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FaithfulAmerica offers a 'faithful' version
of the 2006 State of the Union Address
Washington, January 27, 2006 -- FaithfulAmerica.org, a Washington D.C. interfaith advocacy organization, today released its "Faithful State Of The Union Address" in anticipation of President Bush's address to be delivered next week. The address offers an assessment of the nation's priorities through the lens of faith, conscience, and moral values.
"We want to get past the political posturing, party rhetoric, and examine the state of our union in light of our most enduring religious traditions," said Vince Isner, the program's director. "It's going to inspire some people and anger others -- we're not mincing words here -- but our hope is that people of faith and conscience will begin talking seriously about their role in shaping a more perfect union."
Using a passage from the Hebrew prophet Micah, the address reflects on how the United States is "doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly," and offers views on the federal budget, torture, the war in Iraq, and the courts.
The address was released in both print and podcast. Both may be found at www.faithfulamerica.org.
FaithfulAmerica.org is an interfaith program of the National Council of Churches of Christ, USA. The Faithful State of the Union Address is not an official statement of the Council.
The text of the "Faithful" State of the Union Message follows:
In little more than two centuries the United States of America has grown from a band of fledgling colonies to one of the grandest nations in the history of the world.
Much has been said of the wisdom that has guided this great nation across the centuries; the wisdom of its founders, its constitution, and, at a few pivotal times, it's elected leaders.
Yet thousands of years before there was a United States of America, the Hebrew Prophet Micah proclaimed in just a few words what would be a moral standard for persons of faith and the nations they build. He declared, "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?"
In light of these words, the state of our Union is troubled indeed. As persons of faith and conscience we hold ourselves to a standard that measures more than our economic wealth and military might. We recognize that we are more than consumers, voters in red or blue states, taxpayers, polling numbers, demographics, target markets and all the rest. As human beings living together on this planet we know that we are, as the Judeo-Christian tradition reminds us -- our brother's and our sister's keepers. We are, as Native American Tradition teaches, guests of this planet – not its owners. We are, as Jesus taught us, the "light of the world."
We are also the living agents of Micah's prophetic call. So let us examine just how we are doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly.
Inscribed in the East pediment of the Supreme Court -- the side few people see -- are these words: "Justice the guardian of liberty." Two things are significant about that.
One, it does NOT say, "Justice, the guardian of liberty for some" but rather implies liberty for ALL.
Two, the inscription appears on the East side -- the back door, as it were, of the Supreme Court.
Few of us would dare approach the Supreme Court and openly declare, "My views are better, truer, and more important, than theirs and therefore you should interpret the law in light of me."
That is why special interests choose the BACK door when trying to influence the courts. Recently some well-funded and organized Christian fundamentalist groups have used massive media events to help load the open seats on the Supreme Court with ultra-conservative judges sympathetic to their fundamentalist agenda. They even said that those who disagree with them are "against people of faith."
People of faith in the United States of America do not march lock step to the drums of Christian fundamentalism, and we must resist the claims of those who claim to speak for people of faith and conscience everywhere.
It is an arrogant dinner guest who seizes the conversation and shouts his proclamation so loudly that nobody else can speak. That is why all who love their faith and their country must work to insure that everyone has a voice around the national table. It is only through dialogue, the free expression of ideas, and respect for all points of view can justice reach its full height. That is part of what it means to DO justice.
Yet justice extends far beyond the courts. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
The world has been shocked and outraged by the revelation that the U.S. has engaged, and perhaps continues to engage in torture of its detainees. Many are being held without charge and without access to legal representation. The United States embroiled in a torture scandal? It would have seemed unthinkable a few years ago. Yet using 9/11, the White House has tragically adopted a policy that bears little resemblance to the example of Christ.
The President has said, "we do not do torture," but he opposed a bipartisan anti-torture bill in Congress. When Congress passed the measure, the President signed it, but added a so-called "signing statement" -- a disclaimer of sorts, reserving the right to interpret the law as he sees fit. In short, the President has declared himself above the law in matters of torture. Such action not only dishonors our nation's commitment to the rule of law, but also imperils our hard-fought reputation around the world as guardians of human rights.
Allegations of secret U.S. prisons, denying detainees due process, charges that the U.S. is "outsourcing" its torture to other nations, and the President's unapologetic seize of privacy rights by ordering electronic eavesdropping without Congressional approval, all signal a tragic sacrifice of our nation's most cherished moral values upon the altar of arrogant self interest.
An Arab proverb states that arrogance diminishes wisdom.
After a lifetime of living in the public eye, a revered television personality remarked, "The longer I live the more I realize that the true drama of life is not in the spotlight but in the wings. The acts of kindness that go unnoticed by the cameras are perhaps the most important dramas we will ever see."
Looking at the earth from space, only a degree or two separates shadow from light. In the same way, comfort and misery are often just a few degrees apart. For most Americans, a chilled room can be made toasty with just a touch of a button -- a few degrees is all it takes. At 98.6 degrees our bodies thrive, laugh, love -- we live. A few degrees colder, hypothermia sets in, and we die. A few degrees warmer -- fever overtakes us, and we die.
It is no less true of our political climate. Congress' cruel and reckless decision to cut billions from aid programs may seem like a small shift in a massive budget, but that tiny shift is critical to those already on life's margins. The consequences will be real -- in the form of more children frozen into lives of poverty, young people succumbing to the fever of despair, unable to afford an education. More and more seniors, many already living below the poverty line, will suffer and die for lack of medical care.
Budgets are moral documents. We may speak of compassion, but in the final analysis, the truest measure of our government's political will is made clear every time our government completes the sentence: "Pay to the order of . . ."
If we say we care about the hungry but feast on corporate greed -- if we say we love peace but kneel at the altar of an out-of-control war machine -- if we say we cherish our children but steal their very futures through our own reckless spending -- then all the excuses in the world cannot mask our true intentions.
Economic growth is important, but it isn't everything. Robert F. Kennedy once said:
"The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans."
On February 1, the House of Representatives will have one final chance to vote on what has been called one of the most immoral budgets in American History. If it passes, millions will suffer needlessly. If it fails, we will be given another chance to speak on behalf of all Americans -- not just the wealthiest few.
As lobbyists for hundreds of special interests huddle outside the House Chamber wringing their hands and licking their chops over the billions they stand to gain either for themselves or for those whom they represent, who will stand in the chamber and speak for the poor, the young, the ill, and the elderly of this nation? Who will remember them?
We dare not forget that mercy and misery are only degrees apart. Thus far, Congress and the President have chosen misery over mercy. Let us hope that on February 1, the House has the courage to honor their sacred call to love mercy -- and to act likewise.
Whether the need is to fix our nation's healthcare nightmare, lift the long-overdue minimum wage, or tear out the deep and destructive roots of economic inequality as revealed in the Hurricane Katrina tragedy, our mandate must be mercy on a massive scale. Not the bone-throwing, dignity destroying, cheap feel-good handout kind of mercy, but systemic, bold, committed, and faithful acts of courage worthy of our call as our brothers' and sisters' keepers. If we fail to eradicate hunger in our nation, provide quality healthcare for all, grant every working American a living wage, and enable everyone to obtain a quality education -- and do it with committed hearts -- then all our proclamations are hollow.
At a gathering of political contributors President Bush had this to say to his audience:
"This is an impressive crowd: the have's and have-more's. Some people call you the elites. I call you my base."
At another gathering on a hillside in Galilee, Jesus had this to say to his audience:
"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
We are a nation at war. Ordinarily it is a time in our national life to come together around the effort to secure a victory and celebrate the rightness of our cause.
This is not such a time.
We are a nation at war, but our leaders have committed a grave error, for this war is of our own making. The Iraq war is unjust, unnecessary, and immoral. Nearly 2,300 U.S. soldiers have died in faithful service to their nation, but it did not have to be. More than 16,000 brave men and women have been maimed or wounded in service to their country. But it did not have to be. An estimated 30,000 Iraqi innocents -- women, children, elderly -- have been killed in the crossfire. But it did not have to be.
The Iraq war was not launched as an act of regrettable last resort but as an arrogant first strike -- fueled by misinformation and perpetuated by fear. Now, nearly three years into the bloodshed, even terrorists laud the war for being the most successful terrorist recruiting campaign ever. Most of the world agrees.
Throughout history our greatest spiritual teachers -- from Jeremiah to Jesus -- from Lao-Tzu to Gandhi -- have shown us that military might is no match for moral integrity. It is also true, as this war has shown, that all the firepower on earth cannot atone for moral weakness.
Napoleon once said that God was on the side of the country with the biggest cannons.
Napoleon was mistaken.
Whenever leaders invoke the name of God to justify a particular war, it speaks more of the leader than of God. For while many have used religion to justify individual wars, can there truly be a moral justification for war as a way of settling differences between members of the human family?
The decisions we make matter to more than we who inhabit this world. They affect the planet itself. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, our choices -- from our refusal to sign onto the UN Kyoto treaty to gutting environmental standards for power plants -- are killing the earth. Even as weather patterns destabilize around the globe, glaciers melt, seas rise and winds blow erratically, the Bush administration resolutely refuses to acknowledge U.S. responsibility and take action to halt these dangerous patterns. Some scientists believe it is already too late -- that the events we have set in motion cannot be reversed in time to save our planet.
Native American wisdom teaches us to us to walk lightly upon the earth -- so that all we do may bless the earth and its inhabitants for seven generations. The prophet Micah would agree. To walk humbly is to be in awe of creation. It is to be in gratitude for its blessings. It is to act in lovingkindness for the life it bestows and the miracles it sustains.
And so we stand here --- today -- together -- to ask again, what is the faithful state of our Union? Are we doing justice? Are we loving mercy? Are we walking humbly?
More importantly, can our faith stir our hearts to lift our eyes to a higher standard, set our feet on a different path, engage our hands and our backs and our minds and our spirits toward building a more perfect union?
If we hope to save our nation from ruination, we must embrace the calling that we share across religions and the span of human history. By turning clenched fists into open hands we will see that in those hands are the keys to a better world -- a world which we must help to save.
No longer can we move non-chalantly through life as though our presence makes no difference to others. Instead, we must move chalantly -- with humility yes, but with purpose, courage, and grace:
Protecting our souls as well as our shores.
Opening our hearts as well as our minds.
Rejecting arrogance while embracing understanding.
Putting aside retribution while taking up love.
Printed on our currency are the words "In God We Trust." Whether or not we live up to that claim, we should also consider that God has placed in us God's trust to care for each other. By virtue of our being alive together on this planet we are entrusted and empowered to live out creation's most sacred call -- to love one another.
Vince Isner, Director
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