My Take: Obama delivers Lincoln's Third Inaugural
Obama took the oath on two Bibles: one used by Lincoln in 1861, the other the “traveling Bible” of Dr. King.
January 21st, 2013
04:32 PM ET

My Take: Obama delivers Lincoln's Third Inaugural

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.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Bible • Black issues • Latino issues • Obama • Politics • Race • United States

soundoff (651 Responses)

    What's so great about Obama, He's using virtually the same playbook as Bush (except for some chump change social stuff so people actually forget) things like, NOT ONE BANKER/FRAUDSTER HAS BEEN CONVICTED OF ANYTHING. With the approval of the DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT, we're one step closer to a gigantic police state. and of course, We're still embarked on an American Crusade...

    January 21, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
  2. It is Called

    The RCC is not good for children

    The exhibits offer a glimpse at some 30,000 pages to be made public as part of a record-setting $660 million settlement. The archdiocese agreed to give the files to more than 500 victims of priest abuse in 2007, but a lawyer for about 30 of the priests fought to keep records sealed. A judge recently ordered the church to release them without blacking out the names of church higher-ups.


    January 21, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
  3. Bryan

    Give me a break. This Chicago political hack ain't no Lincoln.

    January 21, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • skippingdog57

      Even Lincoln was no Lincoln – at least not the myth of Lincoln we think we know.

      January 21, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
  4. Carnac the Magnificent

    Personally, I would not be surprised to wake up one morning to the news that a right wing coup was in process. The right wingnuts are definitely crazy enough, and Obama is actually addressing hot button issues that will make them even craaaaaaaaaaaaaazier.

    It would ultimately fail, of course, but there are enough political and religious zealots in government and the military to get them believing they could do it. As we see here daily, they have become froth-mouth rabid over their own bad delusions and obvious lies. They are crazy enough.

    January 21, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
    • Billy

      LOL – yes, and a coup spearheaded by Michele Bachmann.

      January 21, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
    • Thusly

      Ironically, Lincoln was every bit as reviled and dismissed as you are all doing with Obama. Indeed, Lincoln asked many people to join him at the theatre, including Ulysses Grant, and all turned him down. Lincoln eventually settled for an army major.

      Lincoln was not widely respected in his lifetime.

      January 21, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
    • John

      Don't let the mothership leave without you, freak.

      January 21, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
    • Lobelia

      Good point, Thusly.

      January 22, 2013 at 10:54 am |
  5. mike johnson

    That will be Time's Exaggeration of the Year ... man, speaking of being out of touch

    January 21, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
  6. Mohammad A Dar

    I am watching Obama's inauguration parade, so far it has been disappointing, I was hoping to see few people walk with crosses and bibles in their hands too.

    January 21, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
    • wejie

      100% guaranteed fake posing as Muslim.

      January 21, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
  7. Reasonably

    Not even close.

    January 21, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
  8. joe

    You know, I've had enough of Obama and his fanbase comparing him to Lincoln and other great Presidents. Just as with his 'Nobel Peace Prize' it would be more sensible to wait for him to actually do something before lauding him to the high heavens. How about starting with some jobs...

    January 21, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
    • I Am God.

      I agree that people shouldn't be lauding him as the greatest, but I also don't agree with the rights assumptions that he has done nothing for the past 4 years.

      January 21, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
    • bannister

      I agree – The official narrative of today is that Lincoln was a progressive who would approve of all the racial progress we've made. And Obama refers to Lincoln his favorite president.

      In fact, Lincoln did NOT believe in equality between blacks and whites. He did NOT support interracial marriage and he most likely would be aghast that a man like Barack Obama could become President of the United States.

      January 21, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
    • B4Cons

      Like the 5 million jobs that have been added ...... Unemployment DOUBLED under the last regime ..... it's dropped from 10.2% to 7.8% under this one ...... and the Dow has DOUBLED.....

      January 21, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
    • Lobelia

      bannister, I think that when people make comparisons between modern US presidents and Lincoln they are imagining how Lincoln would be like if he lived in today's world. Sure, Lincoln held many 19th century perceptions about race, as did many prominent abolitionists.

      January 22, 2013 at 10:58 am |
    • gb333

      I agree with "I Am God."

      Obama is defiantly being put too high on a pedestal by some.

      That said,

      There rhetoric from the right is down right nutty. Obama has been a decent president. Especially with what he was given when he first took office. And the Republican's that vowed "Anything to make Obama a one term President." Even if is bad for the country. You may not agree with Obamacare, but that is the most radical thing he has done, and it was something he said he would do. Debate that. And why it is bad. Not this "He is radical Muslim dictator that is purposely trying to destroy America." That's not only simply not true, its crazy.

      January 22, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  9. Dave254

    INCREDIBLY stupid article.

    January 21, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
    • joe

      What do you expect from someone who believes in fairies and angels?

      January 21, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
    • John Doe


      January 21, 2013 at 7:58 pm |
  10. Natch

    PLEASE tell me you didn't just compare this guy to two of the great leaders this country has ever known? Really? REALLY??

    January 21, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
  11. Steve

    He ain't Lincoln, he is Bush III. That will be his legacy, he followed on the foreign and domestic policies of and fought for the tax cuts originating from GWB II.

    January 21, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • I Am God.

      For the middle class yes, because more money in middle class pockets the more money businesses will get selling products. Which in turn will mean more money in businesses pockets to eventually expand (and afford a small raise on taxes with those who get 400k or up) and start hiring more workers.

      January 21, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  12. the_dude

    America is full of idiots and anything is possible. Milli Vanilli won a grammy and obamba can be president

    January 21, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
    • BillSD33

      And people like you can write an anonymous blog spewing hatred and ignorance.

      January 21, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
  13. Garrett

    Religion scholar huh.... Makes sense.

    January 21, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
  14. kenhbradshaw

    You are right in that Lincoln is the person responsible for how we view the Declaration of Independence today, but it happened long before the Gettysburg Address. But I will grant you that that was a national pulpit for repeating it. I am not sure that Lincoln and Obama are in lockstep political views. You can compare them both in their wish for less division and minority rights. But they have far different approaches to their agendas. And a great disparity in political skills. Lincoln was a great compromiser and this let him take a firm stand at other times. Obama does not have that skill Plus, some of Lincoln's Second Inaugural would run completely opposite to Obama's agenda – especially in as it relates to the fruits of labor

    January 21, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
  15. Reality

    And again Stevie P missed an important point about BO's election: (from a PowerPoint slide)

    The irony of ironies–


    Added details available upon request.

    January 21, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
    • I Am God.

      And how would you know that? What can you see alternate futures or something?

      January 21, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      "Reality" is a misnomer for this clown.

      January 21, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
    • Math Monroe

      Piper's son- how many times have you made a woman pregnant by refusing to wear the condom? or do you simply not have s e x with your gf? *rollseyes*

      January 21, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
    • Seattle

      Tommy is impotent and can't get a woman pregnant with or without the condom!

      January 21, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
    • Right

      Tom Tom cannot get anyone pregnant . . . because he is a she. She has said so regularly for years.

      January 21, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
    • Reality

      As requested:

      Why the Christian Right no longer matters in presidential elections:

      Once again, all the conservative votes in the country did not help the "pro-life" presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, in 2012 as the "Immoral Majority" rules the country and will be doing so for awhile. The "Immoral Majority" you ask?
      The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million "Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers" of aborted womb-babies" whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million "IM" voters in 2012.

      2008 Presidential popular vote results:

      69,456,897 for pro-abortion/choice BO, 59,934,814 for "pro-life" JM.

      2012 Presidential popular vote results
      65,899,660 for pro-abortion/choice BO 60,929,152 for pro-life MR
      And the irony:

      And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets. (maybe they should be called the "Stupid Majority"?)

      The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and S-TDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer birth control methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.


      January 21, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
  16. guest

    oh please...

    January 21, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
    • mike hunt

      i think you forgot n1gg@

      January 21, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
  17. jonny appleseed

    Yeah, you're right! Obama is black. Well, his father was, and so his skin color is darker than average, making him a 'black' American. And, yes, oh my God! Martin Luther King, Jr., was ALSO black!

    Other than that, Obama has nothing to do with civil rights. Yeah, MLK paved the way for racial equality but.. he was about CIVIL rights. Not black rights or women's rights or anything. In fact, in his mind (though I shouldn't speak for the man, who is one of my idols), he probably doesn't want people to look at each other in terms of skin color or other inequities.. remember that speech he gave?

    Yeah. Obama has done MORE for the degrading of civil rights in this country than any other. By exacerbating debt, he forces many to be ties to a welfare life and have little shot at real personal liberty. He signed the NDAA last year, allowing for American citizens to be killed without warrant, with only speculation. He has signed so many executive orders stripping away our Bill of Rights it's probably making Dr. King roll over in his grave. I could go on, but food's here.

    January 21, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
    • I Am God.

      Killed without a warrant? If a cop is getting shot at, the cop has every right to defend himself.

      January 21, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
    • I Am God.

      "The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is a United States federal law specifying the budget and expenditures of the United States Department of Defense. Each year's act also includes other provisions. The U.S. Congress oversees the defense budget primarily through two yearly bills: the National Defense Authorization Act and defense appropriations bills. The authorization bill determines the agencies responsible for defense, establishes funding levels, and sets the policies under which money will be spent."

      The definition of the NDAA as well.

      January 21, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
    • I Am God.

      You should also know that this was already in affect during the Bush terms, since he formed the AUMF. Congress signed it in law to re-confirm Former President Bush's creation of AUMF, which are allowed to detain suspects of terrorism in the United States, whether they are citizens or in the military.

      January 21, 2013 at 5:34 pm |

      Obama is not a son of slave, but a African diplomat, with privileges.

      January 21, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
    • Lobelia

      Well said.

      January 22, 2013 at 11:00 am |
  18. Mohammad A Dar

    "all men are created equal” Lincoln said it back in 1860s, Obama said the same thing in 2013. wow what a progress we have made on equality !!!! I guess we are still standing at the same spot.

    January 21, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
    • Time Machine

      Back then it was all about color, now it is all about domestic partnership, 200 years from now it will be about whether your great grandchildren can marry their cattle , sheep and donkey. sheesh! grow up!

      January 21, 2013 at 5:34 pm |


      January 21, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
    • wejie

      100% guaranteed fake posing as Muslim.

      January 21, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
  19. G_Edwards

    Oh please.

    Pres Lincoln fought to preserve the nation and to bring people together.

    Pres Obama openly says he wants to fundamentally change America and routinely talks in terms of one group of Americans vs. another group of Americans.


    January 21, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
    • I Am God.

      Wow been drinking that propaganda lately haven't you.

      January 21, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
    • G_Edwards

      Obama: "We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America."

      Sorry, but I don't drink his propaganda. But I know at least one person who does.


      January 21, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
    • I Am God.

      G. Edwards great job in posting the quote. You get an F for failing to understand it. Yes, we all know you have been drinking the propaganda.

      January 21, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
  20. GoRemote

    My God man, get a grip.......

    January 21, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
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.