Repairing the Breach in the Union

President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, gestures as he gives his
President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, gestures as he gives his State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Feb. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, Pool)

In last night's State of the Union Address we heard President Obama address economic inequality and poverty -- issues often talked about by America's faith communities but little discussed in Washington -- and for needed action to address climate change, gun violence prevention and comprehensive immigration reform.

The agenda laid out by the president will earn strong support by faith leaders -- even as many of America's religious leaders continue to press the president on the morality of the use of drones in war zones -- because these are the issues that interfaith leaders have been bringing before nation and the White House. Congress needs to listen.

President Obama said in his address:

Tonight, let's declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families.

We need to do this and more. No one should live a third world life in a first world country. But at the Common Cup Family Shelter at Sunnyside Church in Portland, Ore., just as in communities across this nation, there are babies and children living homeless to working parents -- parents working jobs that don't pay a livable wage. Veterans and people suffering from chronic mental illnesses join these families. So we still need to pass the president's America Jobs Act, expand mental health care and double our efforts to support returning veterans.

The explosion of poverty during the last decade is one of the great moral issues we face as a country. Neither party as done enough. Policies that increase economic inequality by giving tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans while cutting programs meant to help lift people out of poverty make the problem worse. We can do better.

When President Obama said tonight that "for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change," he knows that Roman Catholics, Mainline Christians and evangelical Christians, along with the larger interfaith community, agree with his demand that we should believe in the "overwhelming judgment of science -- and act before it's too late." God's creation is at stake.

Comprehensive immigration reform is another issue that unites people of faith divided on other important issues. The Roman Catholic Church has provided important leadership in advancing this cause. Even leaders of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention have endorsed the president's goals. When you've got the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention and the United Church of Christ all on the same team you know you've got a common sense plan the American people can embrace and the Congress can pass.

A more difficult issue is how to prevent gun violence. Those that call for more mental health care are correct. Those that call for additional enforcement of existing laws are correct. But we need universal background checks, to re-instate the Assault Weapons Ban, and limit the numbers bullets a weapon can discharge. What we don't need are half-measures. America needs common sense proposals -- like the ones put forward by President Obama, which may be opposed by the NRA's leadership but are polling well among NRA members. We owe this to the children to Newtown, the people of Tucson, all those who have died in Chicago and Portland, and in cities and towns both big and small in America. Preventing gun violence has long been a goal of the National Council of Churches.

Thanks to the leadership of President Obama and the strength of the American people the state of our Union has grown stronger since the dark winter months of 2009. Still, there is more to do. The faith community has an important role to play in advancing an agenda that addresses the important moral issues faced by our nation. We have a big job ahead of us but there is hope.

We need only look to the ancient words offered by the Prophet Isaiah for a vision of our future:

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

(Isaiah 58:9-12 (NRSV)