Stephen Prothero: The Message of Obama's Inaugural Bibles

Lincoln and King were in my view products of Puritanism more than evangelicalism. For each, God was a mystery. But this mysterious God had entered into a covenant with us, so it was up to us to uphold our end of the bargain. In so doing, our goal was never to make heaven on earth but to strive toward a less imperfect union and a more beloved community.

In his essay on “Civil Religion in America,” sociologist Robert Bellah argues that “civil religion is not the worship of the American nation but an understanding of the American experience in the light of ultimate and universal reality.” It does not assert that God is on our side. Instead it prays that we might act in such a way that we might be worthy of his approval. In their most famous speeches, Lincoln and King labored toward just that sort of understanding. May it be so for President Obama as well.

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2 comments on “Stephen Prothero: The Message of Obama's Inaugural Bibles

  1. Sarah says:

    Oh, somehow I think Obama’s point about the Bibles used is far less . . . er . . . thoughtful, and far more polemically propagandish than Stephen Prothero’s. ; > )

    I love watching Obama’s use of rhetoric and its symbols. It’s sophistically and bludgeoningly obvious, but The People love it.

  2. ProtestantReformedRiteIEpiscopal says:

    Prothero is spot-on. The divide in Protestant Christianity in our country is not so much liberal vs. conservative. It is Puritan (or I would prefer Reformed) vs. evangelical (in this sense often used as a less perjorative substitute for charismatic – hopefully we are all evangelists).

    A lot of folks (especially white Southern folks) hate the President, and aren’t going to take Prothero’s insight into Obama’s spiritual worldview seriously. That said, all of Obama’s experience with Protetant Christianity (from being sent to Sunday School at a Unitatarian church in HI by his grandparents to being baptized into the UCC to attending Harvard where the only Protestants are either Unitarian or Congregationalist to being baptized by and confirmed into the UCC) have had its spiritual and intellectual roots in the Reformed tradition. Whether living in Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York City, Cambridge, Chicago or DC, Obama knows next to nothing of the charismatic or “evangelical” wing of Protestant Christianity. And is that charismatic wing – not the Unitarians, Congregationalists, PCUSAers, American Baptists, or the Reformed tradition that dominates the northern dioceses of TEC – that so loathes the President personally.