Obama

Maybe the Fighting is Almost Over

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Revelers celebrate in front of the Washington Monument on Inauguration Day. Mario Tama/Getty Images

"Faith in America's Future" — that was the theme of Monday's inauguration activities.

Watching the prayers, the songs, the speeches, the crowd massed on the Washington Mall, I felt the faith. We don't have to hate each other. We can work together for a future that will be good for our country and for us as individuals. We can, as the President charged us to do, make the "values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American."

Inaugurations are times for setting aside differences and wildly celebrating. While Richard Blanco read his inaugural poem, even John Boehner looked teary-eyed.

The political divisions will be back in full force this week, of course. And yet we Americans are in the midst of some really big changes — changes that may make today's partisan squabbles look hopelessly antiquated in just a decade or two. Monday's events highlighted these changes.

Courage for the Common Good: Obama's Second Term

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President Barack Obama gives his inauguration address. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

I attended the Inauguration Ceremony today. It was thankfully not as cold as last time. But it was one of President Barack Obama's best speeches — strong, clear, even tough, in a good way. My favorite line was: "… history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.

In other words, God has made those principles always presented at inaugurals "self-evident" or ordained; but human beings must implement them. The president is saying that it is up to us to do that in our time. He elaborated. He was specific. 

Obama Extols a Biblical Vision of Equality for All in Second Inaugural

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President Barack Obama is greeted by Rev. Luis Leon as he arrives at St. John's Church. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

A presidential inauguration is by tradition the grandest ritual of America’s civil religion, but President Obama took the oath of office on Monday in a ceremony that was explicit in joining theology to the nation’s destiny and setting out a biblical vision of equality that includes race, gender, class, and, most controversially, sexual orientation.

Obama’s speech, his second inaugural address, repeatedly cited civic and religious doctrines — namely the God-given equality extolled by the “founding creed” of the Declaration of Independence — to essentially reconsecrate the country to the common good and to the dignity of each person.

It was a faith-infused event that recognized both the original sins as well as the later atonements of America’s history, especially on race, which was front and center as the nation’s first African-American president took the oath on the holiday commemorating the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

And Obama and other speakers vividly traced the nation’s tortuous path from slavery to civil rights — from the Emancipation Proclamation 150 years ago to the March on Washington 50 years ago, the latter presided over by King.

Bible Wars: Do We Know What King Actually Did?

Steve Heap / Shutterstock.com

Steve Heap / Shutterstock.com

Blogger Hamden Rice's 2011 essay "Most of You Have No Idea What Martin Luther King Actually Did" has become an underground classic that rightly resurfaces around King Day events.

On Monday, President Obama -- America's first Black president -- will be sworn in for his second term. He will swear his oath of office on a bible used by President Abraham Lincoln and a bible used by Martin Luther King, Jr.
 
Let that sink in.
 

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

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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.”

Pastor Pulls Out of Inauguration Over Anti-Gay Sermon

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Louie Giglio attend Georgia GRAMMY Nominee Reception at W Atlanta on Jan. 24, 2012. Photo by Rick Diamond/WireImage for NARAS

The evangelical pastor that President Obama picked to deliver the benediction at his inauguration ceremonies withdrew from the high-profile assignment on Thursday following a furor over a sermon from the mid-1990s in which he denounced the gay rights movement and advocated efforts to turn gays straight.

In a statement, the Rev. Louie Giglio of Atlanta, founder of the Passion Conferences for college-age Christians, did not directly renounce his remarks on gays but indicated that fighting gay rights is not one of his “priorities.”

Still, because of the controversy – which erupted on Wednesday after the liberal group Think Progress posted audio of the sermon – Giglio said that “it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration.”

On Scripture: Waiting on the Messiah and Presidential Expectations

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Construction work continues for US President Barack Obama's second inauguration. JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

It is an odd juxtaposition, December 21, 2012 and January 21, 2013. The former date representing the “so-called” Mayan apocalypse where the usual suspects prepared for the end of the world – many of whom were Christians awaiting the second coming of Christ –  and the latter date, which is the day President Barack Obama will be inaugurated for his second term.

In my estimation, this odd 21st-century connection reflects the event known as the baptism of Jesus as described in Luke 3:15-17 and 21-22. Initially we see that there is an expectation elicited by the preaching prowess of John the Baptist. The unnamed “men” wonder in their hearts if “whether perhaps he was the Christ” (Luke 3:15 RSV). John, then goes on to describe what he understands to be Christ-like qualities when he proclaims, “[One] who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am unworthy to untie” (Luke 3:16).

Ten Defining Phrases of 2012

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President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Mitt Romney after the debate. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Generally, we only know how history will be remembered once it is in the rearview mirror. Something, or some things, jump out and remain indelible in the collective memories of the culture. And in a world defined by sound bytes, sometimes only a few words tell us a lot about that moment in time.

In that spirit, here are my selections for the ten most defining phrases that will stay with us from the past year.

Contraception Opponents Hail D.C. Court Ruling

WASHINGTON — Foes of the federal contraception mandate are cheering a Tuesday appeals court decision requiring the Obama administration to devise exemptions to the new rule for two Christian colleges.

They’re also buoyed by the D.C. Circuit Court’s reversal of lower court decisions to throw out their cases. The administration had argued that because it was crafting an exemption to the contraception rule, the cases should not go forward.

Now the cases continue, and every 60 days, the administration must report on its plan to ensure that the colleges do not have to comply with the new rule, which mandates that employers cover contraception in their health plans.

“This is a win not just for Belmont Abbey and Wheaton, but for all religious non-profits challenging the mandate,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who argued the case.

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