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. Bob

    I hop there's a way of sanitizing those two holy Bibles after Obama touches them.

    January 20, 2013 at 8:28 am |
    • Really??

      I hope there's a way to sanitize POTUS after touching that filthy bible.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:52 am |
  2. coyote - sherman

    self government? cough.

    January 20, 2013 at 8:26 am |
  3. Dave

    Well I believe America has offended God. God's law is above every single human law. God made marriage between a man and woman ( Adam & Eve) and yet Obama and gays have committed an onslaught to marriage as God intended it. Sin's of abortion and euthanasia ( doctor assisted suicide) Oh I believe America has offended God and with the eyes of faith I can see God's punishment on our country

    January 20, 2013 at 8:23 am |
    • Really??

      Fortunately, there are no gods, so disaster averted.

      January 20, 2013 at 8:25 am |
    • JJ

      Are you alluding to his shooting up an elementary school, killing 20 Christian and Jewish Kindergarteners?

      January 20, 2013 at 8:26 am |
    • Dave

      Our leaders can pass all the immoral laws they want. At the judgement seat before God there will be no separation of church and state. Our leaders will give a full accounting before God on every immoral law they have passed and supported and answer for all those who died and suffered from those laws

      January 20, 2013 at 8:26 am |
    • Eddie Hurley

      got gave the Jew's a land flowing with milk and honey and they turn their back's on him and he let the enemy come in and destroyed them he is no respect of person so he gave the gentiles this land flowing with milk and honey and they have turn their back's on him and he will do the same to us

      January 20, 2013 at 8:37 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Dave: Wow, given that your buybull can't be used to make any law, it is safe to say that the only laws that apply are the ones made by human's. As for abortion being a sin...your god is the biggest child/baby killer of all time-read your buybull a little more and you might understand this or better yet look up Gregory Paul's paper called Holocaust of the Children.
      Until your god or any god can be shown with evidence to exist, there is no justifiable reason to accept that there will be a judgement day.

      January 20, 2013 at 8:39 am |
    • Origin of Life

      Evolution wins hands down, it is time for religion to get the hell out of the way ok.
      Also way to many Adams and Eves in our gene pool for that to work.

      January 20, 2013 at 8:44 am |
    • Parfin Woodell

      God made marriage between a man and woman ( Adam & Eve) and yet Obama and gays have committed an onslaught to marriage as God intended it.

      God is against gay marriage and yet he is ok with Incest ?
      Thats pretty sick idiot.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:47 am |
    • realbuckyball

      Utter crap. If god is "offended" that means she changes, and is subject to time. Go get an education.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • Brent

      The term “traditional marriage” is a term employed by anti-gay religious groups and individuals to promote bigotry, prejudice, hostility and discrimination toward gay and lesbian citizens.

      The term is used to justify a social injustice both in terms of denying gay and lesbian individuals equal treatment guaranteed by our Constitution and also denying them human dignity. The use of the term is an action that promotes constitutional unfairness and human indignity and therefore one which is morally wrong.

      If a person of faith agrees that a practice that promotes looking upon a segment of society as inferior, unworthy and undeserving of that which we find as good in our lives, the use of the term “traditional marriage” therefore also must be sinful.

      Regardless of their particular faith, the person would be hard-pressed to say that love, compassion and wanting what is best in our lives for others around us are not the core principles of most religions. When a person of faith stands opposed to those principles, their attitude and actions stand opposed to the principles which they strive to uphold in the everyday interactions with those around them.

      There is also deceit involved in the use of the term “traditional marriage” because those who employ the term attempt to perpetrate an untruth and ulterior motives of hostility and prejudice.

      The untruth comes when “traditional marriage” is offered up as a term that defines a religious concept of a God-blessed union of a young man and woman who fall in love, get married with no prior sexual experience, have children and remain together into old age. They are implying that this is how God ordains marriage.

      If it is, it took him until just 50 years ago to arrive at that conclusion.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:28 am |
    • Little T

      Let's not forget that Eve was a last ditch resort after exhausting every other animal. Bestiality was the first choice, but Adam wasn't down so he threw a tizzy fit.

      January 22, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
  4. Barrie

    If Obama were really true to his personal beliefs, he'd use the Quran.

    January 20, 2013 at 8:17 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      He's not muslim! Conspiracy theories seem to run rampant amongst those without the foresight to listen to the facts and see the evidence for what it is!

      January 20, 2013 at 8:36 am |
  5. ralph Petrillo

    The last time he took office the nation was in a panic and everyone thought that Wall Street would be charged with crimes, and that they would not be allowed to get one penny of their bonuses. In England And France a new tax was put on their bonuses. President Obama left them alone, and speculation mounted that they had information on him for he was so gentle with them.

    IHe also ran in ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. WIth IRaq it took four years, and we are still in Afghanistan.

    Deficit has gone up 5 trillion in four years.

    Where is he taking us? There will be applause but a new message that he sticks to is needed.

    January 20, 2013 at 8:15 am |
  6. Chilly

    What us liberals and secularist find offensive is to suggest that this is somehow God's chosen nation. It has been done by many others through the ages and was/is always wrong. There is NO chosen people, no chosen nation. We are all here on the planet together and should be working to help each other, not killing others, or stealing their natural resourses because we have larger armies. If we are looking for a truly transcedent cause, then we better get to working to make the planet a more secure and equitable place.

    January 20, 2013 at 8:14 am |
    • louise

      We Americans are an arrogant bunch. We think moon sun rises on us. What make us special or better than any other country. And it's time we grow up and start being more understanding of people who are less fortunate than we are.

      January 20, 2013 at 8:27 am |
    • Saraswati

      What's creepy is that these chosen nation people are almost always the same folks who don't even own a passport. It's much easier to think you're special when you've never bothered to try spending a few months anywhere else.

      January 20, 2013 at 8:31 am |
  7. Bill

    Obama's too good to try to push his idiot beliefs on others.

    January 20, 2013 at 8:11 am |
  8. Winston5

    Someone didn't die for us to have free speech, MANY people died, they're called American soldiers, you child, you.

    January 20, 2013 at 8:09 am |
  9. Matthew

    King and Lincoln believed what the Bible says; Unfortunately, Obama does not.

    January 20, 2013 at 8:06 am |
    • JJ

      I'm not sure if Lincoln really bought into the fables concerning talking shrubbery engulfed in flames but never burns, talking snakes, woman created from the rib of a man, a crucified dead man rotting in a cave for 3 days springs back to life as a zombie, etc.

      January 20, 2013 at 8:24 am |
    • Jon

      Lincoln was an Infidel and Free Thinker....as described by his law partner and long time close friend.

      January 20, 2013 at 8:26 am |
    • Matthew

      I wasn't talking about fables and zombies; I was talking about the Truth known as the Bible.

      January 20, 2013 at 8:27 am |
    • louise

      And you know this ... how?

      January 20, 2013 at 8:28 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Matthew: How do you know it's the truth?

      January 20, 2013 at 8:30 am |
    • Matthew

      There are many ways I know it's the Truth. I've received many blessings and prayers have been answered. The are two proofs that everyone has: 1) Creation. No matter how hard man tries to back evolution and call it science, evolution is not truth or science. Science can answer questions of why, when, how and where. Evolution has yet to be able to describe what the first particle was, how it came about, why it came about and how did all of the space get here that surrounded the first particle. 2) Bible prophecy. Everything the Bible prophecy has come true or is yet to come. For time's sake, I will share 3 that have come true in the last 70 years: Israel became a nation, the church has begun to accept things contrary to the Bible and the Euphrates River is drying up. I apologize for the length but I could on all day!

      January 20, 2013 at 8:39 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      1) Creation. No matter how hard man tries to back evolution and call it science, evolution is not truth or science. Science can answer questions of why, when, how and where. Evolution has yet to be able to describe what the first particle was, how it came about, why it came about and how did all of the space get here that surrounded the first particle.

      >>Evolution is the most accurate answer we have and even if it is not complete, does not mean you get to plug the god of the gaps in. DNA alone is enough to say that evolution is accurate to the best that science can provide answers on presently.
      Science has questions that may never be answered. Religion has answers that may never be questioned.

      2) Bible prophecy. Everything the Bible prophecy has come true or is yet to come. For time's sake, I will share 3 that have come true in the last 70 years: Israel became a nation, the church has begun to accept things contrary to the Bible and the Euphrates River is drying up.

      >>Israel becoming a nation is a self-fulfilling prophecy and thus does not count for anything. As for the church beginning to accept things-once again, self-fulfilling. As for the Euphrates River drying up...many river beds dry up and have forever.

      Once again where is your proof? Using your giant book of multiple choice to prove it is accurate is circular. Try taking a basic science class and reading something other than the bible.

      January 20, 2013 at 8:47 am |
    • Origin of Life

      Matthew something to read

      Evolution wins hands down, it is time for religion to get the hell out of the wat ok.
      Heaven is 'a fairy story,' scientist Stephen Hawking says – CNN ..
      May 17, 2011 – By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor The concept of heaven or any kind of afterlife is a "fairy story," famed British scientist Stephen ...

      January 20, 2013 at 8:59 am |
    • origin of Life

      Dame it way not wat. Dame thumbs

      January 20, 2013 at 9:02 am |
  10. Rick McDaniel

    There is nothing "chosen" about anyone who wants to be a dictator in America.

    Anyone who follows the path of Lincoln, would literally be singularly responsible for the deaths of 640,000 Americans..........because he was too arrogant, to negotiate! The Southern States were not getting a fair deal from the Federal Government........and all it would have taken to avoid the Civil War, was a President who was willing to deal with the States, FAIRLY! The Civil War was about States Rights........and not about slavery........that is a modern lie!

    Now, we AGAIN see the States being abused by the Federal Government, and the treat of another civil war in America, is a real possibility.

    January 20, 2013 at 8:04 am |
    • Winston5

      Dictator?? lol (I just love that that line of thinking is why you guys lost the last general election and will lose even bigger in 2016.)

      January 20, 2013 at 8:10 am |
  11. Beno Freedman

    Odd POV considering that Obama himself frequently uses the Bible as an axe against injustice. Do I detect a hint of bias?
    "I’m here because somebody marched. I’m here because you all sacrificed for me. I stand on the shoulders of giants. I thank the Moses generation; but we've got to remember, now, that Joshua still had a job to do. As great as Moses was, despite all that he did, leading a people out of bondage, he didn't cross over the river to see the Promised Land. God told him your job is done. You'll see it. You'll be at the mountain top and you can see what I’ve promised. What I’ve promised to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. You will see that I’ve fulfilled that promise but you won't go there." – Barack Obama, Selma Speech as delivered

    January 20, 2013 at 8:03 am |
  12. Reality

    Oaths go way back. See for example, the Hammurabi Code, 1780 BC. (www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/hamcode.asp)

    January 20, 2013 at 8:03 am |
  13. Universal Idea

    The idea of taking the oath for all on a golden book containing nothing. The nothingness will be way to represent the possibility of all possibilities that all religions, gods, non-gods, science and non-scientific possibility exist (or doesn't exist) – but all is possible in this great nation of ours, designed for we the people, by and for we the people, united under one god.

    January 20, 2013 at 8:00 am |
  14. Winston5

    So the Republican are better at protecting the found father's vision?? How'd Bush work out for us, dude? Really, LMFAO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 20, 2013 at 7:59 am |
  15. Catfish38208

    Is Obama wearing shoe lifters?

    January 20, 2013 at 7:56 am |
  16. lastofall

    As a gesture of one who says he is a God fearing man, if I were him, I would do as Nehemiah did, and refuse to eat the kings food until the people are doing better [regarding his inauguration festivities]; such a gesture would go a long way.

    January 20, 2013 at 7:55 am |
  17. Michael

    America wants a Black President, but they do not want Barack Obama.

    January 20, 2013 at 7:55 am |
    • Name*penguin

      Then why did he win the election?

      January 20, 2013 at 8:08 am |
    • Leopold Stotch

      I prefer the stodgy old white Presidents. They seemed to get the job done unlike the current nincompoop.

      January 20, 2013 at 8:12 am |
    • Really??

      He's also just as much white as he is black. Why does every bigot seem to forget that?

      January 20, 2013 at 8:13 am |
    • Sane Person

      America disagrees with you. Please sit down.

      January 20, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • JJ

      American wants a black president? We do? I think most of us just want a president who is competent and not a crook.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:00 am |
  18. ItzAlie

    He's a lying, muslim communits pig. Muslims will lie, cheat, beg, murder, rob to push their agenda. All the above are permitted as long as it's in the name of Allah and promotes the muslim agenta which is world dominatinon.

    January 20, 2013 at 7:55 am |
    • Winston5

      Better than your "agenta", how's that doomsday cult treating ya? (X-tianity)

      January 20, 2013 at 8:00 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      ItzAlie: Christians have been doing the same for a very long time. What makes your god so much more special than the one the muslims believe in? Btw: Obama is no more muslim than you are (time to stop listening to money bags Trump).

      January 20, 2013 at 8:33 am |
    • JW

      A Muslim communist. Interesting concept.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:54 am |
  19. nothing new here

    What a bunch of noise!!!!
    Yes, this country is great, but because good people chose to work hard and make this happen.
    But this country has spent tooooo much money and time being "the policeman of the world".
    Why can't these other third-world countries start improving their own societies for once?
    LIbertarians, like myself, do not embrace all this interference, and endless wars, in other countries. Why should we? Esp. when our own infrastructure is falling apart.
    My taxes should not have to support any religious belief or organization. If these religious people feel that it is their God-given duty, then let them pay for it out of their own pockets – PERIOD.

    January 20, 2013 at 7:54 am |
  20. It is Called

    Seperation of Church and State
    Creation/ID can't be taught in public schools in US is big clue no god(s) required.
    Judgement Day for Creation/ID
    Nov 14, 2007 – 112 min
    Science is "exhibit A" in a landmark trial on the teaching of evolution. Watch online: Judgment Day ...


    January 20, 2013 at 7:49 am |
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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.