Religious responses to the President’s State of the Union

President Obama’s final State of the Union (transcripts published by news outlets including NPR, the New York Times and the Washington Post – with annotations), drawing 33.3 million television viewers on Tuesday, quoted Pope Francis, addressed anti-Muslim discrimination, called for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “unarmed truth and unconditional love” and ended with “God bless America” (the statement, not the song).

Religion News Service has collected the responses of religious leaders, both positive and negative, from a range of faiths and organizations, including the following:

Rabbi Jack Moline, executive director of Interfaith Alliance:

“The president made a powerful call tonight for a new politics, one that rejects bigotry, hatred and division. He demonstrated that commitment to a politics of inclusion tonight by rejecting anti-Muslim bigotry and standing for religious freedom. It is incumbent upon each of us to answer the president’s call to ensure that the legacy endures and the state of our first freedom remains strong.”


Nihad Awad, national executive director, Council on American-Islamic Relations:

“We welcome President Obama’s strong rejection of Islamophobic rhetoric in politics, which sent a clear message to candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson who promote and exploit anti-Muslim bigotry for their own political gain. We must leverage the strength of our diversity in this nation and worldwide. America is made stronger because of its religious and ethnic diversity.”

The Catholic publication Crux responded point-by-point to the president’s statements on the topics of immigration, same-sex marriage, the affordable care act, climate change, Cuba and poverty, beginning with a discussion of Obama’s references to Pope Francis, and pointing out that he is “the third US president to invoke a pope in a State of the Union”:

Obama quoted the pope’s warnings about not giving into fear and causing the same kind of violence that terrorists promote.

“His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot I stand tonight,” Obama said, “that ‘to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.’

“When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world,” he continued.

…and then addressing his points with varying degrees of support. On immigration:

Catholic bishops have for years called for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for the more than 10 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

So while generally aligning with Obama on this issue, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops nonetheless publicly criticized the administration Tuesday for deporting migrant children and families.

…on same-sex marriage:

Obama highlighted the June Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage as an historic moment in the United States, praising “the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.”

Catholic bishops, of course, have been some of the most vocal opponent of same-sex marriage, and in the ruling’s wake, some have expressed concern that Catholic institutions could be coerced into recognizing same-sex marriages, mostly through employment practices.

Obama nonetheless appealed several times to the emotional arguments about supporting LGBT rights, at one point praising Americans who work to promote justice.

“It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught,” he said.

and on climate change:

Last June, Pope Francis issued a papal encyclical on environmental degradation, and devoted his September address to the United Nations to the issue. While Francis has framed the issue primarily in moral terms, highlighting how a changing planet will adversely affect the poor, Obama urged US lawmakers to look at the economic benefits of tackling climate change.

“[W]hy would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?” he asked.

Photo from The Telegraph

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