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Monday, January 21, 2013

Inaugural bibles: Abraham, Martin and Barack

Martin Luther King, Jr. (Public Domain)
On January 21, 2013 Barack Obama will be inaugurated for the second time with not one, but two bibles.

The first was used by Abraham Lincoln during his 1861 swearing-in ceremony.  Stephen Prothero tells us that although Lincoln was at first "convinced that God would vindicate the righteous on the question of slavery," this was not his stance during the 1865 inauguration.  By then the Civil War had been raging on for years, and most were aghast at the "seemingly endless bloodshed." Lincoln had begun looking more towards forgiveness than vindication, and was then making statements like these:  The prayers of both [sides] could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully.  The Almighty has His own purposes.

Obama's second inaugural bible will be that used by Martin Luther King, Jr. during his many travels (and travails).  As did Lincoln, King spoke of the secular and the sacred as a continuum.  He too believed that God's ways are not fully understood by humans.  Rather than second-guess God's covenantal role, King instead prophetically focused upon the people's role.  He called upon the people to "do justly, and to love mercy" (Micah 6:8). 

And Obama himself?  Daniel Burke of the Religion News Service reports that "like Lincoln, Obama also acknowledges that Americans sometimes invoke the Bible to argue past each other, and that Scripture itself counsels against sanctimony."  Burke then refers to a 2006 speech in which Obama had stated that "secularists shouldn't bar believers from the public square, but neither should people of faith expect America to be one vast amen corner."  As did King, Obama "often emphasizes Bible passages that urge compassion for the poor and downtrodden."  


Copyright January 21, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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