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. CG

    Another example of the media's slobbering love affair with Obama. Obama the Chief Divider, Campaigner in Chief and Reckless Spender. It all sounds so noble, but borrowing money with no plan to pay it back is simple thievery dressed up in a suit. He is stealing from our children and grandchildren and saying, "Don't worry, the ends justify the means." He is a firm believer in using Big Govt to force equality of results at the expense of equality of opportunity and incentive.

    January 22, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
    • sam

      blah blah, sour grapes, boo hoo.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      Didnt your father ever teach you not to be such a cry baby sore sport? Not only did Obama win twice but the idiots on the right have blocked themselves in to such an Elitist group of holyier than thou old white men that you will NOT win another WH until your platform actually includes the average American. BTW I am a 50 yr old white male.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Since it is Congress that is supposed to act, and refuses to, Congress that is supposed to debate, yet refuses to, and Congress that is supposed to pass laws, and refuses to, how are you blaming Obama?
      We have over 100 federal judge posts that go unfilled, why? Because congress refuses to act.
      When the president wants his cabinet positions vetted and confirmed, it will be congress not acting that will prevent it.

      Get Congress to untie the presidents hands , and then maybe you can blame him.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
  2. larry of massachusetts

    How we have changed as a nation.

    JFK "Ask not what your country acan do for you. Rether, ask what you can do for your country"

    Obama: If you need a job, or shelter, or food, ask your local government office how to apply for unemployment, food stamps, and subsidized housing.

    January 22, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
    • Live4Him

      That was when the Democratic party was a great party. It has gone downhill ever since.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
    • sam

      Yeah, that's exactly how it is. Gosh larry, you're so astute. Wish we were all more like you.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      I think you are simplifing President Kennedy with one phrase. Don't forget the redknecks in the South hated Kennedy just like they hate Obama today. Kennedy only had 3 yrs to push an agenda, his VP took over for him and that VP ended segregation and created Medicare. Kennedy would have approved of both actions.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
  3. Mark

    Do you think you would have seen Jacqueline Kennedy rolling her eyes or slouched over the table with her elbows perched up there on it

    January 22, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • sputnick1


      January 22, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • ?

      So what, leave it to the media to make something out of nothing and empty headed people eat it up.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
  4. ME

    When did CNN start doing comedy?

    January 22, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • larry of massachusetts

      CNN (Comedy, Not News) was lauched as a 24 7 comedy channel - they have not strayed form this philosophy since their beginning. It is just that they are very bad comedians

      January 22, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • benjaminkuchera

      No kidding. Lincoln is his own person with his own choice. Obama is his own person with his own choices. Stupid connection by this writer.

      After all, Gitmo is open, warrentless wiretaps, drones killing journalists, bombing Libya without congressional support, more debt under this president than any other in history, calling Bradley Manning guilty before trial-which happens to be a military trial and as Obama is commander in chief he has just declared him guilty in an illegal way, forced healthcare with nationalization of our records, ordering Attorney General Eric Holder to not defend DOMA which was signed into LAW by Clinton and demands legal defense from the judicial brand -not the executive branch. Nope, not Lincoln. However, Ron Paul was damned close to a the man of character and responsibility that has the actions to prove it, not cheap words across 4 years and double-talk.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
  5. larry of massachusetts

    Lincoln freed the slaves.
    Obama gave everyone food staps, unemployment benefits, subsidized housing, and disability benefits.

    January 22, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • Live4Him

      Sounds like Obama wants them back in slavery – taken care of, but restricted – for life.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
    • sam

      Why don't you two get a room? You seem very compatible and reactionary. I'm sure you can make magic together.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
    • Greg in FL


      Please learn a little bit of history before making factually incorrect statements. It is also easy to look things up if you're unfamiliar with the basic facts. President Obama did not "give everyone" any of the programs you've listed. They predate his administration by decades, all by roughly 3 quarters of a century.

      The First Food Stamp Program (FSP) – enacted May 16, 1939 during the Great Depression, and has been in continuous operation since 1964. No changes have been made to the program since the Farm Bill Act of 2008.

      U.S. Housing Act of 1937, obviously also in response to the severe economic distress of the time, was established to provide decent and safe rental housing for eligible low-income families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. Public housing comes in all sizes and types, from scattered single family houses to highrise apartments for elderly families. There are approximately 1.2 million households living in public housing units.

      Disability benefits have also been long established as part of Social Security dating back to Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal.

      The idea of unemployment insurance in the United States originated in Wisconsin in 1932. Through the Social Security Act of 1935, the federal government of the United States effectively encouraged the individual states to adopt unemployment insurance plans.

      In recent history, the period of eligibility for unemployment benefits were extended, first signed by President George Bush via the Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2008, and then extended again by signature of President Obama after passing a Republican congress in 2012, although the second extension has a reduced period of eligibility from the original Bush bill.

      But Larry, the question really is – are you opposed to assistance to the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the unemployed? These are long-established American programs, deliberated and agreed to by our parents and grandparents. Yet you would rather incorrectly blame President Obama instead of educating yourself to the truth.

      January 22, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
  6. Al

    MLK has probably already turned over in his grave when Obama speaks about him. What a disgusting dictator!

    January 22, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
    • The Truth

      says the angry white man...

      January 22, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
    • Cliche

      Everyone says that same phrase.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
  7. rjc

    Somebody give this guy a napkin to wipe the Obama man-gravy off his chin

    January 22, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
    • Prophet Maximization

      Disgusting... but I guess that's what happens when you Faith in those who whispered in your ear from behind when you were a little boy.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
  8. Chad

    I dont like his policies, but I sure am proud to have him as president!

    January 22, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
    • Al

      you must be part of the 50%. He is the most divisive Pres we have ever had. No landslide here.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
    • rjc

      I bet... your government check must have just come in the mail.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
    • The Truth

      The disgusting racists claiming Obama is divisive are the ones trying to tear the nation apart. Thank goodness they are being ignored as the bigots they are.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • larry of massachusetts

      I like the man – I dislike the job he is doing. I believe he is inflicting serious damage on the nation

      January 22, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • Chad

      @Al "you must be part of the 50%. He is the most divisive Pres we have ever had. No landslide here."
      @Chad " I dont see him as divisive at all, I see him as extremely liberal(which I vehemently oppose), but as far as character goes and "honoring the office" I think he is a man the country should be proud of.

      no govt checks receive here, MANY paid out, but non ever received.

      @The Truth, @Larry
      agreed on all counts

      January 22, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • ME II

      If I understand correctly I would agree with the "honoring the office" comment. I disagree with many of his policies, but support him as POTUS.

      I would also say that those claiming anyone who disagrees as "racist" are just as prejudicial as a "racist", just on different criteria.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  9. Al

    When did MLK get hijacked by the democrats??? He was a Republican. MLK would not be in Obama's camp on gays and abortion.

    January 22, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
    • 2Cents

      "MLK would not be in Obama's camp on gays"

      The people that know him say he would be for their civil rights. The NAACP has passed a resolution endorsing same-sex marriage as a civil right, putting it stamp on an issue that has divided the black community.

      The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's board voted at a leadership retreat in Miami on Saturday to back a resolution supporting marriage equality, calling the position consistent with the equal protection provision of the US constitution.

      "The mission of the NAACP has always been to ensure political, social and economic equality of all people," board chairwoman Roslyn M Brock said in a statement. "We have and will oppose efforts to codify discrimination into law."

      Same-sex marriage is legal in six states and the District of Columbia, but 31 states have passed amendments to ban it.

      The NAACP vote came about two weeks after President Barack Obama announced his support for gay marriage, setting off a flurry of political activity in a number of states. Obama's announcement followed vice-president Joe Biden's declaration in a television interview that he was "absolutely comfortable" with gay couples marrying.

      "Civil marriage is a civil right and a matter of civil law. The NAACP's support for marriage equality is deeply rooted in the fourteenth amendment of the United States constitution and equal protection of all people" said NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous, a strong backer of gay rights.

      Gay marriage has divided the black community, with many religious leaders opposing it. In California, exit polls showed about 70% of black people opposed same-sex marriage in 2008. In Maryland, black religious leaders helped derail a gay marriage bill last year. But state lawmakers passed a gay marriage bill this year.

      Pew Research Center polls have found that African Americans have become more supportive of same-sex marriage in recent years, but remain less supportive than other groups. A poll conducted in April showed 39% of African-Americans favor gay marriage, compared with 47% of white people. The poll showed 49% of black people and 43% of white people are opposed.

      The Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay rights advocacy group, applauded the NAACP's step.

      "We could not be more pleased with the NAACP's history-making vote – which is yet another example of the traction marriage equality continues to gain in every community," HRC president Joe Solmonese said in a statement.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
    • rjc

      2 cents – but that still doesn't mean that MLK would have not been against it.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
  10. Jt_flyer

    Nice... Now back to the economy.

    January 22, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
  11. DAVID T

    One wonders if Mr. Prothero felt a thrill up his leg while writing this. Obama would be better compared to his comrades, Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Kruschev, Mao, and Kim.

    January 22, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
    • Zingo

      Those grapes are just sooooooooooooooooo sour, aren't they?

      Enjoy four more years.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
    • Prophet Maximization

      Can you even explain or do Profit Maximization David?

      January 22, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
    • shaysite

      You'd be better compared to your colleagues, Jay Gould, Bernie Madoff and Joseph Goebbels.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
  12. JASON


    January 22, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
    • Jim

      You are right. We are "once informed". Then the Right-Wing, the earrth is only 9000 years old, humans rode on dinosaurs "Christian" right took over. Now look at us.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
    • Live4Him

      @Jim : the earrth is only 9000 years old

      Some believe the scientific evidence (which shows that dinos lived less than 10,000 years ago), while others ignore this evidence.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      And what evidence would that be?

      January 22, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      There is no such scientific evidence. You choose to ignore ACTUAL science that says you are lying.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • Live4Him

      @Richard Cranium : There is no such scientific evidence. You choose to ignore ACTUAL science that says you are lying.

      Paleontologists have found dino soft tissue in a temperate environment. DNA (much less soft tissue) cannot survive for more than 10,000 years in a temperate environment.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
    • midwest rail

      AnswersinGenesis is engaged in science in the same fashion that Space Mountain is an extension of NASA. Which is to say, not at all.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
    • Live4Him

      @midwest rail : AnswersinGenesis is engaged

      Non Sequitor.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
    • midwest rail

      L4H – false.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • The Truth

      "Once informed" = slavery
      "Once informed" = segregation
      "Once informed" = no vote for women
      "Once informed" = no interracial marriage

      Take off the rose colored glasses you seem to be staring at the past with and open your eyes to reality. We have made far more progress and advancement for the rights of humans and individuals in the last 50 years then ever before and here's the part you'll want to remember... WE ARE NOT GOING BACK!!! So get used to the new freedoms we have and put your archaic mumbo jumbo voo doo mythologies and religions back in the drawer WHERE THEY BELONG!!

      January 22, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Where did you get the "information" you have. I have seen where they have found soft tissue, but NEVER on a dinosaur. They have fouund many wooly mammoths, but they are not dinosaurs.
      Cite your information.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      Are you talking about the Schweitzer discovery?

      January 22, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • Live4Him

      @Richard Cranium : Where did you get the "information" you have.

      Almost every news source out there, especially the scientific journals focused on paleontology. Goggle 'dino soft tissue'.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Apparently you didn't notice where it was 68 million years old, which is not refuted, and it was also noted the new earth idiots were trying to claim this adds to their theory, but it does not. Perhaps you should re-read.
      And stop lying

      January 22, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
  13. Greg

    My opinion here but I thought it was a good piece and I thought it was a great speech.

    My opinion here but in reading the follow up posts by "the people, and since Ameriaca IS "the people".

    My Opinion here but America is in trouble and full of hate. What happened to us???????

    January 22, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
    • Wally

      Dud!?!?! DiC happened!

      January 22, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
  14. Republiker

    President Lincoln was a Dignified, capable Republican. Obama is the exact opposite. There is no comparison.

    January 22, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • coyoteliberty

      Actually, it's an apt comparison. Lincoln used an avoidable crisis left by his predecessor to seize the mechanism of power and radically remake the relationship between the government and its' people, to centralize undreamed of power in the central government and to rule largely by executive order, treating civil liberties with complete indifference.

      Sounds exactly like Obama's first term to me.

      January 22, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • t stoner

      If you knew your history – you would know that the political parties we know of today, e.g. democrats and republicans..were not the same as those in the 1800's – these two specific parties did not really appear until the late 1800's or early 1900's.
      There were the democratic Republicans and the Whigs.. Lincoln was the former because of this anti-slavery position..

      January 22, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
    • Al

      Amen...in fact Obama would be likened to more of the dictators in this last century. Pretty good one in fact.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • chickiechickie

      Also, Lincoln was a human, Obongo is not.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
  15. Republiker

    Please don't insult President Lincoln like that please. Compare Obama to a Junior Senator or some other minor public official.

    January 22, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
  16. michelle

    If Lincoln wins Oscar's best picture, it will be a perfect start to 2013! Thank you, Mr. Lincoln for freeing the slaves, thank you Mr. King for marching for civil rights that helped create laws to provide equal opportunity and prevent lynchings, thank you Mr. President for lifting us up and giving us hope for a better and more inclusive America. It's no wonder you won the election in both the electoral and popular vote by a solid margin. Because in spite of some of our troubles, Americans recognize that we're ALL this together... in good times and bad time and we need a leader who's going to fight for all of us and none just some of us.

    January 22, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • lol??

      Don't want nuthin' to do with the "wegod". Tnx, anyway.

      January 22, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • cobra

      Obama is the poster child for the sc um of this county, the heII of it is there seems to be more s cu m that decent people. The free baggers will vote for anything, notice I said THING, that will keep filling the bag.

      January 22, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
  17. ff762

    Regarding "gun violence", it is a fact that most big city victims AND perps are criminals/felons. Want the murder rate to drop? Get tougher on crime! Check out the stats below. Google them if you don't believe them, they are part of a DOJ study.
    64% of murder victims in New Orleans had past felony arrests
    91% of Baltimores murder victims had criminal records
    75% of murder victims in Philadelphia had criminal records
    77% of murder victims in Milwaukee had an average of 12 arrests
    85% of murder victims in Newark had criminal records
    91% of murder victims in Arizona had criminal records
    74% of murder victims in San Fransisco had criminal records
    75% of murder victims in Indianapolis had criminal records
    71% of murder victims in Charlotte had criminal records
    60% of murder victims in Atlanta had criminal records

    81% of all homicide defendants have at least one arrest on their record.
    66% have two or more arrests.
    67% have at least one felony arrest.
    56% have two or more felony arrests.
    70% have at least one conviction.
    54% have at least one felony conviction.

    January 22, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
    • lol??

      Arrests actually mean nada, if you call the flexing of the Beasts's muscles nada.

      January 22, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
    • larry of massachusetts

      And dont forget when it comes to deaths by guns, there were more suicides with guns than there were murders last year in the US

      January 22, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • DeNorte

      Careful....facts and the truth are NOT what folks want to hear. They don't want solutions...they want to be told what they WANT to be true, not what IS true..... You are just asking for it!

      January 22, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
  18. hacham14


    It's a disgrace to Lincoln's name to compare Obama to him. The author should apologize.

    January 22, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  19. Bill Nelson

    Yet another member of the media gushing over the big O. Sorry but there is no way in heck you could even compare Lincoln's addresses to any President in the last 60 years. We all know that the politicians of today do not write their own speeches. Rather they employ a team of people who carefully craft it for maximum impact and to evoke the emotional and psychological responses they want to achieve. It was a nicely constructed speech, I give you that, but its just words. Get back to me in four years and outline what was achieved from this address then.

    January 22, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
    • DeNorte

      The Cult of Personality in full swing.....!

      January 22, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
  20. TDJ

    Very obsequious piece; hagiography, not facts.

    January 22, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
    • lol??

      Yeah, Lincoln could have resisted war much more vigorously, just like the Big O doesn't have to bully the Masters so aggressively. Course if he wants to declare martial law, he's right on track. Just one little "natural disaster" will tip history.

      January 22, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
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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.