President Donald Trump’s wide-ranging second State of the Union address Tuesday night, his first before a divided Congress, has drawn mixed responses from Christian leaders.
Trump’s remarks lasted nearly 90 minutes and touched on a range of political topics: reinforced his call for a border wall, defended his plans in the Middle East, honored various special guests, slammed what he called “partisan investigations” and provided an overview of the political accomplishments of the last year.
Trump even announced that he would have another meeting with North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un later this month in Vietnam.
As a faction has emerged on the political left that has embraced the idea of democratic socialism, Trump boldly declared in his speech that the U.S. will never be a “socialist” nation.
At times, the president praised bipartisan accomplishments such as the passage of the criminal justice reform bill FIRST STEP Act. In an appeal to the new Democrat-led House of Representatives, Trump even praised the fact that there are more women in the workplace (and in Congress) than ever before.
While some conservative Christian leaders praised Trump for affirming the dignity of unborn children and calling for Congress to pass a ban on late-term abortions, left-leaning Christian leaders were not happy with the defense he provided of his administration’s staunch immigration policies.
As the government could be in danger of another government shutdown stemming from Trump’s desire for a barrier on the U.S. southern border in the coming days, Trump asserted in his speech that “walls work and walls save lives.”
In the following pages, are 10 Christian reactions to Trump’s State of the Union address.
1. Tony Perkins
Perkins, a Baptist pastor and president of the social conservative advocacy group Family Research Council, said in a statement provided to The Christian Post that Trump reached past the political divide in Congress “to unify Americans around an inspiring vision of what America can be.”
Among many things Perkins liked about the speech, the pro-life leader appreciated the fact that Trump called out “atrocious actions” of lawmakers in states like New York and Virginia who have pushed bills that are “pushing America toward infanticide.”
Currently, seven states allow abortion until birth. While New York has already passed a law removing gestational limits to abortion, the Commonwealth of Virginia has also been in the news as it weighs a bill that would allow abortion up to 40 weeks into pregnancy. Gov. Ralph Northam also received flack for comments describing how a baby could be killed even after birth that critics say bordered on “infanticide.”
Trump called out the governor during his speech for supporting the idea of “execut[ing]” a baby after birth.
“President Trump has not only been the most passionate president in talking about the humanity of the unborn, he has been the most persistent in protecting them,” Perkins wrote in the statement. “Sadly, it is very unlikely that members of the Democratic party will take up the president’s call to ‘work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life and affirm a fundamental truth: all children — born and unborn — are made in the holy image of God.’”
“President Trump seeks unity, but the president is not seeking unity at any cost,” Perkins added. “The unity that the president is seeking is with the American people, not with many of those here in Washington who despise what America stands for and spend their days trying to keep this administration from succeeding. President Trump tonight pointed the way forward in restoring our country’s goodness and greatness.”
2. Jim Wallis
Wallis, the founder of the prominent progressive evangelical social justice organization Sojourners, was less impressed with Trump’s speech than Perkins was.
Wallis has been a critic of Trump’s since the thrice-married real estate mogul won the 2016 presidential election. Wallis has argued that the heavy support Trump received from white evangelicals in the 2016 presidential election represents a “crisis in the church” and that white evangelicals would be responsible for his administration’s “racist” policies.
“President Trump began his State of the Union speech by ‘recognizing two anniversaries’ this year: the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion and the 50th anniversary of America putting a man on the moon,” Wallis wrote in a statement provided to The Christian Post. “The one that Donald Trump left out for 2019 is the 400th anniversary of the first African slaves sold into human bondage in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619.”
Wallis contended that the “early omission” struck him as “important and revealing.”
“After several statements about unity as Americans, he couldn’t help coming back to his wall,” Wallis added.
Trump declared in his speech that he would get the wall built on the southern border “to secure the vast areas between our ports of entry.” The wall would be in the form of a see-through steel barrier and would be “deployed in the areas identified by border agents as having the greatest need.”
“And as these [border] agents will tell you, ‘where walls go up, illegal crossings go way down,’” Trump said.
However, Wallis maintains that Trump’s wall is a “mere symbol” of a promise made to his “white nationalist” base because it will be a “wall that keeps non-white people out of America.”
Wallis stressed that the wall would serve “as a monument to American Racism.”
“As Pope Francis has said, ‘A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,’” Wallis wrote. “This is not in the Gospel.”
3. Michael Wear
Michael Wear, chief strategist for The AND Campaign, told CP in an email that there were some positive moments in the State of the Union address.
“The opening appeal to American greatness and the honor he gave to WWII veterans was moving. President Trump’s graciousness in acknowledging that we have the most women serving in Congress in American history —most of them Democrats — reflected a level of decency he has rarely reached before,” Wear, a pro-life Christian Democrat who directed faith outreach for President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, explained.
“He was right to run a victory lap on the bipartisan passage of The FIRST STEP Act — when you sign bipartisan legislation, you have the right to claim bipartisan progress,” Wear continued. “His expressed support for ending HIV/AIDS in America, and advancing paid family leave suggest new potential bipartisan achievements moving forward.”
However, Wear asserted that there were also “troubling aspects” of Trump’s speech.
“President Trump continued to defend his unjust border policies with rhetoric that was littered with misdirection and outright lies,” Wear explained. “His policies at the border remain a stain on his presidency, and on the moral history of our country. He claimed to support legal immigration, but his administration has drastically cut legal immigration and admittance of refugees, including significant cuts to the number of Christian refugees that have been granted asylum.”
On foreign policy, Wear said that Trump “opened the door to a 21st century arms race.”
“It is unfortunate that, in the mind of this president, ‘America’s interest’ so often precludes American values,” Wear argued. “The central, inescapable problem of this State of the Union was the man giving it. He called for an end to a politics of ‘vengeance,’ but he has been the chief purveyor of vindictiveness in our politics. He made a moral appeal on late-term abortion, but he is a man who has flaunted his immorality.”
Wear believes that Trump’s reputation undermines many of the appealing aspects from his address.
“I am sure many of President Trump’s supporters will praise his promotion of bipartisanship and a politics of cooperation, but now they must hold him to the standard of his own rhetoric,” Wear wrote. “I believe Democrats should be open to working with the President on shared goals for the good of the country, and that the American people should be willing to support this president when he is right. But we would be right to be skeptical that the president is capable of bringing the American people together.”
On Twitter, Wear warned Democrats that although Trump is “unprincipled” and “constrained” by his own reputation, they “better not count Trump out in 2020.”
“I know this is a matter of debate, but I think Democrats need to make a big push for comprehensive immigration reform,” Wear stressed in a Tweet Tuesday night.
“They need to do what they can to expand the immigration debate beyond border security,” Wear wrote. “Also, we need comprehensive immigration reform. Let Trump/GOP say no.”
Wear also criticized the way in which Democrats responded to Trump’s remarks on late-term abortion.
Wear warned that there is a “level of tone deafness” that is reminiscent of former Democrat nominee Michael Dukakis in the second presidential debate in 1988 “when Democrats respond to Trump’s rhetoric about late-term abortion with standard pro-choice talking points.”
4. Franklin Graham
Graham, the son of the late evangelist Billy Graham and president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, took to Facebook to voice his approval of the president’s remarks Tuesday night.
As a conservative, Graham has largely been supportive of Trump’s policies, especially those protecting religious freedom at home and abroad as well as policies that protect the sanctity of life. Graham has also taken part in events attended by prominent evangelical leaders hosted by the Trump White House, including last year’s “state dinner” for evangelical leaders and their wives.
“Thank you Mr. President for covering the priorities of our nation so clearly in tonight’s State of the Union address,” Graham wrote. “It is my prayer that all Americans would support working together in a bipartisan way to solve the problems we face. It’s not about Republican and Democrat — it’s about doing what is right. Thank you for defending freedom and affirming that America will never be a socialist country.”
In his speech, Trump declared that his agenda is neither Republican nor Democrat.
“[I]t is the agenda of the American people,” Trump argued early on in his speech.
“Many of us have campaigned on the same core promises, to defend American jobs and demand fair trade for American workers, to rebuild and revitalize our nation’s infrastructure, to reduce the price of health care and prescription drugs, to create an immigration system that is safe, lawful, modern and secure, and to pursue a foreign policy that puts America’s interests first.”
5. World Relief
As the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, World Relief serves as one of nine agencies authorized to resettle refugees in the United States with the help of local churches throughout the country.
The organization and its leaders have voiced concern about the Trump administration’s drastic reduction in refugees being resettled to the United States and other immigration policies. The refugee resettlement reduction has resulted in the organization receiving less federal funding and having to shut down offices and layoff staff.
In a statement, World Relief President Scott Arbeiter commended the president for affirming the contributions of legal immigrants to the American society. Arbeiter agreed that it is right for the president to seek safety for the nation.
However, Arbeiter called on the president to view the asylum seekers at the U.S. Southern Border in context with the global refugee crisis.
“[There are] 68 million people [who] are forcibly displaced around the world, of which 25 million are refugees,” Arbeiter wrote. “The world’s vulnerable are best served not by punishing them for seeking a new life but by offering clear, defined pathways to seek asylum and become integrated into the nation.”
World Relief maintains in a press release that it is right for Trump to call on Congress “to embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise and the common good” but asserts that the president has the opportunity to “offer once-and-for-all fixes” for those with Temporary Protected Status and for immigrants who arrived migrated to the country as children.
“President Trump and Congress have the unique opportunity to solve issues perplexing lawmakers for quite some time,” World Relief CEO Tim Breene said in a statement. “The U.S. refugee resettlement program has been an incredibly effective humanitarian operation for four decades, and we believe that by expanding the existing program to its potential capacity and applying similar structures and priorities to the challenges facing us at our southern border, we can reach a solution that integrates compassion and security.”
World Relief staffers Jenny Yang and Matthew Soerens conducted a live Facebook video Tuesday night responding to the State of the Union.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith