The State of the Union is a morality play

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Jim Obergefell of Cincinnati is photographed in his living room. He and John Arthur married in Maryland because gay marriage is not legal in their home state of Ohio. After his husband died, Obergefell sued his state because Ohio won't allow his name on Arthur's death certificate. Now his case is in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo courtesy of The Enquirer/Carrie Cochran, via USA Today

Jim Obergefell of Cincinnati is photographed in his living room. He and John Arthur married in Maryland because gay marriage is not legal in their home state of Ohio. After his husband died, Obergefell sued his state because Ohio won't allow his name on Arthur's death certificate. Now his case is in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo courtesy of The Enquirer/Carrie Cochran, via USA Today

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, flanked by Republic presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, left, Attorney Mathew Staver, second right, and her husband Joe Davis, right, celebrates her release from the Carter County Detention center in Grayson, Kentucky on September 8, 2015. U.S. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Chris Tilley *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-MARSHALL-COLUMN, originally transmitted on September 10, 2015.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, flanked by Republic presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, left, Attorney Mathew Staver, second right, and her husband Joe Davis, right, celebrates her release from the Carter County Detention center in Grayson, Kentucky on September 8, 2015. U.S. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Chris Tilley
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-MARSHALL-COLUMN, originally transmitted on September 10, 2015.

(RNS) At last count, the special guests invited to tonight’s State of the Union address included two Catholic nuns, a Pentecostal clerk who was jailed for refusing to give marriage licenses to gay couples, the gay man whose Supreme Court case legalized gay marriage, a Syrian refugee and a Mexican immigrant.

If Capitol Hill were a bar, this might sound like the start of a joke.

Instead it’s evidence of the role that religion and moral values are playing in the nation’s politics as we head into the heart of the presidential campaign.

Consider the guest list for President Obama’s final SOTU speech:

  • Two members of the Little Sisters of the Poor will be hosted by House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican who wants to highlight religious opposition to the contraception mandate in Obamacare. The order runs a chain of nursing homes and say allowing such coverage for their employees forces them to compromise their religious beliefs.
  • Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed briefly last year for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, will be in attendance with her lawyer; the last time Davis was in Washington it was for a secret meeting with Pope Francis that blew up into a controversy when the Vatican discovered the pontiff had been set up.
  • Jim Obergefell, an Ohio real estate agent who was the lead plaintiff on the Supreme Court case last June that gave gay couples across the country the right to marry, will be a guest of the president.

    Jim Obergefell of Cincinnati is photographed in his living room. He and John Arthur married in Maryland because gay marriage is not legal in their home state of Ohio. After his husband died, Obergefell sued his state because Ohio won't allow his name on Arthur's death certificate. Now his case is in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo courtesy of The Enquirer/Carrie Cochran, via USA Today

    Jim Obergefell of Cincinnati is photographed in his living room. He and John Arthur married in Maryland because gay marriage is not legal in their home state of Ohio. After his husband died, Obergefell sued his state because Ohio won’t allow his name on Arthur’s death certificate. Now his case is in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo courtesy of The Enquirer/Carrie Cochran, via USA Today

  • Obama has also invited Refaai Hamo, a Syrian refugee and scientist who fled that country’s civil war, and settled with four of his children in Michigan last month; his presence is a visual rejoinder to the growing calls to bar refugees from Syria or to set up religious restrictions for entry. Hamo’s family background is Kurdish, according to the Detroit Free Press.
  • More than 20 Democrats have invited Muslims as guests tonight to push back against the growing rhetoric and attacks on U.S. Muslims. One of them will be a Connecticut doctor whose mosque was shot at the night of the Nov. 13 Paris terror attacks.
  • Mexican-born Oscar Vazquez will be another guest of the president and will highlight the immigration reform issue that has galvanized and divided religious groups: Vazquez was brought to the U.S. illegally as a child, earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering, returned to his home country and re-entered the country legally, and then joined the Army and served a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

And that’s not to mention the empty chair that the president has reserved in his box to symbolize the victims of gun violence.

That’s an issue that has for years bedeviled Obama and one he is trying to take action on before he leaves office. In the wake of the recent spate of mass shootings the issue has also begun to engage, and divide, many religious groups

Then again, not every moral issue facing the nation will be represented the way everyone would like:

Cruz, a leading GOP presidential contender and a senator from Texas, will have an empty seat of his own as he announced that he will not attend the State of Union address.

(David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS)

  • Bernard DeKoninck

    The more I read news like this the more I am convinced that the US has turned into a theocracy, where pastors, bishops, priests,imams and ministers of religion rule the country….very much like Saudi Arabia and Iran

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  • George Nixon Shuler

    Indeed it is – and the location is like the bar scene in the original “Star Wars” and Bamz is like Luke Skywalker. In it, there’s the Congress with the disrespectful right-winger Joe Wilson who yelled “You Lie!” at this President, something the late Allard Lowenstein had too much respect for the institution to do to Richard Nixon. The Congress critters will be hunched over from sharing their benches with the Senate including Tom “Makes His Own Foreign Policy” Cotton and Joni “Shoot ’em Up” Ernst. The Black-robed SCOTUS jurists will be there front and center too, franked by Clarence “Concur with Scalia” Thomas and Samuel “That’s not True!” Alito. Across the aisle from these archons will be the hapless Joint chiefs of Staff whose job has been made easier by this President by ending needless burdens on them to out LGBT soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines.

  • Since religion took such a big (needless) role in the State of the Union Speech I’m here to remind you….

    Religion needs to be laughed at, not respected:
    “The mustard seed is the smallest” – JESUS (Mark 4:31)
    No it isn’t, Jesus!

    Religion needs to be challenged, not accepted:
    “the slave should be whipped with many blows” – JESUS (Luke 12:47)

    Religion needs to be abandoned, not valued:
    “do not touch a woman while she is having her period or you will become unclean!” (Lev.15:19-21)

    This tired joke on humanity must end.

  • G Key

    What a shameful, sad commentary on ourselves, on our country, and on humanity, that so many of us out there in Washington, and right here in cyberspace, have grown so comfortably accustomed to simply, smugly, stubbornly, slaveringly, self-exaltedly, self-gratifyingly, self-righteously, yet self-defeatingly prioritizing hostility over civility, disdain over discourse, otherizing over outreach, competition over collaboration, hardheadedness over open-mindedness, contempt over compromise, inveighing over inviting, and scoring points over seeking progress for ourselves, for our country, and for humanity.

  • @G Key,

    “slaveringly”?…”prioritizing hostility over civility..”

    I know. Happens everytime with Jesus:
    “Bring to me those enemies of mine and execute them in front of me” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)
    “The slave shall be beaten if he does not do his master’s bidding” – JESUS (Luke 12:47)

    I agree. No civility at all.

  • G Key

    I have no problem with any belief systems or their writings. I have a problem with people who presume to “trump” others’ beliefs.

    I agree in that, though I know most religious people are really pretty nice & respectful people, I wish the behaviors of the few believers who disrespect others’ beliefs were roundly & soundly condemned by their own religious leaders &/or peers.
    And I wish this would become the cultural norm.

    And, though I know most nonreligious people are really pretty nice & respectful people, I wish the behaviors of the few nonbelievers who disrespect others’ beliefs were roundly & soundly condemned by their own nonreligious leaders &/or peers.
    And I wish this would become the cultural norm.

    I believe the Golden Rule means respecting other people’s boundaries, beliefs, belongings, bodies, bedrooms, & business — not to mention rights, privacy, & equality — as I would have others respect my own.

    It’s all about how we treat each other.

  • G Key

    Note: “writings”, in the first line of my last comment, is intended to refer to Scriptures &/or other honored/authoritative writings written specifically for “insiders”, whether those insiders are Christians, atheists, or anything else. Such writings, in and of themselves, have no effect whatsoever on “outsiders” (and are none of their business) — even if those writings order insiders to affect outsiders in some manner.

    As long as the insiders keep those orders inside their own personal/spiritual/existential boundaries, no harm occurs, and outsiders wouldn’t even know about the writings, unless they asked (respectfully).

    Only when insiders take it upon themselves to act on those writings are outsiders affected. Such actions clearly presume inequality, advocate trespass, and sanction cruelty; they profane outsiders’ beliefs, regardless of what those beliefs are.

    And those insiders are trespassing on other people’s property.

  • @G Key,

    “I wish the behaviors of the few believers who disrespect others’ beliefs were roundly & soundly condemned by their own religious leaders &/or peers.”

    Yes. But that deep disrespect of others is commanded in Christianity.
    “If one does not love the Lord let him be cursed!” – (Corinthians 16:22)

    “And I wish this would become the cultural norm.”
    It is the norm. Instead of bemoaning incivility, examine the chaos Christianity preaches:
    “I only came for the lost sheep of Israel”- Jesus (Matthew 15:24)
    Religion is bigotry and social chaos.

    The Golden Rule requires no gods. I live by it:
    “Do not do to others which you would not want done to you.”
    It is an excellent moral code and it pre-dates religions by thousands of years and requires no supernatural nonsense.
    All one needs in life is Love and Curiosity. Religion is chaotic, divisive nonsense.

  • Regardless of who is invited, the SOTU revolves around the content of the speech. And the content of every SOTU I’ve heard revolves around flattery, deception, and manipulation.

  • Always

    Nice job. It never ends with people taking Bible verses out of context and skewing them to try and make an argument. It might be worth doing a little research and reading some commentaries on some of those passages before you go spewing things that are misrepresentations, at least by most scholars’ standards.

  • Larry

    Unless you are reading the Bible as a narrative, all use of quotations from it will be out of context. 🙂

    If the Bible was such a clear sign of the word of God, why would you need commentaries and debates as to its meaning? Isn’t God supposed to be good at communication?

    Your average “Bible Scholar” is someone who is looking to confirm the tenets of their given sect. Finding sections which conform to the arbitrary rules of the sect are of far more importance than promoting unambiguous understanding of what was written. There are little to none who are willing to view the work outside the lens of their own belief.

  • Always

    The reason one who is not well-versed with the Bible (but likes to use quotes) should take a look at commentaries, or at do a little more research, is because it is full of allegory, hyperbole and metaphor, leading people to try and interpret meanings over many centuries. If there were a clear consensus, you wouldn’t have so many versions of the Bible and thousands of different Christian denominations. Remember, the word of God has a human influence by nature (scribes, translators, etc.), and with such a human influence it is flawed by nature. If we were perfect, we wouldn’t be human.