oath of office

Obama’s Use of Scripture Has Elements of Lincoln, King

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call

Microphone stand where the President will swear his oath on Monday. Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call

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.”

Obama to Use Lincoln, King Bibles for Swearing-In

RNS photo by Noah K. Murray/The Star-Ledger

Chief Justice John Roberts administers oath of office to President Obama in 2009. RNS photo by Noah K. Murray/The Star-Ledger

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.”