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Friday, January 23, 2009

A Time and Place for Religion

I was shocked and, I will admit, a bit appalled that a pastor was allowed to say The Lord’s Prayer at Barack Obama’s inauguration. After a wrenching initial gut reaction, I wanted to know, “What happened to the separation of church and state?” So I decided to do a little research, and what I found was the same journalistic bewilderment as I felt. Essentially, while we have become a more diverse and allegedly accepting country—considering that we did just elect an African-American president—our ceremonial religious displays have grown more and more religiously conservative over the years.

The very first inaugural prayer was given in 1937, and until 1985, every prayer (except one, made in 1981) happened with clergy of several different faiths and/or denominations represented on the podium. Thus, the spirit of the Constitution was upheld, because no one faith was being promoted above another and, consequently, no single faith was being promoted by the state. The “American pastor” model began in 1989, and the next two inaugurations featured prayers that used very broad, inclusive language, referring to “God” generally. After that came the Protestant-only model, with a reference to the trinity in 1997 and an appeal to “Jesus Christ our savior” in 2001. Now, here we are in 2009, professing the full Lord’s Prayer in front of the entire world. Honestly, I am embarrassed for our country. We criticize other countries for having leaders who rule by their religious convictions, and then we start a new administration by allowing a pastor to give a longer speech than the new president. It doesn’t seem right.

For more news and information on the history of inauguration prayers, check out these articles:

  • The Power of Prayer
  • Pastor Warren Sets Inclusive Tone at Inaugural
  • 1 comment:

    Christina said...

    I couldn't agree with you more. George W. Bush was a born-again Christian, so I could kind of understand where his obsession with evangelizing came from. I have no problem with religion, but it bothers me to be told that we have a separation of church and state when we very clearly do not. Using one's faith as a moral compass is one thing, but to actually promote the country as a Christian nation is insulting to those who practice other faiths. How can we claim to celebrate diversity then?