- Deseret News - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Finding faith in the president’s annual State of the Union may be less about analyzing overall themes than listening for specific words. Religious responses to Tuesday’s speech centered on the concepts and communities President  Obama named, and those he left out.

A word study of America’s 224 previous State of the Union addresses, released Tuesday by The Atlantic, noted that ideas like “war” and “taxes” are somewhat timeless, appearing frequently throughout the centuries. But other words, like “God,” are used in interesting patterns. The article revealed that the invocation of God has dramatically increased during the last five presidencies.

Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush led the pack of 44 presidents in terms of frequency of mentioning God. But Mr. Obama and President Bill Clinton, both Democrats, also made the top six, which included President Franklin Roosevelt as well.

On Tuesday, Mr. Obama said “God” twice, saving the word for the final phrase of his address. “Thank you, God bless you, and God bless this country we love,” he said as applause filled the room.

The full text of the president’s State of the Union speech was released on Medium before he took the stage.

The most memorable reference to faith or, at least, to one of the world’s top faith leaders, came in Mr. Obama’s discussion of Cuba. He echoed Pope Francis’ sense that “diplomacy is the work of small steps.”

However, name-dropping a major religious leader did not save the president from being criticized by believers around the world, many of whom questioned the State of the Union’s focus on the middle class.

“Obama’s State of Union address, all about Middle Class Economics, human effort alone, closest to mentioning God was quote from Pope Francis,” tweeted South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, adding, “(The speech offered) a vision of a wealthy & prospering USA alone in world, surrounded by seas, even oceans, of poverty & misery. Hope he (Obama) addresses these elsewhere!”

Although centered on economic policy successes and proposals, the State of the Union did not directly address growing income inequality, although it is an issue the public wants addressed.

A survey on American attitudes toward the economy, published in September by the Public Religion Research Institute, found that 66 percent of Americans agree that the government should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. Additionally, more than 50 percent of all religious groups agreed.

Over the past weekend, the anti-poverty charity Oxfam International reported that the wealthiest 1 percent of the global population will soon control more than half of the world’s financial resources.

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