He kept his focus on the most important issues and spoke in such a way as to foster understanding and growth for everyone involved.
If we can learn to model that in our conversations with others, even if they choose not to return the favor, then we are far more likely to give God room to use that discussion to advance his kingdom.
Find real solutions
Our second point for today is closely related to the first.
Conducting our conversations in a way that avoids extreme examples and demeaning characterizations, while important in its own right, will make the greatest impact if those discussions are intended to find real solutions.
One of Senator Scott’s critiques in his response to President Biden’s speech was that, in regard to the problem of racism, “My friends across the aisle seemed to want the issue more than they want a solution.”
While that may be true for some, it is an approach that is hardly unique to the Democrats. Abortion and immigration, for example, are issues that Republicans rely heavily upon to generate support in their campaigns, but often seem less concerned about when it comes time to craft policy.
And it’s understandable why this approach would be tempting: it tends to work.
Unfortunately, it also makes it difficult to trust that either side really wants the changes they so eloquently describe.
Are we any different, though, when we spend more time complaining about a problem or lamenting its existence than we do trying to fix it?
If you hear of a need at your church or a hurting family in your neighborhood, is your first instinct to talk with other people about how tragic the situation is, or do you take steps to help make a real difference? It could be that such conversations are an important first step, but if that’s where our commitment level ends, then it’s quite possible that we have stopped short of God’s will.
Model what you wish to see
George Bernard Shaw once noted that “Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”
Regardless of what you think about President Biden, Senator Scott, or the speeches they gave, last night served as an important reminder that our political climate is largely a reflection of our culture. Perhaps it’s because the issues in Washington are often easier to see than the ones in our own communities, but we must learn not to focus so much on the speck in our politicians’ eyes that we ignore the plank in our own (Matthew 7:3–5).
Far too often, we make a habit of the very same behavior that we lament in others. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
So take some time today and ask the Lord to help you reflect on your recent interactions to see how closely they align with the example of Christ. Then commit to making whatever changes are necessary to model the conduct you wish you could see in others.
After all, chances are good that it won’t be long before God gives you the chance to do just that.