Machine analyzes Ted Wilson's post-election sermon

My family and I had the privilege of hearing Elder Ted Wilson’s post-election sermon at the Alamodome in San Antonio. While I was listening to his speech, I found myself thinking about the importance of each word, each one given for the most solemn period of this earth's history. In fact, as members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, I believe that it is essential for all of us to understand the underlying concepts in this sermon. As a result, we will know where we, as a united body are called to go in the next five years. 

The contribution of this article is to show how a computer was able to analyze Wilson’s speech by means of Natural Language Processing (NLP). Natural language refers to a language, such as English, that we use for our daily communication. NLP covers the computer manipulation of natural language. This field of computer science has several real-world applications such as automatic summarization of a chunk of text and automatic translation of text.

This computer program analyzed the transcript of Wilson’s speech in a plain-text document by means of The Natural Language Toolkit (NLTK). NLTK can be used to analyze a variety of bodies of linguistic data (e.g. the US Presidential Inaugural Addresses). I used a MacBook Pro with a 2.9 GHz processor an 8 GB of memory and the results were obtained in less than two seconds. 


We can discover the emphasis of Wilson’s message by utilizing a lexical analysis to identify the most frequently used words. Thanks to lexical analysis it is possible to convert a sequence of characters into a sequence of meaningful character strings. 

Figure 1 shows the frequency distributions (i.e., the frequency of each word in a text) obtained by NLP. In this experiment, the computer generated the lexical dispersion of the 40 most frequent words in the speech. These words have a cumulative count of almost 1,200 frequencies. This is around the 19 percent of the whole speech. Frequent non-relevant words for this study were omitted (e.g. prepositions and conjunctions).

Figure 1. Word frequency for the 40 most frequent words in Elder Wilson’s speech

Since the central idea of the speech was “‘Cross the Jordan … Don’t Retreat’”, Figure 1 shows a high number of mentions for the words “Jordan”, “retreat”, “cross”, “Moses”, and “Joshua”. The From the results we are able to organize the emphasis of the speech in five key conceptual groups: 1) a church guided by God; 2) an inclusive church; 3) a set of advices for the church; 4) working in the present for the future without forgetting the past; and 5) focus on the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. These groups are described as follows.


Figure 1 shows that the most frequently used word was “God”. In addition, there were several mentions of the words “Jesus”, “Christ”, “Lord”, “He”, “His”, and “Him”.

Figure 2 shows the lexical dispersion plot of these words. Specifically, each stripe indicates the use of a word, and each row indicates its use in an entire text. The high volume of God-related words shows our president’s strong commitment to respect and fulfill God’s will. It is important to notice that the noun “Holy Spirit” appears 13 times in the speech. However, the word “Holy” is also used in other contexts (e.g. “Holy Word”).

Figure 2. Lexical dispersion plot for the words related to God in Elder Wilson’s speech.


The frequent use of the word “we” indicates a desire for the support of the audience to work as a unified team. This finding goes hand-by-hand with the invitation of Wilson “to press ahead in unity in proclaiming Jesus’ soon return”. Figure 3 shows the lexical dispersion plot of the word “we” and of two other inclusive words, “us” and “our”.

Figure 3. Lexical dispersion plot for the words “we”, “us” and “our” in Elder Wilson’s speech.


Wilson gave advice that began with the word “you” and “your”. You can see the lexical dispersions of these words in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Lexical dispersion plot for the words “you” and “your” in Elder Wilson’s speech.

For instance, Elder Wilson gave the following advice: “You can count on the Word of God”; “I plead with you to have that same love and respect for this Book and the Spirit of Prophecy”; “You can count on God’s Word and His Spirit of Prophecy!”; “Lay members, I challenge you to become involved in the daily mission of the church far more than you ever have before”; “Yes, you do need to be involved in the inner working of the church to keep it moving ahead”; “Tell someone else about your relationship with Christ!”; and “Adapt your methods, but reach out." 


It is interesting to see in Figure 1 that three of the most frequently used words used in the speech are “will”, “was” and “are”. Figure 5 shows the lexical dispersion plot of these words.

Figure 5. Lexical dispersion plot for the words “will”, “was” and “are” in Elder Wilson’s speech.

Emphasis of the present and future tenses indicates that Wilson wants the church to work hard in the present while walking into the future. This fact is described in the following phrase: “We will soon cross the figurative Jordan into that Promised Land”. Also, the speech reminded us to remember the past, as stated by the verb “was”. For example, our president recalled several Bible passages of the Israelites in the desert. In addition, he shared testimonies of previously converted Adventists, and he told the audience what he learned from his grandparents and his father.


Figure 6 shows the lexical dispersion plot for the words “Bible” with 26 mentions, and “Word” with 21 mentions.  These two words occupied the place number 18 and the place number 21 respectively, among the most frequently used words, as shown in Figure 1. Most of the mentions for “Bible” and “Word” were given between the word offsets 2,000 and 3,000 in which Elder Wilson talked about his Bibles, his plead to read this precious book, and our acceptance of the Bible as God’s inspired Word. It is also important to mention that the Wilson stressed the need to study the “Spirit of Prophecy”. Figure 6 shows the frequency of the word “Prophecy” in the speech with 12 mentions.

Figure 6. Lexical dispersion plot for the words “Bible”, “Word”, and “Prophecy” in Elder Wilson’s speech.


Interestingly, a machine was able to analyze an important milestone in our church: the post-election sermon of our re-elected president. Specifically, thanks to lexical analysis by means of NLP, the machine was able to depict the emphasis of this message. Five key conceptual groups were identified. These groups indicate the Wilson’s deep concern for God’s continued guidance for His church, as well as his advice for inclusiveness and commitment on the part of church members. And finally, there was a strong call for continuation in the work, not forgetting our past, while focusing on the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy.

If a mere computer is able to analyze our president’s message for the church, how much more should we, who share a love for God’s truth and one another, understand and follow Wilson’s counsel to keep our heart focused on God’s work for these final days. Let us work in unity to proclaim Jesus’ soon return to a world in need.