On this Inauguration Day, I want to acquaint -- or maybe reacquaint -- you with some of our new president's thinking about religion and its connection to politics and politicians.
For that I turn to Barack Obama's 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope, and specifically to the chapter called, simply, "Faith."
* ". . .white evangelical Christians (along with conservative Catholics) are the heart and soul of the Republican Party's grassroots base -- a core following continually mobilized by a network of pulpits and media outlets that technology has only amplified.
"It is their issues -- abortion, gay marriage, prayer in schools, intelligent design, Terri Schiavo, the posting of the Ten commandments in the courthouse, home schooling, voucher plans, and the makeup of the Supreme Court -- that often dominate the headlines and serve as one of the major fault lines in American politics."
* "If I have any insight into this movement toward a deepening religious commitment, perhaps it's because it's a road I have traveled.
"I was not raised in a religious household. My maternal grandparents, who hailed form Kansas, had been steeped in religion as children: My grandfather had been raised by devout Baptist grandparents after his father had gone AWOL and his mother committed suicide, while my grandmother's parents -- who occupied a slightly higher station in the hierarchy of small-town, Great Depression society (her father worked for an oil refinery, her mother was a schoolteacher) -- were practicing Methodists. But for perhaps the same reasons that my grandparents would end up leaving kansas and migrating to Hawaii, religious faith never really took root in their hearts."
* "In (my mother's) mind, a working knowledge of the world's great religions was a necessary part of any well-rounded education. In our household the Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita sat on the shelf alongside books of Greek and Norse and African mythology. On Easter or Christmas Day my mother might drag me to church, just as she dragged me to the Buddhist temple, the Chinese New Year celebration, the Shinto shrine, and ancient Hawaiian burial sites."
* ". . .the historically black church offered me a second insight: that faith doesn't mean that you don't have doubts, or that you relinquish your hold on this world. . . .You needed to come to church precisely because you were of this world, not apart from it; rich, poor, sinner, saved, you needed to embrace Christ precisely because you had sins to wash away -- because you were human and needed an ally in your difficult journey, to make the peaks and valleys smooth and render all those crooked paths straight.
"It was because of these newfound understandings. . .that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and be baptized. It came about as a choice and not an epiphany; the questions I had did not magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth."
Well, no one's spiritual journey can be captured in a few paragraphs. But perhaps what I've shared here today gives you a little better insight into how Obama approaches these matters. I find there both an openness and a sense of humility that I find refreshing and hopeful.
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RELIGION'S LONG INAUGURAL HISTORY
And as this Los Angeles Times piece correctly points out, religion has played a prominent role in presidential inaugurations for a long, long time. The trick is to reflect the religious nature of the American people without crossing the constitutionally prohibted line of promoting one religion over another.