Editor's note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
Equality. That's what today's inauguration was about. And we have Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to thank for it.
President Obama took his oath of office on two Bibles: one used by Lincoln during his 1861 inauguration, the other the “traveling Bible” of Dr. King. And during his second inaugural address, Obama read U.S. history through the words and actions of these two men.
In his Gettysburg Address, Lincoln turned to Jefferson's words in the Declaration of Independence to argue that the United States was “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” In his "I Have a Dream" speech, King argued that our national commitment to equality demanded that we emancipate ourselves from segregation as well as slavery.
In his second inaugural address, Obama began with an extended quotation from the Declaration of Independence. At least five times he referred to equality as our common "creed." And he repeatedly challenged his fellow Americans to act on that creed - to turn the United States into King's "beloved community" and Lincoln's vision (borrowed from the Constitution) of "a more perfect union."
The emotional heart of Obama's inaugural address came when the president connected the civil rights struggles of our own time back to Lincoln’s efforts to free the slaves and King’s efforts to end racial segregation. And he included among those struggles the movements for women’s rights, civil rights and gay rights:
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
In other words, the struggles for women's rights (at Seneca Falls), civil rights (at Selma), and gay rights (at Stonewall) are American struggles, efforts to put into practice our "common creed."
Today's inauguration itself also put that creed into practice, featuring a black president, a white vice-president, a gay poet, a Hispanic female justice, a Cuban-American priest, and the first woman to ever deliver an inaugural prayer: civil rights icon Myrlie Evers-Williams.
The monopoly of the English language was also broken twice, once in the poem by Richard Blanco - which included words in Hebrew, Italian, Sanskrit and Spanish - and again in the benediction by Luis Leon, Episcopal rector at St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C., who asked for God's blessing on the president and vice president in Spanish, then translated it to English. Leon said that, with God's blessing, we can see that all of us - "whether brown, black or white, male or female, first generation immigrant American or Daughter of the American Revolution, gay or straight, rich or poor" - are made in God's image.
The 2012 election has been widely (and rightly) hailed as a diversity election in which the votes of blacks, Hispanics and Asian Americans turned the tide. This was the diversity inauguration. But notice how traditional Obama's address was. Yes, it made the case for gay rights, and it channeled Dr. King. But the words of our 44th president were animated throughout by the vision of our 16th. This was Lincoln's Third Inaugural.
I bet ol Abe is rolling over in his grave.
Nah, he's actually very happy with Obama.
Blind allegiance to Obama...sounds like the same folks that supported Stalin, Chavez, Castro, Hitler, and Mao. When did people stop thinking for themselves?
Both parties are fueling the turmoil and increasing the division and comparing Obama to an icon like Lincoln only tarnishes Lincoln's legacy. Obama should try to create his own legacy...whenever he has time to stop campaigning and finally get to work on the country's problems.
How many times do I have to say this: the article is not comparing Obama to Lincoln. It's showing how Obama's speech espoused ideas that Lincoln also believed in. And Obama has been working on America's problems since he first took office. You may not agree with his policies, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been trying to put them into action.
Jim, I think... and it's just a guess, but I think that what really scares you isn't that people have stopped thinking... but that many more or beginning to. More people are paying attention, many more are participating, and many more are disagreeing with your side's archaic policies. The more people think, and listen, and question reality... the fewer allies you are going to have.
know it must be very scary to admit to yourself that you're outnumbered by the majority of Americans who are not racist, who support equality, and who are in the driver's seat of this very exceptional nation.
Mike in CO
You are a fine example of what is wrong today. Opposing viewpoints are labeled racist not because of their content, but because of your blind allegiance based on color, not content. Typically those who first start throwing around the word "racist" are in fact exposing their own inadequacies. Not that you are racist, just that you are a pathetic bottom dweller that feeds off of the controversy you create. You cannot move past race the same way you cannot take the chance on thinking for yourself. Pathologic personalities such as yours rarely believe in the crap they say, they just like to stir the pot.
Good luck in Caracas! I'll buy the ticket.
With charity to all and malace toward none? Pleeeeezzze!
America has much bigger problems than perceived racism, like our failing economy, thieving llegal aliens, and unnecessary expensive wars. Shame on you airheads!
Did anyone else feel the breeze from this airhead?
Ignoring "perceived" for the moment, so what? Even if this is so, do we not still concern ourselves with overcoming it?
I wish you had a greater perspective and could find a greater cause to complain about in this day and age in dying America. Focusing on perceived racism seems so lowest common denominator, like anyone could do it...
Are you KIDDING????
I take solice in the fact that the bigotry, delusion, and jealousy of the American Right is not permanent. You can choose to hold on blindly to your hatred and continue to lose election after election after election, or you can adapt to the modern era. I don't think those of us on the Left really care... either way... the tide had already turned and the force of demographics will keep it that way. So i can smile and raise my glass to you, Republicans... your day is done.
If you truly believe that, you are going to be in for a rude awakening. I almost feel sorry for you (operative word: almost).
Love to watch the crazy liberasl freak the heck out when you talk against their KING.
Total blinders to whats happening to this country. And for the record I'm not a racist or a bigot.
I happen to be a minority, just not blind. The minute you disagree with Obama or his policies you are labeled a raciest, by morons.
I'm absolutely fine with your reply... the wait and see who wins approach. Seriously, how do you think the Republicans are going to piece together victory in a National Election...? Did you see the electoral map this year? Pretty close, right? Oh and the Republicans have really begun tailoring their message to the millions of voters they ignored and ostracized and attempted to disenfranchise? Oh no, wait, they still hate all those people.
"The minute you disagree with Obama or his policies you are labeled a raciest, by morons."
Where did Mike call you a racist? Bigotry can be applied to the anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-immigration too.
@Dallas: I think the Left's rude awakening came during the Bush adminstration when we realized we couldn't let Republican imperialist policies abroad, suspension of civil liberties at home, and wasteful economic policies continue... So thank you, you and voters like you that supported the Bush administration woke us the f*** up. We're awake now, and organized for action, we're younger and smarter and just a little bit faster than you... we've solidly, easily won two national elections in a row, and we have the Lady with the highest approval rating for a government official on our side... and ready to run in 2016. So bring it on.
What I find more staggering is how you haven't woken up to the fact that this isn't the America that your parents grew up in... and more than half of us believe that it's a better nation for it.
You sound like you would be happier in Venezuela. But then again, the differences are shrinking.
No Jim, I prefer Democracy to Dictatorship.
I guess I'm just not seeing the Democracy stuff in action too much these days. The secrecy from Washington and the attempts to delegitimize political opponents seems more like the road to dictatorship than Democracy. Don't get me wrong, I'm not happy with Republicans either. I'm just shocked that the guy that ran on the platform of having the most open administration in history has in fact had one of the most secretive and divisive. If he spent less time demonizing his opponents (some of whom may in fact deserve it) and more time building a consensus and working with both parties we would all be better off.
History has shown that Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus and used censorship to prevent Maryland from seceding from the Union. As a result, Maryland had its rights suspended by executive order. Perhaps liberals need to examine the actions of their heros a little closer before they put them on a pedestal as saints.
Lincoln was a Republican, genius.
A perfect example of how a President saw the future beyond what the People were able to see... and through questionable tactics, forged the "more perfect union" that he envisioned. That is called leadership. He did "bad" things to end the greatest American evil that has ever existed in Slavery.
Lincoln on habeus corpus: “The whole of the laws which were required to be faithfully executed were being resisted, and failing of execution in nearly one-third of the states. ... Are all the laws but one to go unexecuted, and the government itself to go to pieces, lest that one be violated? Even in such a case, would not the official oath be broken if the government should be overthrown, when it was believed that disregarding the single law would tend to preserve it?”
Mavent or is it Malevolent,
He said "liberal" not "Democrat". They are not one and the same!
So Scott, you're saying if Obama outright bans guns by executive order, that it's not alright for the people to rise up against an oppressive government? That's exactly what Lincoln did.
Nobody has divided this nation MORE than Obama, pitting the rich against the poor, the lazy against the hard working, the drop out against the educated.etc......I don't think there is any similarity between Lincoln and Obama at all.
"......I don't think...." You could have stopped there and been right.
Yes, he's divided it. The dumb, racist products of incest on your side, and the rest of us on his.
It may be time to increase the dosage.
The lazy against the hard-working? Are you serious? That was Romney. Can your memory really be that short?
Nobody has divided this nation MORE than Rush Limbaugh, pitting the rich against the poor, the lazy against the hard working, the drop out against the educated.etc......I don't think there is any similarity between Lincoln and Rush Limbaugh at all.
You speak the truth!
I certainly wouldn't call Obama another Lincoln. But he is not a divider. The divide was already great when he first took the big chair. That divide has a life of its own, and the majority in Congress represents the worst apects of the great divide.
spelling typo – should be – aspects
Just stop it already.
Please allow me to explain the gist of this article. The author is not saying Obama IS Lincoln, nor has just been inaugurated as Lincoln's reincarnation. He is saying the the speech Obama gave yesterday is Lincolnesque, in that it lays out ideas that Lincoln espoused in his own lifetime. Really, that's all there is to it. Want to make an argument against this mostly factual account of what Obama said yesterday? Fine, let's hear it. But enough with the misrepresentations and outright lies about what the article contains.
of all the problems with this country. we will all be equal in our under/unemployment if our government doesnt focus on truely fixing the economy/debt/spending as the #1/2/3 priority
I have no issue with equality – but i do have an issue with all these "minorities" ganging up against the white males. We are never going to move "forward" when we focus on the past and constantly point the finger at the white male as being the bad guys. Obama is going to create a backlash if he isn't careful that will hurt everyone.....
Until you have stood in a black man's shoes stand down because you have no point of reference.
lloyd.crenshaw, until when?? You sir, are a slave maker.
Lincoln? Really? Is this man really comparing Obama to Lincoln? Really? Mr. Prothero is out of his mind....and awfully silly in love with Mr. Obama.
No, in fact he is not comparing Obama to Lincoln. He's showing how Lincoln and KIng influenced Obama's inauguration speech. Why must anything else be made of this article?
While Barack and Michelle dance the night away.... the victims of Hurricane Sandy still sit in the cold.
Why does Barack H Obama hate white people?
The stupidity of American people knows no bounds.
Which American people, Wow? The ones like Rjc?
I don't think Pres. Obama hates white people, and I doubt you honestly believe that either, but I get your point. The difference with Sandy is that it's victims don't have a built in defacto excuse for anything negative that ever happens to them, as Katrina victims did. And it was socailly acceptable for Katrina victims to make that claim, while Sandy victims don't have that luxury. In either case, the govt. failed them. Mostly state govt., but somewhat Federal.
Mr Hand... thank you. A glimmer of sanity.
Utter nonsense. Blame Congress for not passing Sandy relief sooner, not Obama. Really, when you start to blame every single thing on Obama, instead of looking at the facts, you just look ridiculous and uninformed.
Scott – look ridiculous and uninformed???
Do you say the same to your bretheren when the standard Democrat answer is to blame Bush?
I used a phrase that we heard countless times and many believed it as fact. All I did was change two names... Obama for Bush and Sandy for Katrina... and I am ridiculous? How about looking past the partisan garbage... why did the media continue to ride the Katrina news wave for MONTHS on end, yet we hear little if anything about Sandy now? The only thing that we hear is that the EVIL Republicans are holding up funding... but why? They were holding up the funding bill because some Democrats took advantage of the situation and added MILLIONS more spending on totally unrelated spending... yet you heard very little about that.
Yet, you seem to call my little illustration... ridiculous and uninformed.
Instead of being the partisan lets try for a little consistency and intellectual honesty for a change.
I guess some people took offense to my earlier posting of this. let me try again.
You said, "While Barack and Michelle dance the night away.... the victims of Hurricane Sandy still sit in the cold.
Why does Barack H Obama hate white people?"
Holy Fucking Shit! You are a dimwit, aren't you?
Have you followed the news? I mean on anything other than Fox? It's been the republicans in the US House that have held up aid to the victims of Sandy.
If you want to bitch about hate, you need to look no further than at the Old Party (there is nothing "Grand" about it).
I do not always agree with President Obama, but I have respect for him. His job can't be easy. And he can't do it alone.
For the last four years he has been up against a solid wall of resistance that has forced him to compromise and back down and he hasn't accomplished what he set out to do.
I have never in my life seen a more childish, repulsive, unworthy of respect group of people than the congress he had to deal with, and yes, I mean all of them. Those of you saying that it is Obama who is dividing our country? Look again. Look at your Senators and Congressmen who refused to act, who refuse to compromise, who refuse to even address the real issues because they are so fixated on their pet causes.
I am a white American woman, firmly in the middle of Middle Class. I am also a supporter of equal rights for everyone, of the right to birth control and the need to keep abortion legal. I am a proponent of education (real education) and of financial responsibility. I believe in the constituition and the Bill of Rights. I support the right of the people to keep and bear arms, but in the duty of the government to dictate what arms are beyond the reach of the average American citizen. I believe in protecting our borders and our people around the world, but think that we really need to keep our noses out of the rest of the world's business.
I'm tired of the stonewalling and the petty partisan politics and the disgusting vitriol that passes for dialog.
We don't need anymore people like you
Unfortunately for you, there are a lot of people like me.
"...but in the duty of the government to dictate what arms are beyond the reach of the average American citizen."
Two words that should never go together: dictate & government
The government dictates taxes. It dictates what is legal and what is not legal. It dictates the punishments for breaking the law.
Dictating things is within the rights of the government.
Since we ARE the government, it's not incorrect to say that we get to decide what weapons are available to those who are not in the military or in law enforcement.
Meant to add: as opposed to allowing the NRA to dictate what arms are appropriate for private citizens.
I offend wonder where our country would be if Congress actually did their jobs. If a company tried to function, the way our congress did this country would be bankrupt. To be honest we as citizens need to step up and start holding our elected officials more accountable. If I did my job the way they do, I would have been fired a long time ago. Why is it when you're elected to Congress it becomes OK to throw the concept of teamwork out the window. I have no respect for either parties, enough rhetoric, do your jobs.
Not offend it was supposed to be often.
I agree myweightinwords.
myweightinwords: Kudos :-) The USA could use a few more like you.
So you choose to completely ignore the fact Obama had overwhelming DEMOCRATIC majorities the first 2 years of his office and did nothing but pass a TAX bill that raised EVERYONE'S COST OF HEALTH INSURANCE??? How did the republicans block that again??
Brenda, did you read what I said? My words are directed at both parties. At everyone involved.
And, the republicans forced a lot of compromise on the health care issue that changed the bill considerably. I don't agree with every aspect of the bill, and yes, short term it increases costs, but long term it should create change that drives the costs down.
It isn't enough. Not by a long shot. As someone who has lived without health insurance and who is currently underinsured, despite having a decent, full time job, there are a lot of things in the medical industry that need to be regulated. And the playing field needs to be leveled.
Access to medical care should not rely on income (or the lack thereof). Here too we have the problem of everyone wanting their own way and no one being willing to compromise.
"The government dictates taxes. It dictates what is legal and what is not legal. It dictates the punishments for breaking the law.
Dictating things is within the rights of the government"
Does that mean Obama is the Great Dictator?
Does "government" = "Obama"?
No. It doesn't. Our government includes three branches, checks and balances. It is representative. It is WE the people. Except the elected officials seem to forget that.
Wow! Well said!!
"............disgusting vitriol that passes for dialog..........." per myweightinwords. Dialog is BS. While they were talkin' up a storm they were walking all over God given rights.
Which god? Which rights?
The government hasn't been effective enough to take anything away from anyone.
Such as what?
What is this dude smoking? Most likely the pony baloney.
With Obama who needs the American Dream?
Please give an example of something from the article that is factually incorrect. Seriously, you guys need to relax and get over your Obama-as-Messiah complex.
If we're not careful, we're going to "equality" ourselves right into socialist economic stagnation.
Utter and complete BS
Two things: 1) Obama is no Lincoln and to suggest that is laughable; and 2) We have now REELECTED a black man. It is time to accept that the civil rights movement had its desired effect and move on. LET IT GO FOR CHRIST SAKE!
In Mississippi 46% of republicans in a recent poll said that interracial marriage should still be illegal.
Primework – Please cite your source
Are you unable to use a search engine?
LinCA – Well, yes I am able, but I was feeling unusually lazy today. Thank you for the link. Interesting (but sad) article. We got a long, long way to go, yes?
You said, "We got a long, long way to go, yes?"
Unfortunately we do. With baby steps and another 100 years, or so, we'll pull these parts of the country out of the 14th century.
Is Mr Prothero on some type of medication? Lincoln's 3rd address? Really?
Maybe Mr Prothero needs to leave his ivy league bubble and come out to the real world. Obama is a cheap hack politician who leads by being divisive and his strength is playing the class warfare card better than anyone has.
If he were not a minority he would be identified as the hack he is.
Oh, brother. "Divisive?" "Class warfare?" This nonsense again? You should be a TV Republican "strategist"!
"If he were not a minority he would be identified as the hack he is."
Just chiming in to identify you as the bigot you are.
All this Messiah nonsense and claims about CNN's Obama worship is utter nonsense. This article is almost a complete factual account of what Obama said in his speech. Yet some must insist that this isn't so, against all reason. Try taking a step back, taking a deep breath, and realizing how ridiculous it makes you look.
Obama delivers Lincoln's Third Inaugural
Lincoln is rolling over in his grave to see what we now have for a 'president" !!!
Perhaps Mr. OBAMA should try reading the Bible; and not just swearing on it for show !!!
Hey Texans, will you stop threatening to secede and just do it already? Geez. The rest of us are sick of you idiots; the nation's deadweight anchor-state. We can't wait to get rid of you. We'll pick up Puerto Rico when you're gone so the flag doesn't get messed up and laugh from afar as we watch your economic and social collapse into a drug-smuggling highway.
–a reb-hating yankee
Nah, Lincoln is actually dancing in his grave. He believes that Obama has been a great president up to now, and is sure he will be even better in the next four years.
See how easy that was? I can make up things about how Lincoln would feel just as easily as you!!
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.