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Biden speech receives mixed response from SBC leaders

Screen capture from CNN

WASHINGTON (BP) – The Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine effort received Southern Baptist commendation, but the president’s advocacy for an expansive gay and transgender rights bill earned disapproval after his first speech to a limited, joint session of Congress.

On the 99th day of his presidency, Biden focused on his administration’s success in getting Americans vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, as well as its trillion-dollar programs that have either been enacted or proposed to Congress. He also promoted a bill to bar discrimination against people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), promised to fight white supremacy and urged adoption of his comprehensive immigration proposal.

Regarding the vaccine to combat a virus that has taken more than 570,000 lives, Biden said America’s advance in his administration’s first 100 days against the COVID-19 pandemic “has been one of the greatest … logistical achievements this country has ever seen.” He spoke to a masked, socially distanced audience of reportedly only about 200 people in a House of Representatives chamber that will hold more than 1,000.

“After I promised we’d get 100 million COVID-19 vaccine shots into people’s arms in 100 days, we will have provided over 220 million COVID shots in those 100 days,” Biden said. Less than one percent of senior adults were totally vaccinated when he took office, while 70 percent of American 65 years or older now are, the president said. More than 50 percent of adults now have received at least one vaccine dose, he said.

Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, told Baptist Press, “Vaccinations are critical for us to return to a way of life we have known in the past. While this is an individual’s decision, I am grateful for all the efforts to bring an end to this pandemic that has taken millions of lives around the world.”

Biden encouraged Congress to pass the Equality Act, the far-reaching LGBT rights bill the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has told a congressional committee “would undermine pluralism, legalize coercion, imperil religious liberty, eliminate conscience protections, and erode the very freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment.”

“To all transgender Americans watching at home, especially young people who are so brave, I want you to know your president has your back,” Biden said.

The legislation would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the classifications protected in federal civil rights law. “Sexual orientation” includes homosexuality, bisexuality and pansexuality, while “gender identity” refers to the way a person perceives himself regardless of his biology at birth.

The Equality Act, Floyd said in written remarks, “is built on a faulty redefinition of human sexuality and has considerable negative implications for religious liberty. I am not surprised to hear such support for it from this administration, but I pray our elected officials will remember and protect the rights of individuals and institutions to live out their faith.”

In commenting on Biden’s speech on his Thursday morning podcast, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, described the Equality Act as “the greatest head-on threat to religious liberty that we have seen in our lifetimes.”

It “would be a full non-discrimination program, covering everything that’s in the [LGBT] agenda and without any exceptions or exemptions” for churches, denominations, ministries and religious institutions, Mohler said on “The Briefing.”

Biden described the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan – which was passed without any Republican support in Congress – as “one of the most consequential rescue packages in American history.” The legislation included $1,400 checks for individuals in 85 percent of the country’s households, he said.

The president promoted or introduced two other high-ticket programs he has proposed:

  • The American Jobs Plan, what Biden described as “a blue-collar blueprint to build America” that has been estimated to cost more than $2.6 trillion;
  • The American Families Plan, a $1.8 trillion proposal that includes two free years of community college, an expanded child tax credit of as much as $3,600 per child and up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.

White supremacy – which Biden said U.S. intelligence organizations have decided is “the most lethal terrorist threat to the homeland” – will not be ignored, he said.

Biden urged Americans “to come together to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the people they serve” and “to root out systemic racism in our criminal justice system.”

The president called for approval of a comprehensive immigration bill he sent to Congress on his first day in office that he said includes high-tech security at the southern border and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. If members of Congress don’t like his plan, they can “at least pass what we all agree on” – protection for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children but have not gained permanent legal status.

Near the close of his 66-minute speech, Biden said America has something to prove to its adversaries after they saw images of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.

“We have to prove democracy still works – that our government still works, and we can deliver for our people,” he said.

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who offered the Republican response to the president, criticized Biden for not pursuing common ground. While bipartisan majorities passed five COVID relief bills in 2020 that maintained bans on abortion funding, the Biden administration “pushed us apart” on its stimulus proposal, said Scott, the only black Republican senator.

The president is “abandoning principles he’s held for decades. Now, he says, your tax dollars should fund abortions,” Scott said, referring to Biden’s 2019 reversal of his decades-long support for prohibiting federal funding of abortion.

Some pro-life organizations decried Biden’s first 100 days of rescinding pro-life policies implemented by the Trump administration.

These 100 days show Biden’s administration “will do all it can to expand abortion on demand, reverse protective, pro-life legislation and policies, and take every opportunity to entrench pro-abortion policies,” said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, in a written statement.

Scott, who said becoming a Christian had transformed his life, called for common ground in discussing race.

“I have experienced the pain of discrimination,” he said. “I know what it feels like to be pulled over for no reason, to be followed around a store while I’m shopping.

“Believe me, I know firsthand our healing is not finished. Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country. It’s backwards to fight discrimination with different types of discrimination, and it’s wrong to try to use our painful past to dishonestly shut down debates in the present.”