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My Take: An almost chosen nation
In 2009, President Barack Obama was sworn in using the same bible used by former President Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln bible will make an appearance in this inauguration as well.
January 19th, 2013
10:00 PM ET

My Take: An almost chosen nation

Editor's Note: Joseph Loconte, Ph.D., is an associate professor of history at the King’s College in New York City and the author of The Searchers: A Quest for Faith in the Valley of Doubt.

By Joseph Loconte, Special to CNN

When Barack Obama is publicly sworn in for the second time as president on Monday, he will use two Bibles. One belonged to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the other to Abraham Lincoln —two of the most religious figures in American political history. Both men saw clearly the moral contradictions that tore at the fabric of American democratic life. Yet both also believed deeply in the exceptional character of the United States and the spiritual significance of its democratic mission.

In a speech to the New Jersey legislature on his inaugural journey to Washington, February 21, 1861, Lincoln reflected on Trenton’s heroic role in America’s fight for independence:

“I recollect thinking then, boy even though I was, that there must have been something more than common that those men struggled for; that something even more than National Independence; that something that held out a great promise to all the people of the world to all time to come.”

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Lincoln never doubted the universal appeal of the nation’s experiment in self-government, a “promise to all people of the world” that would endure across the centuries. Unlike modern liberals, Lincoln was no cultural relativist: He believed firmly in natural and inalienable rights that belonged to all people, from every corner of the globe, by virtue of their common humanity. Despite the cancer of slavery and racism that had infected the body politic, no nation was more devoted to securing those rights than the United States. Indeed, Lincoln insisted that America had a God-given role in advancing this cause in the world:

“I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the Constitution, and the liberties of the people shall be perpetuated in accordance with the original idea for which that struggle was made, and I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle.”

Lincoln’s description of America as an “almost chosen people” captured brilliantly the qualified and uncertain character of the nation’s democracy: deeply and grievously flawed, but nonetheless caught up in the righteous purposes of God. Unlike many of his religious contemporaries, Lincoln stopped short of identifying America as the new Israel; no spiritual covenant between God and the United States could be presumed. Lincoln well knew the capacity of religious zeal to poison our politics. Nevertheless, he insisted that America’s commitment to liberty and equality was consistent with the character and intentions of the Almighty.

Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister, shared Lincoln’s political theology. In a way that many liberal and secular-minded Americans would now find offensive, King wielded passages and principles from the Bible like an ax to assault the racist assumptions that degraded the lives of millions of African-Americans. Like Lincoln, he appealed to America’s spiritual legacy in order to renew its democratic mission.

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In “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” King complained that African-Americans had been denied “our constitutional and God-given rights.” He declared that “the goal of America is freedom,” a mandate from heaven itself. Indeed, King saw the hand of God in the political fight to call America back to its founding ideals: “If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail,” he wrote. “We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.”

Modern liberalism scorns the very idea of “the sacred heritage of our nation.” It rejects the view of America as “an almost chosen people,” an exceptional nation devoted to political and religious ideals anchored in a transcendent cause. In this sense, Mr. Obama’s party, the party of liberalism, would not know what to do with a Lincoln or a King.

It is heartening, and symbolically important, that Mr. Obama will be using the Bibles of these two great leaders as he takes the oath of office. It would be more significant, though, if the president found room for their moral vision of the United States in his administration and in his party.

- kramsaycnn

Filed under: Barack Obama • Belief • Politics

soundoff (752 Responses)
  1. John P. Tarver

    Forced out of the Democratic Party by the Ku Klux Klan, Senator Strom Thurmond was forced to accept Dr. King's Republican dream.

    January 20, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • Four More Years

      Obama inaugurated. Democrat Senate.

      January 20, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
  2. John P. Tarver

    Hippies are the dead and in hell and it is odd how the media has popularized the destroyers of the civil rights movwement.

    January 20, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  3. cd

    One has to wonder where this man lives on this earth to write this LIE. First Mr King was screwing another women outside of his marriage, where in anyone's faith does that allow this man to be a saint we read about. Mr Obama has help thru Govt. funding of abortion k!ll 1,200,000 unborn babies per YEAR only Obama father SATAN could be happy about that !

    January 20, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
  4. John P. Tarver

    As we embark on GWB's fourth term ...

    January 20, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • bannister

      Yup. George Bush in blackface. War, debt, & Wall Street.

      January 20, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  5. John P. Tarver

    Will Webb Hubble and Hillary's daughter be President?

    January 20, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
  6. Article Fail

    Loconte's whole article is one big Straw Man misrepresentation of liberalism.

    January 20, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
  7. david allen

    I have no desire to convert any Islamic to
    christianity, I would however prefer that more of them learned to live within the more humane edicts of their beautiful relegion.

    January 20, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
    • Hmmmmmmmmmmmm . . .

      Still waiting for you to provide evidence that Obama twice swore in on Qurans.

      January 20, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
  8. Rev Dr Felix Nwosu

    faith in the bible said it is well.Great people of America believe that it is well and it shall be well with you amen.

    January 20, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
    • Really??

      Many great people in America know the bible is nothing more than man-made myth.

      January 20, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
  9. david allen

    If I recall correctly at least twice Obama has been sworn into public office on the Koran stating that it was the on;y correct religious work. I also recall that certain Imans (Islamic Teachers) teach that subterfuge or any other proscribed behavior taken for the advancement of Islam are virtues not sins in the Eyes of Allah. Now Obama makes a great issue of being sworn in on Abraham Lincoln's Bible! Just who the Hell does he think he is foooling? If he is serious about Christianity he is under a death sentence by Allah. Yet Islamists continue to support him. Our Prez is not a person to be trusted.

    January 20, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • Hmmmmmmmm . . .

      Think you can provide evidence for that ridiculous whopper?

      January 20, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • BIgD

      Birther idiot.

      January 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Akira

      I think you recall incorrectly, but am eagerly awaiting the citation needed to prove any of what you assert.

      January 20, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
  10. Lemaitre

    New Category:

    Homeless, impoverished relatives that BHO neither helps nor acknowledges.

    January 20, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      It all seems so heartless and uncaring.

      January 20, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • John P. Lemaitre's Psychiatrist

      I apologize for my patient's outbreak of schizoid delusion. He apparently stopped taking his anti-psychotic medication, and when you suddenly stop taking thorazine, the result is multiple personalities, paranoid delusions, and a strong tendancy to post absurd lies on the internet.

      January 20, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  11. John P. Tarver

    After LBJ blackmailed and bribed Southern Democratic Senators to pass Republican Legislation, in the form of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Ku Klux Klan ran these Senators out of the Democratic Party; sometimes mistakenly refered to as Nixon's southern strategy.

    January 20, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
    • Righteo

      I see Obama's second inauguration today sent you into a downward spiral further into your psychosis.

      January 20, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Only Senator Robert "sheets" Byrd was allowed to ramain in the Democratic Party, as he opposed LBJ on civil rights.

      January 20, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • Lemaitre

      Sheets! LoL

      January 20, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      When Byrd was a child, his family was so poor they had to wear the bed linen for clothing.

      January 20, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  12. Bruce E. Woych

    January 20, 2013
    The Radicalization of Martin Luther King
    Anthony Monteiro: Obama's presidency has nothing to do with the legacy of King, it's actually the opposite
    http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=9502

    January 20, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
  13. mklsgl

    The author's opinion is merely the expression of the White Privilege POV combined with an archaic understanding of "modern liberalism" and "cultural relativism." Narrow-minded and myopic.

    January 20, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
  14. John P. Tarver

    Lincoln was unwilling to take away the Humanity of Slaves, unlike the African Slaver who begat Obama.

    January 20, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
  15. John P. Tarver

    When Hillary brought home Webb Hubble's bun in her oven, she no longer had the right to question who Billy dates.

    January 20, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
    • Nice one

      Got your names mixed up. Your "Lemaitre" ID was doing the Clinton schtick.

      January 20, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Comparing Lemaitre is quite complemetry to hte avitar and I hope to see more reson posted by Lemaitre.

      January 20, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • LMAO!

      complemetry? hte? avitar? reson?

      January 20, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
  16. Dave Harris

    These kinds of magical beliefs in allegedly holy books are completely inappropriate for a rational era. What's next, burning witches?

    January 20, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • Really??

      Only after you PROVE they are witches with the dunk test.

      January 20, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  17. Lemaitre

    New category:

    Kennedy's with addiction problems. These questions cover the entire board, including the double jeopardy question.

    Name the last Kennedy to drive his car into the Capital steps at 0200 hrs?

    January 20, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • Lemaitre

      No it's not William Smith Kennedy. That's a separate category. . . . That's Kennedy's who have killed women and gotten away with it.

      January 20, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
    • Akira

      What is your point, other than to be as odious as you possible can be out of spite?
      If people dug in your closet, what might they find?
      Carry on.

      January 20, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • Lemaitre

      Look Akira – I've seen your posts before. You do nothing but insult and gainsay. So you have some nerve calling me out. You have added noting to the topic either.

      January 20, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
    • Akira

      Ooooh, struck a nerve did I?
      Carry on with your bitter smear tactics...people see it for what it is.

      January 20, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • Lemaitre

      Speaking the truth isn't a smear. Implying something that isn't true IS a smear.

      I have smeared no one.

      January 20, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • Akira

      Do you research all politicians equally, or just the ones who don't belong to your party?

      January 20, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
  18. Tom Trigg

    For "one of the most religious figures in American political history," Lincoln was surprising sparing in his use of the words "Jesus" and "Christ" in the eight volumes of his collected works.

    http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln?didno=lincoln6;rgn=full+text;singlegenre=All;size=25;sort=occur;start=1;subview=detail;type=simple;view=reslist;q1=Christ

    January 20, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
  19. Mark Curry

    This poorly written article is what CNN likes to put up online; scrap paper comments designed to insult, at best, with no critical weight in reality.

    January 20, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
  20. Lemaitre

    Juanita Broaddrick! That's it. No points for the Dems this time

    January 20, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • Akira

      What was the name of the woman GWB r.aped?

      January 20, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
    • Zingo

      Guess what? They just swore in Obama to another four LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG years in office.

      Liberal Senate too!

      You have another four long years of being a rage-filled right-wing lie-puker on the ash-heap of history. Have fun with that!

      January 20, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
    • Lemaitre

      Don't know. Never heard that story before. But sorry, no points for you on this question.

      Would you like to try "Democrat Klansmen" for $200?

      January 20, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • Don't Let The Real World Stand In The Way Of Your Delusions

      Of course, the Dixiecrats, including the KKK, are all Republicans now. They were only Democrats because Lincoln was Republican.

      January 20, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
    • Vic

      Aren't you an angry little republican.

      January 20, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
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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.