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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. Dave Shelter

    I am going to get a quarter pounder with cheese and a large order f fries and take a nap today..... was there something special going on today????

    January 20, 2013 at 9:19 am |
    • DeeCee1000

      lol. We all thought you would be out protesting the Inauguration with either Fred Phelps or the KKK.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:25 am |
  2. ed

    All I have to say......the white man buildeth...minorities destroy it.
    Don't believe me?
    Look a evry time in. America that is white.......minorities always follow the whites.....and slowly they destroy the good life.
    Sad but true.

    January 20, 2013 at 9:19 am |
    • Timothy

      No, prejudice bigots like you are the trash of America.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • midwest rail

      ed, you needed someone to help you spell your name to log in, right ?

      January 20, 2013 at 9:21 am |
    • DeeCee1000

      LOL. What are you going to do once white people become the minority?

      January 20, 2013 at 9:22 am |
    • Fred

      Oh a republican in da house!!

      It's funny, I know two people who have walked away from their mortgages, mainly because they bought a house they couln't or wouldn't afford. Then they wanted the government to bail them out from a mistake that they made.

      Both are the biggest Omama haters I know. When I point out the hyprocracy of their situation I find they really want goverment to help people... if it's them (and only them).

      I love telling them "nobody put a gun to your head and made you take that mortgage, you signed up for it".

      January 20, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  3. cindy lou who

    America is not finished because of obama...he is a reflection of what america has become...dar/k/er...poorer...less moral...and no work ethic....sad sad

    January 20, 2013 at 9:15 am |
    • DeeCee1000

      Oh I know! Wouldn't it be great to go back to the days of slavery and when women were not allowed to even vote. THOSE were the days! Happy times!

      January 20, 2013 at 9:18 am |
    • Timothy

      You're a great example of it you piece of trash.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:19 am |
  4. Joemama

    As a Christian, or a doofus as MagicPanties would call us, all I know is that if I'm wrong when I die I will be dirt, but would have lived a good life. If Im right, I will be rewarded. MagicPants and the rest of the like minded have 2 different options.

    January 20, 2013 at 9:14 am |
    • DeeCee1000

      The atoms that make up your being have been around for billions of years. They will continue to go on about their business once you have lived your life, just like everything else.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:16 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      No, there is a 3rd option....the god you worship isn't the real god and you are just as s crewed

      January 20, 2013 at 9:22 am |
    • Origin of Life

      Deplited carbon.
      Evolution wins hands down, it is time for religion to get the hell out of the way pk.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:32 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Cedar: There is a fourth option: A god does exist in some afterlife and all those who have closed their minds to other possibilities are the ones going to the eternal fire; while those of us who kept an open-mind to all possibilities get the great reward. Not likely but still an option.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:41 am |
  5. Faith-Isn't-a-Preacher

    What a slap in the face to Reverent Martin Luther King by the faction that President Obama answers to.
    Trading one form of slavery for another.

    The faction that President Obama answers to has created, over several decades, a culture of dependency to new Masters.

    Housing projects to concentrate the poor into areas without resources. Which makes the residents dependent upon a faction that creates government programs to care for them and control them.

    Requiring that the father must be out of the home before women and children qualify for government programs. Which makes government bureaucrats their stewards.

    Pushing for abortion as a means of birth control. Which keeps the population of dependents in check and keeps the cost of sustaining them down; and the dependents complacent and loyal. A loyalty that has gotten their masters into seats of power and keeps those masters in power.

    "Why are we still thinking we are not free at last? What ideas are keeping us down?" Rev. Bryant asks. "For too long, we have been depending on other people for our success. We have to pursue our happiness; our happiness is not provided to us. If we are relying on someone else for our wellbeing, that in itself is a form of slavery."

    Reverend C. L. Bryant
    Will you stand with him?
    He doesn't want followers. He wants Freedom and Liberty for all those who find that they've traded one form of slavery for another.

    January 20, 2013 at 9:10 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Sure, trying to help ensure people have food and a place to live is slavery. Ok then, moving on after that insult to the real slaves of the past.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:23 am |
    • Faith-Isn't-a-Preacher

      Cedar Rapids – Geographically and economically Isolating a group of people to control them and get them to depend up a faction is slavery.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:31 am |
    • Faith-Isn't-a-Preacher

      Providing food and shelter to those in need is an essential part of Community service. Making such assistance a culture is a disservice.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:34 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      – Geographically and economically Isolating a group of people to control them and get them to depend up a faction is slavery.

      Do let me know when these people's children are taken away and sold, or they are whipped or killed for disobeying or whether they are hunted down and dragged back to their owners if they try to run.
      Then you can compare it to slavery.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:42 am |
    • Faith-Isn't-a-Preacher

      Cedar Rapids – One form of slavery for another. Our children are put in prison because of their desperation or ignorance. Servitude to the masters to campaign for them or to malign others to maintain or bling their hammock. You seriously have a disconnect when it comes to the injustices that the faction that President Obama answers to has inflicted upon our society.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:48 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      No, you have a disconnect as what slavery truly was.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:01 am |
  6. JW

    He assumptions made in this article include: liberals don't like freedom, the bible is a good book from which to derive morals, Obama's morals are somehow lacking behind those on the right wing side of things, liberals wouldn't know what to do with a Lincoln.

    None are true and Lincoln would have NEVER made it past the GOP primaries, today. He would have been torn to shreds by the likes of Rick Perry and his ilk.

    Take the bible completely out of the scenario, IMHO. Have him swear in on a science text or a copy of Plato's Republic (or Cat In The Hat) and I would feel better.

    January 20, 2013 at 9:07 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Or he could swear on what the country was actually founded on...the constitution and uphold separation of church and state.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:11 am |
    • Faith-Isn't-a-Preacher

      TruthPrevails – Separation in that the seats of governance are not filled or dictated to by Religious or Secular Factions.
      Demographics of all Faiths, Creeds, and Ideologies are supposed to have Representation in the House of 'Representatives'.
      To deny cultural representation is an assault upon the founding principles of this Nation.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:16 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Faith: By him swearing on a bible only represents one point of view and fine that he holds his belief but it should not be brought in to any part of his governing. The Constitution is what he is required to uphold in his position, not the bible.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:46 am |
  7. Chris

    What a great article. The last 2 paragraphs are exceptional and coming from CNN it gives me some hope that we as Americans can save this country!! We are a Christian Nation and we were Built and Founded on Christian Values!! We are One Nation Under God!! We must all turn to him and PRAY FOR OUR COUNTRY!!! Thanks CNN! You have given me some faith that you as a media outlet are not totally a puppet for Obama. Maybe you are waking and realizing that maybe he is trying to destroy this Country from Within!

    January 20, 2013 at 9:02 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      It was a nonsense article full of ridiculous claims by a bible thumper.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • JohnCalvin

      The last two paragraphs are fact free opinion. His understanding of morals and theology are non-existent. This is a political hit piece with no factual basis. This is a man who sees Rick Santorum as a moral and ethical beacon, a clear display of his lack of understanding of morals, ethics, and theology.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:24 am |
    • Chris

      I just Love when a liberally biased news agency prints something that goes against the grain of left wing liberal my way is the only way crowd! Keep it up CNN and maybe your ratings will follow!!

      January 20, 2013 at 9:39 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Funny Chris but if are the original poster Chris then you also exposed a my way is the only way thinking.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:44 am |
  8. Itsdark4u

    The united states was one of the last nations to abolish slavery. So how were we gonna advance that notion to places that already did it many years becore us? The lack of historical knowledge amongst cnn's employees is astonishing.

    January 20, 2013 at 9:02 am |
  9. Bluenorther

    WRT "Mr. Obama’s party, the party of liberalism, would not know what to do with a Lincoln or a King" ... I always find it hard to understand how a liberal point of view must be equated with godlessness. Having a personal commitment to both 'Obama's party' and the Christian faith tradition, and affirming my belief in 'the heart of Jesus' message' (see steeler 123 above), I would know exactly what to do with Lincoln or King.

    January 20, 2013 at 9:02 am |
    • Chris

      Hard for me to understand how a Christian can support Obama! He supports abortion in any form and supports gay marriage. The democrats removed GOD from their platform and then Mocked and laughed at him when they were trying to reinstate him back due to the backlash it brought! How can you with Christianity truly in your soul support this??

      January 20, 2013 at 9:08 am |
  10. John Stefanyszyn

    Mr.Loconte,
    ...but the belief in freedom of rights, freedom of religion dictates that it is right to be free to worship any god.

    How can then this "freedom way" have been "given" by the ONE and ONLY God, since His Word clearly commands that one is not to create nor worship his own gods?

    January 20, 2013 at 8:57 am |
  11. Chris

    Obama is trying very hard to somehow turn this into a black nation, founded by so called African Americans. Ain't gonna happen!

    January 20, 2013 at 8:53 am |
    • MagicPanties

      That would be funny if it wasn't so darn stoopid.

      Looking at real demographic trends, I guess Obama must really be Latino.

      January 20, 2013 at 8:55 am |
    • Really??

      Rediculous. Do you have anything to say that isn't pure rubbish?

      January 20, 2013 at 8:57 am |
    • Parfin Woodell

      Chris

      Obama is trying very hard to somehow turn this into a black nation, founded by so called African Americans. Ain't gonna happen!

      Yeah, we gotta stop him from running around with a paint brush
      making everybody black,
      You spout your garbage with a straight face ?

      January 20, 2013 at 10:02 am |
  12. yoshimoto

    Abe Lincoln would be appalled at the way the government has treated the American people – how they let our mighty manufacturing base just disappear overseas. Forget all this talk about whites and blacks, the best social program is a decent job and a decent future for your children. People don't want to be dependent on the government – thousands lined up for a few jobs at a new Target. But we let all those jobs just go away. Obama would be smart to adopt some of Romney's policies and get this economy going again. But because all the pols in Congress have cushy jobs and will do anything to keep those jobs, they don't realize how hard it is for the average American.

    January 20, 2013 at 8:52 am |
  13. Toltec1

    Suppose we take a different perspective on our "almost choseness". We have been blessed with a country rich in natural resources, rich in diversity, rich in fresh ideas, and yes, rich in good people. There will always be a percentage of the corrupt and greedy and we have done some horrible things, but all in all this country has made progress towards advancing civilization. It seems we are at a new crossroads. Can we overcome our greed and corruption for the betterment of all? If we can, then we will be again an "almost chosen" people with the opportunity to lead the world in a unifying direction. I believe we are not special in that we are superior, but that we are special in the opportunity we've been blessed with. Peace

    January 20, 2013 at 8:49 am |
    • ???????

      What or who blessed trhe USA

      January 20, 2013 at 9:10 am |
    • ???????

      Dame the

      January 20, 2013 at 9:11 am |
  14. Steve

    Lincoln wasn't particularly religious throughout his life. I wonder why the author of the story found it necessary to lie about that.

    January 20, 2013 at 8:47 am |
    • Really??

      Because people that argue for religion often need to lie to bolster their claims, they have nothing else to draw from. The bible is itself a book of lies, and their religion is based on that. What else do they have but lies to go by?

      January 20, 2013 at 8:51 am |
    • burkemtn

      I agree. This is my first time hearing that Lincoln was the most important 'religious' political figure in American history. Say what? He did mention God occasionally in speeches, but religion was hardly a cornerstone of his political beliefs. He opposed slavery, but I seem to recall he contemplated shipping the former slaves back to Africa after emancipation, because, in his mind, they weren't truly equal to whites. But hey, don't let the truth interfere with a good story!

      January 20, 2013 at 9:04 am |
  15. MagicPanties

    This is just one of the many problems with religion, the idea of being special or "chosen".
    Naturally people think they, and by extension their country, were chosen by their god.
    Osama bin Laden thought this about Islam and middle east just as Mike Huckabee does about Christianity and north america.
    They can't both be right, but they can both be wrong.

    January 20, 2013 at 8:41 am |
    • JW

      Seconded

      January 20, 2013 at 9:12 am |
  16. Letmeout

    There are sooooo many brave Americans on these comment streams. They stand up on line and declare there is no God. They run their cowardly little mouths and sling barbs at others. When your simple ass stands in a public square anywhere in the Middleast and screams at the top of your lungs there is no Allah. Then I will respect you. Until then you are the cowardly little Americans the world has grown to hate.Our Persident's minster is right when he says America is reaping what it sowed. This country is falling and a very rude awakening is coming for all of you that have been wrapped in this blanket of security paid for by men of stature. God help you when reality comes knocking and you find yourself with nowhere to turn.

    January 20, 2013 at 8:41 am |
    • John in NY

      Well said!

      January 20, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • MagicPanties

      @Letmeout – that is so ridiculous. How about you do the same but shout how your bible is the one true book?

      Just because we have more freedom of religion in this country does not make the predominant religion here (i.e., christianity) right or "chosen". Why are you so afraid of someone not believing as you do? Maybe it brings to light your fear of death and the unknown?

      January 20, 2013 at 8:47 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      What has screaming there is no Allah in the Middle East got to do with anything?
      You seem to be someone with hate in their hearts, and revilers are specifically banned from heaven so I hope you don't claim to be a believer.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:28 am |
  17. John in NY

    Obama using not one but two bibles to swear in promising to protect the const. What a hypocrite! He believes in and supports neither.

    January 20, 2013 at 8:41 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Do you follow the buybull to the exact literal meaning? If not then hypocrite can also be applied to you.

      January 20, 2013 at 8:57 am |
  18. !

    America is a Christian nation

    January 20, 2013 at 8:39 am |
    • John in NY

      Not according to Ossama, I mean Obama...

      January 20, 2013 at 8:44 am |
    • Really??

      America is NOT a christian nation. America is a country that has a lot of people who claim to be christian, but the nation itself represents many more beliefs than that.

      January 20, 2013 at 8:47 am |
    • MagicPanties

      Nope.
      My invisible pink unicorn is praying that you get a clue.

      January 20, 2013 at 8:49 am |
    • edward

      That is America's biggest problem...time to take God or any other voodoo horse poo out of America. If you want to dance around...sing to the cloud man ...or what ever silly rituals and "beliefs" help you manage your sorry little boring existence more power to you. Religion has nothing to do (should have nothing to do) with the management of a country...period.

      January 20, 2013 at 8:54 am |
    • JJ

      Stop lying for Jesus. When you Christians trot out this lie over and over, do you even have a clue what you're claiming? Are you claiming we are/should be a Christian theocracy? Should the country be forced to follow the Catholics or Protestants? Which one of the thousands of sects of the cult should be followed? You're a fucking idiot.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:07 am |
    • Parfin Woodell

      Isnt it against your commandments to lie ?

      January 20, 2013 at 10:13 am |
  19. stephen K

    I am a Christian and have a spiritual basis for what I do. But, i also recognize the diversity of today's America. Something Obama also understands. This author seems to forget that the make up of the American populace right now is not just Christian, and that to go that direction, as Santorum and others did, disenfranchises many. A leader today can be spiritual, but not religious. For all of those whose blogs assailed Obama's faith, calling him a non-Christian, a Muslim, and the like. This says more about you and your need for a moral compass than it does about Obama.

    I have been disappointed in Obama's lack of assertiveness on the war, and I struggle with our use of drones as a country. We have caused many unnecessary deaths. But I would not want the job of President, which takes people with good ideas and ideals and puts them in chose places that are difficult and complex.

    I found this article shallow, one dimensional, and disappointing.

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

      Well put...my sentiments exactly

      January 20, 2013 at 8:38 am |
    • John in NY

      When you claim to be something and don't believe or support anything that has to do with it you are a hypocrite.

      January 20, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • MagicPanties

      @John in NY – when you believe in imaginary beings, you are a doofus.

      January 20, 2013 at 8:53 am |
  20. steeler123

    Anyone who believes liberals are anti-religious is willfully blind. Liberals are just as religious as conservatives, and perhaps more so in how they express compassion to the oppressed - the heart of Jesus' message - in their public policies. They just want government to have its hands off religion, something the Founders believed helped encourage piety and belief. Religious belief is always stronger when it is freely chosen. And is is most fulfilling when it has a spirit of humility which I find abysmally lacking in modern conservatism.

    January 20, 2013 at 8:29 am |
    • kway

      yeah their god is themselves...

      January 20, 2013 at 8:36 am |
    • John in NY

      LOL! yeah right!

      January 20, 2013 at 8:39 am |
    • DeeCee1000

      "Compassion to the oppressed" has nothing to do with religion for many Americans or humans worldwide. No one religion owns compassion and love.

      January 20, 2013 at 9:12 am |
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About this blog

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.