Reflections on President Obama’s State of the Union Address

Nelson Jerome Pierce, Jr.

Almost certainly one the most memorable moments from the President’s Address was near the end when he established, and the echoed the refrain:

We do big things.

As a student of homiletics, I appreciated how the phrase was simple and memorable; how placing it near the end of the speech allowed it to serve somewhat as a summary; and how it provided a note of celebration on which to end the message. As a child of the hip-hop generation I appreciated its bravado, or swag as some of my younger brothers and sisters might refer to it.

However, I would like to reflect on a tone set early in the speech, a tone that began as president acknowledged that the world in which we live has changed. Technology has made a lasting imprint on the way that everyone does business, and the President called for us to change our education and investment priorities to reflect the nature of that change.

Yet in the midst of that change there is a constant American value, one that President Obama claimed was the idea on which the United States of America was founded: “the idea that each of us deserves to shape our own destiny.”  The President insisted that it is this idea that has separated the U.S. from other nations, no matter how advanced their technologies. It is this idea that ought to propel this nation forward in the midst of the global competition in which we currently find ourselves.  It is the very idea the led the Congress and the President to pass legislation promoting universal health care despite the entrenched opposition against it. The idea is unchanging, how we live out that idea must change.

It is this space, the space between what is fixed and what is fluid, that every organization, community, and assembly must find. It is this space, the space between what is established and what is evolving that essential not just to growth and development, but to growth and development in a way that honors both honors the principles and values that keep us grounded, but also honor the changes that are essential to keep us relevant. It is this space that Black Church must continue to search for and if need be, to carve out.

The part of the rich and diverse history of the Black Church includes holding up education and empowerment as part of doing God’s work in the world. During the period of Antebellum slavery, churches would hide students in ditches covered with straw, or take them out along the river in order to teach literacy outside of the eyes of the law. Northern churches would often provide access to resources for those enslaved who were both bold and fortunate enough to escape and claim their God-given freedom. This legacy continues to this day where many churches have established ministries that help young people and adults with educational needs, financial tools, relationship skills, and other elements important to living a healthy, whole life. Yet when it comes to the area of sex, the church has fallen painfully behind the culture in its ability to speak relevantly to the issues that are facing us today. Uninformed conversations about sex, sexuality and sex appeal are happening on every television station, in the music, in middle schools and high schools, in the work place.  Far too often the misinformation and the lack of information combine to have a life-long impact, and in some cases even take the life of people.  It is time for the church to stand upon its fixed principles of speaking truth when no one else will, of reaching those who no one else is willing to reach, of empowering those who no one else is willing to empower and to engage in new and relevant conversations about sex and sexuality.

We cannot simply sit back and allow our teenage girls to become pregnant without having critically thought about impact on their future, or allow our teenage boys to impregnate girls with no sense of responsibility to the child or the mother. We cannot send our children off to college, to the military, or to working adult life with out having discussed with them what healthy relationships look like and how to resist the pull of unhealthy relationships, especially when they seem exciting.

We cannot have adults coming to church Sunday after Sunday who praise God with everything they have, and who never make connections about how their faith in God ought to inform their sexual activity. We cannot allow people to feel overwhelmed by guilt over abuses that have happened to them in the past, over bad decisions they may have made, or over unhealthy situations that they may be currently in, and never find God’s grace to overcome that guilt and walk in God’s freedom.

As the body of Christ, we must be bold enough to meet this real, human need, not with empty rhetoric from the past, not with angry tirades that condemn, and not with hypocritical moralistic piety.  We must meet this need the way Christ has, and continues to meet our needs: by finding us wherever we are, by loving us in spite of anything we may have done, or anything that may have been done to us, and by giving us the space to talk to God about whatever may concern us, knowing that God has the grace to deal with whatever may be dealing with us.

A friend of mine recently said to my church leaders, “God does not change, but God is so vast that our understanding of God is always growing and evolving.” It is time for our conversations about sex and sexuality within the church to grow and evolve as well.

Nelson Jerome Pierce, Jr. is the Pastor of the Word Fellowship Church in Cincinnati, OH. Friend on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.


The views, opinions, and perspectives expressed in by guest and consultant bloggers do not necessarily reflect the views of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, its state affiliates, it member organizations, or the National Black Church Initiative. The Religious Coalition is committed through its National Black Church Initiative to faithfully, prayerfully breaking the silence on issues related to sex, sexuality and religion.

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