State of the Union

Religious Voices Respond to State of the Union

President Obama SOTU

U.S. President Barack Obama waves at the conclusion of his final State of the Union address in Washington Jan. 12. REUTERS/Evan Vucci/Pool.
 

In his last State of the Union address, President Obama made an impassioned case against religious bigotry and cast other key issues in moral terms.

He rejected “any politics that targets people because of race or religion.”

“This is not a matter of political correctness,” he said. “This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith.”

Read the Full Text of President Obama's Last State of the Union Address

Felix Lipov / Shutterstock.com

We live in a time of extraordinary change – change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet and our place in the world. It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families. It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away. It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality. And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate.

State of the Union and Inequality: What Are You Going to Do Now?

durantelallera / Shutterstock.com

durantelallera / Shutterstock.com

This week, there was a lot of commentary about the State of the Union, the title of the president’s annual January speech before a joint session of Congress. I thought it was one of Obama’s best addresses recently because he focused on what is real for this country — growing economic inequality where only a few are doing “spectacularly well” while many families are still struggling just to get by.

The wife and mother from one of those families wrote the president a letter that seemed to have moved him, so he lifted up her “tight-knit family” trying to get through “hard times,” as she sat up in the gallery next to first lady Michelle Obama. Her family became a parable for the nation that is starting to do better economically but still faces hard choices that the president sought to address with very practical suggestions to support what he called “middle class economics."

Obama’s proposals for shifting tax breaks from the very wealthy to the middle class, to make possible child tax credits, days for sick leave, assistance with child care, and some relief from expensive educational costs are all proposals not likely to be supported by the new Republican Congress. But the speech begins to set what could be a long-term agenda to deal with our massive economic inequality — finally. Even the Republicans now might have to face up to the increasingly visible, embarrassing, alarming, and morally indefensible gaps between a small elite and the rest of the country.

State of the Climate: How Far We’ve Come

Cracked earth in the shape of the United States. Image courtesy Steve Cukrov/shu

Cracked earth in the shape of the United States. Image courtesy Steve Cukrov/shutterstock.com

Last night I watched the State of the Union, because I live in D.C., and this is our Super Bowl. My roommate, who works on women’s rights, was listening for any mention of her "issues." And I’m no different: I tuned in to the president’s address to hear what he would have to say about climate change.

And he did have a lot to say! This is what he said:

"And no challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.

"2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does — 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.

"I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it."

What struck me was that it’s now totally normal for the President of the United States to speak firmly and at length about the clear and present danger of climate change.

Look at how far we’ve come! This is real progress — this is a cultural shift. This is a victory.

But this Monday, I marked Martin Luther King Day by reading the Letter from a Birmingham Jail with members of a neighborhood church. And I heard Dr. King admonishing me for my celebration.

President Obama's 2015 the State of the Union Remarks

American flag. Image courtesy STILLFX/shutterstock.com

American flag. Image courtesy STILLFX/shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: President Obama delivered his seventh State of the Union address last night (January 20, 2015). Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery.

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, my fellow Americans: 

We are fifteen years into this new century. Fifteen years that dawned with terror touching our shores; that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars; that saw a vicious recession spread across our nation and the world. It has been, and still is, a hard time for many. 

But tonight, we turn the page.

Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.

Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over. Six years ago, nearly 180,000 American troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, fewer than 15,000 remain. And we salute the courage and sacrifice of every man and woman in this 9/11 Generation who has served to keep us safe. We are humbled and grateful for your service.

America, for all that we’ve endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this:

The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.

NY's Human Stake: Immigration Reform & State Of The Union

But there is no doubt about it, according to Jim Wallis, founder of the faith in action group Sojourners. "I think he will raise this tonight,” Wallis says. “It's a high priority for the president, and I think it's a social movement now. “Doing something right, doing something for the common good and doing it together – I think that's very possible now." Wallis says he expects the faith community in New York and the nation to play an even greater role this year, and he believes a comprehensive immigration reform plan will be passed in the next six months.

COMMENTARY: An Executive Order with Moral Authority

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza, photo courtesy of the White House via Flickr. Via RNS.

Many of us believe skyrocketing income inequality is the most important economic, political, and moral issue confronting our nation. Everyone from members of Congress to Pope Francis has called for action — and now our president is leading by example.

In his State of the Union address, the president announced he would sign an executive order to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for a group of federally contracted workers. Recent research has revealed that the federal government is our nation’s leading low-wage job creator, creating more than 2 million jobs through federal contracts, loans, and grants. With this stroke of the pen, the president will begin to transform the lives of many of these Americans who are struggling to survive.

Unfortunately, many conservative commentators are criticizing the president’s action. They claim he is overstepping his legal authority and even violating his constitutional powers.

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