The need for the common good has never seemed so timely.
Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln will probably nab a few of its 12 nominated Academy Awards when the Oscars are handed out on Sunday — a sign that Americans never have and probably never will tire of our 16th president.
Abraham Lincoln’s face is etched in stone on Mount Rushmore and his brooding statue sits enshrined in a Greek-style temple in Washington. His succinct Gettysburg Address (about 270 words) took all of about two minutes to deliver, yet remains this nation’s most famous speech 150 years later. His assassination lifted him to mythic status — a martyr who earned his place in our pantheon of national heroes.
We just marked the 150th anniversary of his Emancipation Proclamation, but that necessary action wasn’t enough. Spielberg’s film revives Lincoln’s second act, in 1865, to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery through a divided Congress. It wasn’t the only injustice Lincoln worked to correct.
In his recent book, When General Grant Expelled the Jews, Brandeis University Professor Jonathan D. Sarna recounts an important but little-known event in 1863 in Lincoln’s quest for full civil, religious, and human rights for all Americans — this time, for American Jews.
"Lincoln’s writings speak to me ... that though we may have our differences, we are one people, and we are one nation, united by a common creed. ... Lincoln saw beyond the bloodshed and division. He saw us not only as we were, but as we might be." - President Barack Obama
"We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. …Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: 'Too late.'" -Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dear President Obama,
Your words above aptly describe the greatness of Abraham Lincoln. Slavery was the moral crisis of his time, and because he fervently believed "we are one people," he took a stance which initially led to much adversity. But he rose to the challenge and the rest is history.
In a speech to Congress in 1862, Lincoln said: "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew."
Circumstances have conspired to place you at the presidential helm during a moment of unprecedented global crisis. Last year, we saw one of the most prominent features of our planet — as seen from space — altered beyond recognition. A huge portion of the snow and ice white of the Arctic was simply, and stunningly, gone.
President Obama will publicly take the oath of office on two Bibles once owned by his political heroes, Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. One Bible was well read, but cited cautiously, the other granted scriptural sanction to the civil rights movement.
When Obama lifts his hands from the Bibles and turns to deliver his second inaugural address on Monday (Jan. 21), his own approach to Scripture will come into view. Characteristically, it sits somewhere between the former president and famous preacher.
His faith forged in the black church, Obama draws deeply on its blending of biblical narratives with contemporary issues such as racism and poverty. But like Lincoln, Obama also acknowledges that Americans sometimes invoke the same Bible to argue past each other, and that Scripture itself counsels against sanctimony.
Obama articulated this view most clearly in a 2006 speech, saying that secularists shouldn’t bar believers from the public square, but neither should people of faith expect America to be one vast amen corner.
“He understands that you can appeal to people on religious grounds,” said Jeffrey Siker, a theology professor at Loyola Marymount University in California who has studied Obama’s speeches. ”But you also have to be able to translate your case into arguments that people of different faiths, or no faith, can grasp.”
WASHINGTON — President Obama will take the oath of office with two Bibles that once belonged to a pair of civil rights icons: Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.
King’s “traveling Bible” was provided by his family, while the Lincoln Bible is from the Library of Congress and was used during the 16th president’s inauguration on March 4, 1861; Obama also used the Lincoln Bible during his first inauguration in 2009.
The Lincoln and King good books will be used during this year’s public swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 21, the Presidential Inaugural Committee announced. King’s Bible will be stacked atop Lincoln’s.
“President Obama is honored to use these Bibles at the swearing-in ceremonies,” said Steve Kerrigan, president and CEO of the inaugural committee. “These Bibles are rich in tradition and reflect the great American story that binds our nation.”
As the nation marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, PBS premieres “The Abolitionists,” a three-part series, on Tuesday.
Documentarian Rob Rapley, the writer and director of the series, talked with Religion News Service about the role religion played in the lives of the abolitionists.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Who was Abraham Lincoln? You may get different answers depending on whom you ask. He is known as the Great Emancipator. He was a self-taught rural Kentuckyian. He was a husband and father. Also, he was a pragmatic politician. The new film, Lincoln, seeks to address this question by focusing on the political struggles for the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in the last few months before Lincoln’s death.
While it may be easy to see why some people would view the film in light of contemporary politics, Lincoln’s political context and Obama’s are quite different. Facile comparisons between Lincoln and Obama do both men a disservice since they serve in completely different contexts. The Civil War is not the war against terror. The abolition of slavery is not the fiscal cliff. After a point, our attempts to connect the characters and subject matter of the film Lincoln to current events seem rather forced.
I didn’t expect to leave a Friday night screening of Lincoln thinking about Jesus.
And I definitely didn’t expect the link to be an Italian political philosopher named Grigorio Agamben.
But of Lincoln’s many triumphs as an Oscar-season contender, its lasting effect is its surprisingly mature meditation on wisdom, freedom, and the necessity of employing the former when granted the latter.
Watching Lincoln reason aloud his justification for the Emancipation Proclamation, an act he admits to his advisors was dubiously legal at best, we encounter the film’s driving question: in a time of crisis when the rules no longer apply, what kind of moral vision do we want in leadership?
Abraham Lincoln was a storyteller, so it’s fitting that his story has been hashed out on the silver screen — without vampires.
And to say that it simply was “hashed out” would be an injustice to director Stephen Spielberg and everyone who contributed to Lincoln, a film that will be remembered as much for its beauty as the iconic character from which it gets its name.
I’m not going to lie (pun intended), even though Lincoln is one of the most important figures in American history, I was hesitant about seeing a movie with the potential to be a two-and-a-half hour history class.
But I was more than pleasantly surprised.
Despite its length, the film drew me in and held my attention — even as a millennial growing up with the Internet, which I’m convinced has significantly chipped away at the already small attention span I have.