WASHINGTON (BP) – President Biden’s first State of the Union speech received from a Southern Baptist ethics leader both commendation for its support of Ukraine and objection for its endorsement of abortion rights and gay rights.
Speaking Tuesday night (March 1) to a joint session of Congress and a national television audience, Biden began the traditional address by praising the Ukrainian people for their resolve in the face of Russia’s six-day-old invasion of their country. “We, the United States of America, stand with the Ukrainian people,” he said. The president led those in attendance in an extended standing ovation for Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, as a sign of solidarity with her country.
Yet, Biden also called for protecting the right to abortion while the Supreme Court considers a case this term that could result in the reversal of the 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion that legalized the procedure throughout the country. In addition, the president urged Congress to pass the Equality Act, a far-reaching gay and transgender rights proposal that opponents warn would significantly threaten religious freedom.
Brent Leatherwood, acting president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), told Baptist Press, “It has been a long time since bipartisanship can be said about something in Washington, but we witnessed that in response to the president’s remarks about Ukraine last night. Confronting [Russian President] Vladimir Putin about his illegal and ghastly invasion should inspire broad consensus across party lines.
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“Unfortunately, the latter part of the president’s remarks highlighted a laundry list of divisive items like the misnamed Equality Act and abortion,” Leatherwood said in written comments. “It is lamentable that the address went that direction, as our nation has big challenges before it right now and we need leadership that unifies.”
A Southern Baptist member of Congress, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., expressed similar thoughts about Biden’s 62-minute address.
“It was good that the loudest, longest applause through the entire speech was actually right at the beginning for the ambassador from Ukraine to be able to tell the world that we are standing with” the Ukrainian people, Lankford said. “We should do what it takes to be able to make it very, very clear to Russia that the world will not put up with their aggression and continue to be clear on that.”
He was pleased the president began with Ukraine, but the speech “went downhill from there,” Lankford said.
By invading Ukraine, Putin “thought he could roll into Ukraine, and the world would roll over,” Biden said of the Russian invasion. “But he badly miscalculated.”
Putin met “a wall of strength he never anticipated or imagined,” Biden said. “He met the Ukrainian people. From President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy to every Ukrainian, their fearlessness, their courage, their determination literally inspires the world.”
Describing the Putin-ordered invasion as “premeditated and totally unprovoked,” Biden said the Russian president “is now isolated from the world more than he has ever been.”
The U.S. president briefly described economic sanctions imposed by America and its allies against Russia. He also announced that the U.S. would follow the example of other countries in closing its air space to all Russian flights.