February 13, 2013
Rubio's State of the Union Response Heavy on Religion
President Obama: Americans ‘made’ to look out for each other
While Sen. Marco Rubio directly referred to blessings, prayer, and God-given rights in the Republican response to last night’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama spoke in less outwardly religious terms as he called on Americans as citizens to serve one another. Both politicians referred to Americans as “authors” of the country’s future.
Rubio, a week after being called “The Republican Savior” on the cover of Time, framed many political issues in religious terms.
He told the military they were “in our prayers.” He referred to America’s energy resources as blessings from God. He incorporated a pro-life perspective into a description of the country’s values, saying “we believe that every life, at every stage, is precious.” He called the American dream a “God-given right.”
A Catholic convert with friendly ties to evangelicals (he describes his faith in this CT interview), Rubio made his faith a bigger part of his speech than Obama, who evoked a sermon-like style and American civil religion at the end of his address.
Obama told the story of a Chicago teen shot to death weeks after performing at his inauguration. Her parents sat beside First Lady Michelle Obama, and dozens of others who lost family members to gun violence were also in the audience.
“The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence - they deserve a simple vote.”
In the Washington Post’s OnFaith blog, Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite referred to this refrain as a “call and response":
The “amen” chorus at the end of the address was no accident. It elevated the full-throated defense of government the president had given in the earlier part of the address to a “call.”Obama highlighted a nurse who saved 20 newborns at a New York City hospital during Hurricane Sandy, a 102-year-old Florida woman who waited hours to vote, and a Wisconsin police officer who took a dozen bullet wounds during the shootout at a Sikh temple.
“We were sent here to look out for our fellow Americans the same way they look out for one another, every single day, usually without fanfare, all across this country. We should follow their example,” the President said.
His words referred to American civil religion, the collective spirit under which Americans offer their allegiance to their country and its values. Obama did not quote from the Bible this time, nor did he evoke God, other than the standard “God bless America;” but he did call the American people to something beyond themselves.
“We are citizens. It's a word that doesn't just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we're made. It describes what we believe,” Obama said. “It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.”