Home > Features > US President Obama prays before, and after inauguration

US President Obama prays before, and after inauguration

Photo from www.barackobama.com

Barrack Obama attended prayers before he became the 44th president of the United States at a ceremony seen to spotlight the complexities of U.S. religious pluralism and the relationship of the United States with the rest of the world.

Obama and his wife Michelle were accompanied to St John’s Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square, across from the White House, by his vice president-elect Joe Biden and his wife Jill. At the service, Pentecostal Pastor T. D. Jakes preached.

"The problems are mighty, and the solutions are not simple," Jakes said. "And everywhere you turn, there will be a critic waiting to attack every decision that you make. But you are all fired up, sir, and you are ready to go. And this nation goes with you. God goes with you."

President Obama, a Christian son of a white Protestant mother from Kansas and a black Muslim father from Kenya, attended another prayer service at Washington National Cathedral early on 21 January. There the Rev. Sharon E. Watkins, the president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), became the first woman to lead the traditional post-inaugural service, which dates back to the first presidency.

Watkins said, "In times, such as these, we the people need you, the leaders of this nation, to be guided by the counsel that Isaiah gave so long ago, to work for the common good, for the public happiness, the wellbeing of the nation and the world, knowing that our individual wellbeing depends upon a world in which liberty and justice prevail."

The day before, the first African American U.S. president sent a conciliatory signal to the Islamic world, when he said during his inauguration speech, "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect."

Robert King, in his "Thou shalt blog" column headed, "An Inaugural speech that recognises America’s religious patchwork" for the Indianapolis Star newspaper, wrote on 21 January: "This was an inaugural that mentioned God three times … Obama referred to the ‘God-given promise that we are all equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness’. He referred to the ‘source of our confidence – the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny’."

King said, however, more interesting were the parts that "showed Obama has a pretty good understanding of America’s diverse religious landscape. Chief among them was this one: ‘For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers’."

King noted, "To me … it is important to realise that Christians and Muslims are already living together peacefully under the Stars and Stripes. The reference to Jews and Hindus, while not as potent, parallels Obama’s inclusion of rabbis and Hindus in the National Prayer Service on Wednesday. By going beyond the Abrahamic faiths to include Hindus, Obama showed an understanding that America’s religious quilt is indeed more complex than ever before. And I wonder, is this the first inaugural speech to ever mention Hindus?"

King said it might also have been the first inaugural speech to refer to non-believers, noting, "Ironic that it should come after atheists and agnostics, the out and out secularists, have so loudly complained that the Obama inauguration had become inundated – swamped, if you will – with religious fervour."

Obama pledged to poorer nations in his speech, "to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds". He added, "And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to the effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it."
A penchant for affirming religious pluralism was evident in Obama’s choice of evangelical leader the Rev. Rick Warren of California’s Saddleback Church to offer the inauguration’s invocation, and the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a veteran civil rights leader and one-time colleague of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., to close with the benediction.

Warren’s presence had been criticised by gay rights groups for his public opposition to same-sex marriage. By the end of the inauguration day, the U.S. "blogosphere" and media accounts found both defenders and critics of Warren, particularly over his use of the Lord’s Prayer in his invocation.

"All that fuss for nothing," wrote Mary Katherine Ham, a writer for The Weekly Standard magazine, praising Warren for his declaration that "Dr. King and a great crowd of witnesses are shouting in heaven."

Others, however, did not like Warren’s prayer. "I don’t think he acquitted himself very well," said Randall Balmer, who teaches American religious history at Columbia University and Barnard College in New York, who was quoted by the Los Angles Times newspaper. "To lead the nation in saying the Lord’s Prayer, which is so particularly Christian, was a mistake."

The London Times newspaper wrote on 21 January that Lowery "stole the show … because he proved America could laugh at its divisions".

Lowery had said, "Lord, in the memory of all the saints, who from their labours rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around … when yellow will be mellow … when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen."

:To read the full text of Obama speech: www.wthr.com/Global/story.asp?S=9702269&nav=menu188_2  

To read Robert King’s blog: http://blogs.indystar.com/thoushalt/2009/01/opinions_on_bar.html

(c) Ecumenical News International

Photo : Photo from www.barackobama.com