January 20, 2009
Prayer Controversy Fades as Obama Takes Oath
Washington -- After weeks of outcry, Rick Warren's invocation seemed to fade to the background as President Barack Obama took his inaugural oath.
Officials estimate that 2 million people crowded the National Mall to watch the first black become president.
An anxious crowd waited while Warren's name was announced to kick off the day. A few people in one section booed, but the crowd hushed after his voice boomed across the mall. Some bowed their heads, and others prayed along when Warren began reciting the Lord's Prayer.
"History is your story," Warren prayed. He then referenced the English version of the Jewish Sh'ma: ""Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God. The Lord is One."
"We celebrate a hingepoint of history with the inauguration of our first African American president of the United States," Warren said as the crowd started cheering. "And we know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven."
Perhaps the backlash Warren received helped him craft his prayer. "When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us," he said.
His prayer was not a simple tip of the hat to Christianity. Although he emphasized his faith as personal, he invoked Jesus' name in Hebrew, Arabic, and Spanish, instead of making it more pluralistic. "I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesus [Spanish pronunciation], Jesus, who taught us to pray," he said before leading the crowd in the Lord's Prayer.
But the real climax of the day came when Obama took the oath of office with his hand on top of President Lincoln's Bible, which was closed. A Wall Street Journal graphic indicates that unlike other presidents, John F. Kennedy also left his Bible closed.
Obama's speech was sprinkled with religious references.
He directly referred to I Corinthians 3:11 when he said, ""We remain a young nation, but in the words of scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things."
Obama later addresses the Muslim world: "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect."
Civil rights leader Joseph E. Lowery's benediction closed the ceremony with a reference to Amos: "When justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream."
The crowd started scattering, but at some point, people grew quieter and began listening again. They burst into laughter after Lowery said, "We ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to give 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."
The crowd then cheered at his final call for a few amens.
Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.
Lowery: Say amen
Lowery: and amen.
Audience: Amen! (Cheers, applause.)