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)
  1. lol??

    Train up a child in Indonesian gubbermint and when he grows old he will not depart from it.

    January 22, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • Saraswati

      You realize that Obama.spent most of his few years in Indonesia at Catholic school and the rest at a secular public school?

      January 22, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • lol??

      The Original Gubmint church is adept at adapting, sara.

      January 22, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  2. Kashoub

    Abraham Lincoln spoke repeatedly on the subject of taxation. One quote about taxation and stimulation of the economy goes like this: "You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong". Our government's focus under Bush 43 first and then King Barack is to strengthen the underclass by transferring wealth from the productive.

    Obama is nothing like Lincoln. Lincoln and Kennedy and all other deceased Presidents Obama is compared to are rolling over in the graves. Oh, wait a minute, Obama has never been compared to Kennedy as far as I have read. Which is good, because Kennedy passed through an uncooperative Congress the largest tax cuts in history at the time and was pro-Military.

    January 22, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • KAS

      No, it's always better to start wars with false information on WMD , we can spend 26 times per year the amount the next superpower military spends, why were there no questions when King Bush started this war 14 yrs ago, not only that thousands will die or maimed for no reason, but the spending for unneccessary war mongering that has put the entire country at risk, then to keep tax breaks during war time for the first time in history was less than responsible, then to keep them after the housing collaspe, was more than irresponsible, it was criminal, then you DB's question spending, typical misinformed brainwashed sheep!

      January 22, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
  3. Flaberghasted

    Just at a total loss. Did you not READ Lincoln's 2nd inaugural before your wrote this dribble? The key element in that speech is the idea that we move forward in American TOGETHER – not as a collection of factions and groups and "identies" but as one America. What we heard yesterday was partisanship to the extreme – essentially discounting the 48%+ of the country that did not support the President. I

    January 22, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • sam

      You of course mean the 48% who would never vote for Obama (or anyone else spewing his leftist garbage).

      January 22, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
  4. Casalabalala

    "Gag me"!!!!

    January 22, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
  5. doug

    I don't know what you heard that the rest of us didn't Mr. Prothero, and although I respect President Obama; having studied the life of President LIncoln, I can say with a high level of confidence that the recent inaugural speech was not even close the Mr. LIncoln's second. Nor is President Obama even a distant second in character, purpose, and vision to Mr. Lincoln. President Lincoln stands head and shoulders above all other presidents not only the current one.

    January 22, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
  6. Mike

    If this is the type stuff CNN is gonna write Im not coming back

    January 22, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
  7. Mike

    My gay-dar is alerting on Prothero..

    January 22, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
  8. Mike

    What a disgrace to Lincoln. Obama aint overcame or did anything for such a comparison. Actually life as we know it is spiraling out of conrol were further in debt, cant pass a budget without threat of economic implosion, And this guy hasnt done anything but double the size of the hole were in,.

    January 22, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
  9. DaveinIL

    Obama as Lincoln? LOL, LOL, LOL

    January 22, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  10. volsocal

    Now go change your underwear, Mr. Prothero.

    January 22, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
  11. Hasai

    "Lincoln's Third Inaugural???"

    I guess the "tingle down the leg" crowd is back, assuming they ever left.

    January 22, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  12. PC

    Obama said "We, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class.”

    I'm OK with it resting on my middle-class shoulders.....but stay out of my middle class WALLET.

    January 22, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • Hasai

      Sounds like BO wants to turn that "shrinking few" into "zero:" All will be equally impoverished.
      Class Warfare rides again.

      January 22, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  13. Left or Right, either way your're a bigot

    We cannot compare Obama to Lincoln until he slays a vampire.

    January 22, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
  14. Jayson

    This speach was a touchdown dance. It focused on equality at a time where inequality within the LAW is at an all time low. Presdient Obama took MLK day as the opportunity to turn the clock back 50 years and pretend that inequality under the law is some kind of major issue to not only distrcat us from the economy (the real issue), but more importantly to send a message to white men – your days are over and this event is proof of that and a celebration of that. Sure, allowing gays to marry would make them truly equal (they have every other right), but the President was against that until Biden embarrassed him into it less than a year ago. There is nothing legally that can be done to fix women's rights that doesn't already exist in the law. There is also no civil rights fight to be had by latinos unless you are talking about the one for those who are not americans (funny though, as the President used the phrase "citizens" over and over again to show us we are all on equal ground). By telling people who broke the law to come here.." that's ok" we'd be making out own citizenship meaningless. All you have to do is find a way into the country and you are my equal in every way. Forget the national security implications of that endorsement. Nevertheless, at a time when the laws of the US have for the last 40-50 years made discrimination in all these forms illegal, the President took this as his most pressing message?? This all while millions are on food stamps, out of work and dying to be hired?? This while we have $16 trillion in debt that is only rising?? This while AlQuieda other terrorist are still actively planning our destruction and demise?? No, this speach was all about celebrating the darkening of our country, and vowing to ensure equality of resutl rather than equality of opportunity which marks a complete shift from what those founding fathers he was quoting established. I found it devisive and disgraceful!

    January 22, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • Mike

      Enjoyed how you put that and very true.

      January 22, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  15. lol??

    story:".......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."..........Commie mommieism is progress? Why are women hookin' up with the gays?

    January 22, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  16. Left or Right, either way your're a bigot

    We cannot compare Obama to Lincoln until he kills a vampire!!

    January 22, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • Kashoub


      January 22, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
  17. ug

    Another asskissing liberal trying to compare a man to a myth and Obama is just that a myth.

    January 22, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  18. sixthromeo

    Journalists, prior to the inauguration, were writing that this President would not be giving any speech of substance for this day. It would be interesting to back track and see what they say after hearing this inaugural.

    January 22, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  19. lol??

    I know Abe and I know the Big O. The Big O is no Abe. Abe has a shiny nose.

    January 22, 2013 at 11:42 am |
  20. Joann

    So if you are "anti-anything" you are a bigot/racist?? That is the problem right there. No opinions but the left.

    January 22, 2013 at 11:41 am |
    • lol??

      "Bi got" is a favorite of the left using the Hegelian dialectic as a tactic. See the double mindedness in the "bi"?

      January 22, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • Corey

      In short yes. Look up the definitions. But because the GOP isn't a fan of facts I will do it for you.

      Definition of BIGOT

      : a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance

      See how that works.

      January 22, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • lol??

      Definition of BIGOT sayz,

      : a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted...." I'm a Christian which implies I'm devoted to the Word of God, which greatly conflicts with the Hindu hopey changey doctrines of americult's commie mob. The author of that definition is "worldly" and antichrist........."1Jo 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things [that are] in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him."

      January 22, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
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