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The (g)odless Inaugural Prayer | Paula Bolyard |

2013-01-23 8:44 AM | Daniel

If President Obama’s goal with the inaugural prayers was to marginalize and offend devout, conservative Christians and orthodox Jews, it would be fair to say: mission accomplished.

The choice of Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, departed from historical protocol. She was the first female and first non-clergy member to lead an inaugural prayer. She did so in the wake of Pastor Louie Giglio’s unceremonious removal from the dais after the discovery he had preached a sermon 20 years ago expositing the Bible’s position on homosexuality. While it’s understandable that Evers-Williams would feel the need to temper her prayers, lest the current administration banish her from future public speaking engagements, her words represent a stunning departure from historical inaugural prayers and from anything resembling a Christian, Jewish, or even a generic Judeo-Christian prayer.

Evers-Williams, when asked to describe her religious affiliation by Religion News Service, said,

I have been Baptist, I have been Methodist, I have been Presbyterian. I have attended all of those churches depending on where I have lived in my life.

The answer seems rather dodgy, but nothing out of the ordinary, so when her “prayer” began as something of an announcement, we waited for the “prayer” part to begin:

America, we are here, our nation’s Capitol on this January the 21st 2013, the inauguration of our 45th [editor’s note, should be 44th] president Barack Obama.

And we waited some more…

We come at this time to ask blessings upon our leaders, the president, vice president, members of Congress, all elected and appointed officials of the United States of America. We are here to ask blessings upon our armed forces, blessings upon all who contribute to the essence of the American spirit, the American dream. The opportunity to become whatever our mankind, womankind, allows us to be. This is the promise of America.

Was this a prayer or a speech? If it was a prayer, note that Mrs. Evers-Williams addressed it simply to “America,” imploring “America” to bestow blessings upon our leaders and our country.

And it became more confusing from there:

As we sing the words of belief, “this is my country,” let us act upon the meaning that everyone is included. May the inherent dignity and inalienable rights of every woman, man, boy and girl be honored. May all your people, especially the least of these, flourish in our blessed nation.

To whom is this prayer directed? Evers-Williams still hasn’t given any indication, other than to begin simply with “America, comma.” And again, near the end of the speech, she quotes the words of a hymn and appears to be addressing “America” rather than a deity:

There’s something within me that holds the reins. There’s something within me that banishes pain. There’s something within me I cannot explain. But all I know America, there is something within. There is something within.

Finally, about halfway through the speech, after invoking the “spirit of our ancestors” in the civil rights movement, Evers-Williams gives a quick shout-out to… something:

One hundred fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation and 50 years after the March on Washington, we celebrate the spirit of our ancestors, which has allowed us to move from a nation of unborn hopes and a history of disenfranchised [votes] to today’s expression of a more perfect union. We ask, too, almighty that where our paths seem blanketed by [throngs] of oppression and riddle by pangs of despair we ask for your guidance toward the light of deliverance. And that the vision of those that came before us and dreamed of this day, that we recognize that their visions still inspire us. [emphasis added]

We aren’t told if it’s the “almighty” spirit of the ancestors or the “Almighty and all-merciful Lord, by Whom all powers and authorities are ordained,” the deity invoked by the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church at President Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. Even so, she looks to the “visions of those that came before us” in the civil rights movement for inspiration rather than the “almighty.”

Mid-speech it seems that Evers-Williams went out of her way to exclude God when she recited a section from the Pledge of Allegiance, omitting the words “under God”:

We now stand beneath the shadow nation’s Capitol whose golden dome reflects the unity and democracy of one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

Like President Obama has done on numerous occasions, Evers-Williams engaged in selective editing to remove religious references.

In the RNS interview, Evers-Williams sheds some light on why she may have been so obtuse in her word choices about the deity (or lack thereof):

I have never been shy in mentioning my relationship with what I call God, a Spirit, and there certainly have been times over the years that I have called on him — or her, if you wish — in public. I deeply believe that there is a Supreme Being that sees us through.

That’s very similar, in fact, to Obama’s spiritual line of thinking, as he explained in a 2004 interview with Cathleen Falsani:

I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people. That there are values that transcend race or culture, that move us forward, and there’s an obligation for all of us individually as well as collectively to take responsibility to make those values lived.

Ah, the “collective” that Obama referred to in his inaugural address: “Preserving our individual freedom requires collective action.”

The vague spirituality (and the nod to collectivism) is reminiscent of the ’60s counterculture and their rejection of organized religion. It brings to mind Norman Greenbaum’s hippie folk anthem “Spirit in the Sky.” Greenbaum, a practicing Jew at the time he wrote the song, said cowboy movies inspired him to write it, explaining that: “even though I’m a bad guy, I want to redeem myself and go to heaven. I just chose the spirit in the sky. The part about Jesus was just a natural part when I put it all together.” He has also said, “It wasn’t like a Christian song of praise it was just a simple song. I had to use Christianity because I had to use something. But more important it wasn’t the Jesus part, it was the spirit in the sky.”

Never been a sinner I never sinned
I got a friend in Jesus
So you know that when I die
He’s gonna set me up with
The spirit in the sky
Oh set me up with the spirit in the sky
That’s where I’m gonna go when I die
When I die and they lay me to rest
I’m gonna go to the place that’s the best
Go to the place that’s the best

There was a sense when listening to Evers-Williams’s speech-prayer that she “just had to use something.” We get the same feeling when we listen to President Obama’s uncomfortable religious explanations.

In Evers-Williams’s prayer, just like in Greenbaum’s song, Jesus makes a token appearance:

In Jesus’ name and the name of all who are holy and right we pray. Amen.

Fortunately, the names of “all who are holy and right” are left to our imagination and we don’t have to suffer through a list of Evers-Williams’s choices.

Those of us who are Bible-believing Christians take particular offense at a civil-rights-leader-turned-pontiff adding Jesus, who was given “the name that is above every name,” to a shopping list of afterthoughts at the end of a motivational speech.

I understand that we live in a diverse land with Americans of many different faiths. No legal obligation requires the president to represent my faith or any faith on the podium at the inauguration.

However, I think it’s important to stop for a moment and note this moment in history when we first witnessed a distinct change in the nature of the inaugural prayers. Read through the modern presidential prayers and see the difference. Read the religious content of the inaugural speeches of the Founders and compare them to President Obama’s speech and you will see the stark contrast. When considering this in the context of Louie Giglio’s removal from the inaugural prayer and the many attacks on religious liberties in Obama’s first term, we must ask if our country has crossed the spiritual Rubicon.

I believe that God is in control. That President Obama serves with Almighty God’s permission; He “removes kings and sets up kings” (and presidents, too). That should make the president tremble, and I hope and pray that he realizes the implications of that verse. The president has the prayers of my family and my church.

After listening to the inaugural prayer, I needed a spiritual shower. If you feel that way too, you might enjoy refocusing on God with a good helping of Phillips, Craig and Dean’s “Revelation Song.” If you’re not familiar with the song, it’s from Revelation 4, the apostle John’s vision of God on the throne in heaven. It may be just what you need after a 24-hour news cycle of Obama worship.

At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.

And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

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