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. Sarah Reinecke

    What a moronic statement.

    January 22, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
    • New Athiest

      Um .... there are more than a few of those here. Give us a hint which one you meant?

      January 22, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
  2. Tom

    Its just branding or maybe conditioning designed to imprint on the reptilian area of the brains of the more malleable among us. Obama compares himself to Lincoln and MLK through words and imagery after all who would disagree with Lincoln or MLK. The lemmings begin to associate Obama with Lincoln and MLK. The imagery and conditioning continue as the lemmings fall deeper under his influence. When Obama says its time to "act" the lemmings instinctively fall into line and do the bidding of their master.

    January 22, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
    • davetharave

      Really ?

      January 22, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
    • New Athiest

      Hitler associated himself with everything German. The people fell for it then too.

      January 22, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
    • Tom

      Sure Davetherave. Think about it. What exactly has Obama done to assume the mantle of such greats as Lincoln or MLK?

      January 22, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Hah, Lincoln had waaaay more political balls than Obama has thus far shown.

      January 22, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
    • The Truth

      Ignorant conservative racist Americans have finally become irrelevant. That is why they are lashing out on these boards because they are desperate to stay current and maintain some influence. Well too bad you silly fvckers, you are too late! You had your hay day and found it fun to fantasize about your glamorized rendition of the past, like some glossy "Mad Men" episode, and you deftly try to sweep the brutal and violent prejudice against blacks as well as rampant discrimination of women under the "Leave it to Beaver" rug like everything was hunky dory back in the fifties. To bad your kids and grand-kids all have internet access now and can look it up for themselves 🙂 No more lying to them about how the South really won and that Obama isn't really the president because he was born in Kenya but then time traveled back to put his name in the Hawaii newspaper... I almost feel sorry for you fools 🙂

      January 22, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
  3. lionlylamb

    Lost and in forlorn accolades of bitterness revulsions are many atheists ever accompanying their own forsakenness agendas to promote filthiness issues against those who dare revere God and Godliness idealisms! Though the days nary naught in wisdoms aplenty, the communalist tarries away all their filthiness agendas to bring forth tramps and harlots of traded old ways now becoming a post-modernized tradition. No longer should the ways of worldly escapades find leeching values upon righteous embodiments sakes! Be of cleanliness and make no vows deemed against your embodied kingdom domain within which lays all God's brethren and servants and even family generations of God Almighty!

    January 22, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "lionlylamb", but all that is unfounded. Using my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE), the expression that best matches the degree to which your repeated unfounded assertions may represent truths is: "CHRONIC EPIC NONSENSE". Perhaps the following book can help you cope with the problem of repeating unfounded assertions:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...

      January 22, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • New Athiest

      Doidn't Paul say Jesus would return in his lifetime? What happened?
      Isn't there a different time line for the resurection in one of the Gospels?
      I could go on all afternoon, but I won't.
      How can you believe such a flawed book?

      January 22, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
    • Ron

      Say what?

      January 22, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      New Atheist,,,

      Mathew 6:33 "But seek ye first the kingdom of God!"

      John 18:36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world!"

      Luke 17:21, "The kingdom of God is inside you!"

      1Corinthians 3:9 "For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building!"

      Four simplistically written verses of scripture binds up my religious reasoning.

      January 22, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
    • mama k

      pusschops wrote: "ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building . ."

      No no no, I keep telling you – you've got to keep the lanes clear, so to speak. Don't hold that stuff in. Eat some prunes before bed if necessary.

      January 22, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
    • New Athiest

      Lionly –
      So you ignore the parts you don'y like?
      And you think that is going to convince anyone you are right?

      January 22, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
  4. Sean T

    He's like Lincoln? Really? How exactly? This article is moronic and further, Lincoln was a REPUBLICAN

    January 22, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • Chuckles

      You do realize that the term "republican" in Lincoln's time translates to "Democrat" now right? Think about it, Lincoln was for bigger government and keeping the states from disbanding and having more power, he wanted to radically change society by freeing the slaves and giving equality to people who had never had it before.

      Dude, learn your history for a change huh?

      January 22, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
    • Marion

      And the BEST Republican president we ever had. He would have been proud of Obama.

      January 22, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • Chad

      He is like Lincoln in the sense of having a similar uniquely transformative impact. Freeing the slaves; being the first black president, watershed moments in American history.

      I dislike his domestic social policies a great deal and I really cringe every time he apologizes for the US to the rest of the world. However one really cant help but respect his Christianity, his morality, his family and him as a person. He seems like an honest, standup guy and he has certainly treated the office with respect.

      January 22, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
  5. meifumado

    What of us Atheists?
    Gays get a shout out but we don't?
    Barry its time to to put up or shut up if you really want to change things its time to change how people view religion

    January 22, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • Marion

      Has Atheism become a religion?

      January 22, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
    • Ron

      Exactly! My wife and I watched a Christmas news event from Oregon (or Washington, forget which) that had atheists demanding to add their own 'religious' display in the capital rotunda next to christian, jewish, kwanza, etc. Their sign was a large zero with a slash through it. The reporter asked what that symbol met, and the person replied, "It means nothing." And the reporter said, "So you worship nothing?" And the person said, "Yes." At which point my wife turned to me and asked, "Is nothing sacred now?"

      January 22, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "Has Atheism become a religion?"
      No, of course not, but atheists are some of the most despised people in the US. The hate and bigotry "bestowed" upon them by believers places them below gays and Muslims. If I recall correctly, even Congress and cockroaches enjoy higher approval ratings. They've done nothing to earn these low ratings, other than point out how silly it is for adults to still believe in imaginary beings, perhaps.

      It is high time a US President stands up for the 1st amendment and acknowledges that atheists have just as much right to freedom of religion as anyone else. It is high time that a US President takes the position that religion should stay out of politics and remain where it belongs.

      It would have been nice if Obama had abandoned the charade of religion at his inauguration and admitted to the world that he is, in fact, an atheist. It's not that he has to worry that it'll hurt his chances at a future election. I see only a few reasons why he wouldn't. He could be playing it the way he does to protect electoral chances of other Democrats associated with him. He may want to strike a balance and not offend the religious dimwits that still run rampant in this country and in Congress. Or, thirdly, and least likely, he's a christian.

      January 22, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
  6. NorCalMojo

    Is this a joke?

    He's like Lincoln in what way? Starting a civil war?

    January 22, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • Mark of CT

      Nice comment ... you nailed exactly what i was thinking!

      January 22, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
    • Chuckles

      "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."

      Literally the first sentence of the article.

      Can you read?

      January 22, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
    • Time

      Let's see now...did Lincoln start the civil war? Better check our history books before making stupid posts. (Fortunately for you no one knows who you are–gotta love anonymous posts.)

      January 22, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
  7. David

    Can we PLEASE stop comparing Obama to Lincoln. It is absolutely absurd.

    Maybe the blinder wearing media has not noticed but Obama has done absolutely nothing for the so-called plight of the balck man. Black unemployment and women unemployment and the numbers on wlefare and food stamps etc.... all at record highs.

    If we TRULY took off the blinders and looked at the accomplishment and did NOT factor in skin color, he would have and should have lost in a landslide to just about ANYONE

    January 22, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
    • Marion

      I voted for him and I did not "factor in the skin color". (I am a white female, senior citizen)

      January 22, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
  8. Big_D

    Keep comparing Obama to Lincoln, the conservative GOP loves it.

    January 22, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
  9. Live4Him


    Since you won't google this issue, here are some addtional findings:

    Molecular analysis supports controversial claim for dinosaur cells

    One of the world's most famous fossils – of the earliest known bird, Archaeopteryx – also contains remnants of the feathers' soft tissue

    Oldest Dinosaur Protein Found - Blood Vessels, More
    "It was not a one-hit wonder," said John Asara of Harvard Medical School, who led the protein-sequence analysis.

    Buried by floods, the eggs fossilised unusually fast, preserving the soft tissues and tiny bones within.

    January 22, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      I never said it was a one hit wonder, in fact I pointed out that preservation that bypasses permineralization on the inside of a fossil is rare, but not unheard of. What I asked for was support for your 80% of fossils claim, since I could find nothing that would support that assertion. I'm wondering, could you stop building StrawMen and cherrypicking my posts? I thought dishonesty was supposed to be a sin.

      January 22, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
  10. skeeter

    We can see that all the right wing haters are out in force today. What a shallow existence you must have; what an unhappy life you must live when your thrills for the day are limited to demonizing our President and cuddling up with your guns.

    January 22, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
    • EJ

      Another person mired in the midst of stereotyping those with whom they disagree. I am a Republican and I pray for our President and all of Congress to begin working together to resolve our national problems. I respect the office of President. It does not matter who sits in the Oval Office.

      What truly bothers me is the fact that the Democratically controlled Senate does not do more. Why won't it negotiate with the House bill sponsors and reach a compromise? Because they too, wish to stereotype those with whom they disagree ideologically. Sad state of affairs.

      January 22, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
  11. Penny Wright

    Great article.

    Dead on.

    January 22, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • Marion


      January 22, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
  12. Science

    To L4H Evolution wins hands down, time for god(s)/religion to get the HELL out of the way OK. Peace
    NEWS FLASH see date Jan 21 2013
    A Relative from the Tianyuan Cave: Humans Living 40,000 Years Ago Likely Related to Many Present-Day Asians and Native Americans

    Jan. 21, 2013 — Ancient DNA has revealed that humans living some 40,000 years ago in the area near Beijing were likely related to many present-day Asians and Native Americans.


    January 22, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
    • lol??

      It didn't help charlie sheen do any winnin'.

      January 22, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
    • Live4Him

      You sound like you would fit right in with the geocentric supporters hundreds of years ago. Ignore the evidence and go with the popular opinion.

      January 22, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
    • ¿¿lol

      Ooops! Looks like the apologists will be revising their screenplay again soon!

      January 22, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • Science

      To many Adams and Eves in the gene pool go figure Da.

      January 22, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
    • Origin of Life

      Hypothesis Traces First Protocells Back to Emergence of Cell Membrane Bioenergetics

      Dec. 20, 2012 — A coherent pathway - which starts from no more than rocks, water and carbon dioxide and leads to the emergence of the strange bio-energetic properties of living cells - has been traced for the first time in a major hypothesis paper in Cell this week.

      January 22, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
    • Science

      Thank you to the National Centre For Science Education (NCSE) for providing this information.

      For years to come, the lessons from Dover will continue to have a profound impact on how science is viewed in our society and how it is taught in the classroom


      January 22, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
  13. Mani Tou

    Prothero – I hope you wiped your chin after.

    January 22, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
  14. wrm

    Oh my god, really? Where do you [cnn] find these yahoos?

    January 22, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  15. New Athiest

    I wish someone would remember that in Lincoln's first inaugural address, he said he didn't have the authority or inclination to free the slaves.
    It was a political move any only shows what a politician he was.

    January 22, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • Chuckles

      @New Atheist

      He was a well docu/mented abolishionist, growing up with a father who was also an abolishionist.

      Yes, the emancipation proclamation was a calculated political move, but that doesn't mean it also wasn't from the heart. His other political move (that ended up failing) was trying to keep the Union together by keeping the slaves in chains.

      January 22, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
  16. The Truth

    Obama's 1st term failures:

    1. Did not go far enough with healthcare reform. America wants universal healthcare.
    2. Did not act fast enough for marriage equality. Should have denounced the bigots from day one and proclaimed marriage as a right for all.
    3. Did not act fast enough in regards to immigration. We need comprehensive immigration reform with paths to citizenship for all undocu.mented persons in America.
    4. Did not act fast enough on gun policy and reinstated an assault weapons ban with real teeth.

    Things Obama did right in first term:

    1. Killed Osama Bin Laden
    2. Steered us away from a financial cataclysm
    3. Helped our supreme court be more representative by appointing two women.
    4. Made some headway on healthcare reform
    5. discarded Don't Ask, Don't Tell to allow all military personel to serve openly.

    all while the republicans chose obstruction over compromise.

    History will be the judge of this President but one thing is assured, he will be remembered for a long long time while the likes of GW Bush will be hidden away as the bumbling shame of a nation.

    January 22, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
    • EJ

      What good is universal healthcare if the cost of it is so high that I can't afford the premiums? It is the cost that is the problem, not the lack of access. High cost equals lack of access. Bring the cost down and then everyone can get decent health care. Oh, and let's not lose sight of the reality here: fewer doctors and nurses each and every year. Who is going to provide this increased access?

      January 22, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • Tom

      I thought Seal Team 6 killed Osama.

      January 22, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
  17. andreas

    Lincoln 3rd inaugural? Give me a break. Why not Dr. M.L King Jr first inaugural?

    January 22, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  18. Greyeyedman

    I have heard so much garbage. From Chris Matthews gushing while his hand is busy under the table to blogs comparing the Poverty Pimp to Jesus. Lincoln? He was against slavery. We now see a president who is pushing a new slavery. Prothero, why do you love Barry so much? Do you believe those claims about his gay past? No doubt you want to get on your knees before him.Why not do it in the box seats at Ford's Theater? Maybe we will get a two for one.

    January 22, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • Chuckles

      Um... what?

      What, pray tell, is this new kind of slavery that Obama is trying to insti.tute?

      Also, pretty gross post dude, sounded very christian of you.

      January 22, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • lol??

      "Pro 22:7 The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower [is] servant to the lender." Hey Masters, owe any on the national debt?

      January 22, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
  19. Reagan80

    No. It was Jimmy Carter's third inaugural.

    January 22, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • Mark of CT

      hilarious post, but unfortunately very accurate ... nice one!

      January 22, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
  20. Mico Jager

    The real question is why a President of a democratic republic that advocates religious freedom has to take an oath using the Christian bible. Does that mean that his oath is valid only for Americans that share the same religious background? What about American from all other religions, and the 20% without religion? We must strive for an actual secular America.

    January 22, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • Greyeyedman

      It was secular. He swore on a Bible but not the one he believes in. Just that using a Koran would have brought protests... though not for you.

      January 22, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • Chuckles

      He doesn't have to, he chose to because he's a christian and swearing on something that's important to him and will make him bound to his word makes the oath that much more serious.

      January 22, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • lol??

      americultism BS............."Mat 5:37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil."

      January 22, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • David

      What does that have to do with religious freedom and your religious rights? Nothing.

      January 22, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • meifumado

      I would rather he swore in on the consti.tution
      Religion should have nothing to do with our government

      January 22, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
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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.