Tonight, President Barack Obama stepped in front of the nation and our elected officials to give a report on the state of affairs in the United States of America. As President Obama stepped up to the podium to speak to our nation, he unveiled an ambitious path of progress for the US over the final two years of his presidency. Much of what the President laid out will be debated and dissected for weeks to come, while other programs will likely gain swift support from a majority of our government.
As an evangelical Christian, my values, social and political, are rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe that Christ came proclaiming a message about God’s Kingdom colliding with earth and bringing restoration and renewal to every inch of the cosmos. I believe that Jesus laid out a path for humanity to follow in that will lead to our flourishing, resolve our conflicts, and enable us to walk in an abundance of life. And I want to support as many public policies that align with the vision that Jesus cast for our world, believing that his way is in fact the most assured path toward success.
As an American, I value the separation of Church and State established by our founding fathers, and believe that all of our public policy should be rooted in universal human ethics and the majority opinion of the citizens of our country. Nonetheless, I believe that the values that Christ laid out in the Gospels are those universal values shared by all people and seek to analyze all of the proposed public policy through the lens of Jesus’ life and teachings. Not in order to legislate my religious beliefs, but to uphold those values that lift up the dignity of people of all races, sexualities, religions, and worldviews, which is ultimately what I believe the Gospel leads us to do.
Tonight, I want to offer my theological reflections on some of the key points that President Obama laid out in his State of the Union Address to help us all analyze the direction our nation is heading from a truly Gospel-centered perspective. Many of you will disagree with my analysis and many others will agree. But my intention is not to gather a consensus but to help us all engage critically and theologically with the social policies that will have profound effects on our lives and the lives of our neighbors.
Let’s dig in.
On Marriage Equality & LGBT Discrimination
The President referenced LGBT Marriage in his speech only briefly, but said that he has seen this discussion go from being a “wedge issue” to a “civil right.” This acknowledgement, though not the first time, is hugely important. For the church and our society as a whole, the fact that LGBT people cannot be married under the law in all 50 states is a shame. Our nation has a long history of oppression of minorities and in 2015 it is unbelievable that we continue to further this injustice to sexual minorities. The President acknowledging marriage as a civil right helps to further dignify the fight for equality. This was also a historic night in that this is the first State of the Union address where Bisexual and Transgender individuals have been acknowledged! On discrimination, the President said, “That’s why we…condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. We do these things not only because they’re right, but because they make us safer.” In a nation where in many states, people can be refused employment or fired based on their sexual orientation, this statement reinforces the fundamental American value of liberty and justice for all. It is clear that the President has progressed tremendously on these issues from where he was 6 years ago and has become a full-fledged advocate for justice and equality. Now that our country is moving in step with justice, we can only pray that the Church will respond similarly.
On Women’s Rights:
It’s hard to believe that in 2015 we are still fighting the battle for women’s rights. However, the President also tackled this issue head on, addressing the unequal pay and unfair treatment of women in the US, and vowed to work hard to level the playing field once and for all. President Obama spoke frankly on the issue of unequal pay, saying, “That’s why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work. Really. It’s 2015. It’s time.“ I couldn’t agree more. The Biblical paradigm that values every individual, regardless of gender, race, sexuality, or any other identity, is one that must continually be upheld if we are to have a successful and prosperous democracy.
The President addressed many different issues within our economy, but perhaps the most important and most compelling issue he spoke about was raising the minimum wage. Speaking directly to Republicans, he said, “And to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.” I believe that fair and substantial pay is one of the most pressing justice issues in our country today. Because of the way that our systems are set up, those who are in the lower class have very little opportunity to rise above their circumstances and obtain better, higher playing employment because they simply are not receiving adequate pay in their work. While these issues are complex, I believe that giving workers fair pay is key moral principal that not only benefits individuals but also will help stimulate economic growth in the long run. The President began his address by highlighting the progress that has been made over the last year, and in regards to the economy he noted that the economy has grown and created jobs at a faster pace than it has since 1999 and that our unemployment rate is lower than it was since before the financial crisis. These signs of progress mark a new day for America as we finally begin to emerge out of the many difficult years of financial crisis.
This was perhaps the bleakest part of the Presidents address. While the President announced that our occupation in Afghanistan has ended, condemned torture, and acknowledged the value of diplomacy, calling it a “smarter kind of American leadership”, he still upheld that drone strikes were necessary and would continue. After seeing the horrendous effects that US drone strikes have on civilians in the Middle East, it seems that the only acceptable course of action is to cease these unjust strikes altogether. As people of faith, we must continue to urge our leaders to stop using unwarranted and unproductive means of defending our country and instead opt for diplomacy and peaceful means of resolution of conflict. This is the subversive way of Jesus. This is our only hope.
On Partisan Politics
Though the Presidents address was heavily influenced by his Democratic ideology, he still made a point to call our politicians from their partisan agendas to represent the American people fairly and well. He called our nation to overcome our differences and embrace our common identity as a nation. He said, “I still believe that we are one people. I still believe that together, we can do great things, even when the odds are long.” Though it is hard not be cynical about this type of rhetoric, the acknowledgement that demonization and partisan arguments are counterproductive and harmful to our nation is an important truth that must be vocalized. Our leaders have been elected to rule justly on behalf of their people. This is their calling. Let us pray that they will move beyond their own self-interests and work for the common good of our nation.
On Climate Change
President Obama made a forceful plea for our country to work to be better stewards of our planet, which has experienced the warmest year on record. He boldly confronted those who still claim that there is a lack of scientific evidence about climate change. This is an issue that all Americans and even more so, all Christians must take seriously. As the President said, Earth is “the only planet we’ve got”, and we have been called to steward it well. We must work for higher standards on emissions and clean energy to help sustain and restore the planet we call home.
The President proposed his plan to offer two years of no-cost college for all Americans who are willing to work for it. While many Republicans refused to celebrate this announcement, I think that education is probably one of the most fundamental tools that we have to lift up the marginalized and empower them to have a better future. If we are willing to fund things like drones and wars, the question of funding free college education seems like a no-brainer to me. If we want to see the playing field leveled in our nation, I believe that equal opportunity education for all is one of the primary keys. Along these same lines, the President announced that he would work to fund new programs that would help keep America on the cutting edge of scientific and medical innovation and discovery. Education is the key to a prosperous nation and towards working to build a better world/expand the Kingdom of God. I believe that we should support any and all initiatives that incentivize education for every young person for the sake of our country and for the entire world.
Best Quotes of the Evening:
“It’s why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world. It’s why we continue to reject offensive stereotypes of Muslims — the vast majority of whom share our commitment to peace. That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. We do these things not only because they’re right, but because they make us safer.”
“So I know the good, and optimistic, and big-hearted generosity of the American people who, every day, live the idea that we are our brother’s keeper, and our sister’s keeper. And I know they expect those of us who serve here to set a better example.”
“A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears.”
“I want future generations to know that we are a people who see our differences as a great gift, that we are a people who value the dignity and worth of every citizen — man and woman, young and old, black and white, Latino and Asian, immigrant and Native American, gay and straight, Americans with mental illness or physical disability.”
“My fellow Americans, we too are a strong, tight-knit family. We, too, have made it through some hard times. Fifteen years into this new century, we have picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and begun again the work of remaking America. We’ve laid a new foundation. A brighter future is ours to write. Let’s begin this new chapter — together — and let’s start the work right now.”
In a pluralistic nation such as ours, there are bound to be a number of divergent views on all of the issues that our President spoke about tonight. It is my hope, however, that Christians will work hard to move beyond partisan politics and continue to stand for those values that help promote the equality of all people, justice for the oppressed and marginalized, and the common good of our nation. As we look toward a new year, may we all be empowered to speak up for what we believe in and, setting aside our political and social allegiances, work for positive social change that will help move our nation and our world into a trajectory of prosperity for all of humanity.
What are your thoughts on the President’s address? Do you agree or disagree with my analysis? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!