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Friday, January 23, 2009
Presidential Inauguration as Worship?

All of the elements were in place for a bona-fide worship service. Take a look at the order:

The gathering, (2 million strong pressed into the Temple Courts)
Prelude (Military Band)
Processional (distinguished guests)
Entry of the President Elect (all standing)
Call to Worship (Senator Feinstein)
The Invocation with the Lord's Prayer. Pastor Rick Warren. (we'll get to that in the next conversation)
The Anthem. My Country Tis of Thee, sung by Aretha Franklin (renowned witness)
Declaration of Intentions and Vows (in God's name- hand on Bible-administered by high priest --aka supreme court judges)
Special Music, (Anthem featuring historic Shaker Tune)
The Proclamation with Scripture (1 Cor 13) President Barak Obama
The Response of the people (raucous cheers, banner waving, tears, prayers, pledging allegience etc.)
Benediction (Rev. Joseph Lowry)
The Amen (Thrice repeated by all the people)
Presidential Potluck ;-)

A few questions: (first what am I missing?)

1. Who was the god and how do you assess that?
2. If it was a particular god, what does the separation of church and state mean?
3. What faith was lifted up and celebrated?
4. What story or stories were being remembered in the service? Which was primary or most prominent?
5. What are the implications of these fascinating dynamics?

Resist the temptation to engage in soap-box ranting or raving here, try to engage in careful and thoughtful analysis. Pretend you are an anthropologist who discovered the DVD recording of this service 1,000 years later. How would you analyze what was happening on this day?

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posted by John David Walt | at 1/23/2009 03:01:00 AM



Blogger David Wofford said...

When I watched the proceedings on C-SPAN that evening, I was struck by the same aspects. If this was the culmination of the beginning of change and future, we as a nation were doing a lot of looking back, reverence, and even worship.

There were many contradictions though. While we had two evangelical book-ends in the Southern Baptist Warren and UMC (Central Conf/North GA Conf) Lowery, what would have comfortably been a service of pluralistic values became uncomfortably Christ-centric in nature. Meanwhile Diane Feinstein (Jewish) was the M.C. and other of non-christian faith such as Itzhak Perlman (jewish) led the music.

It was certainly awkward to hear the Lord's Prayer recited amongst millions, knowing that there were many silently refusing (though I joined in too). Meanwhile the overt tones of Christianity prevailed and, it seemed to me, the masses either embraced them or tried to awkwardly overlook them.

Perhaps this is the m.o. of our nation at this moment.

10:55 AM EST  
Blogger John David Walt said...

good thoughts David-- i agree it is puzzling what all was going on there.

we would have been infuriated if someone had read from the Koran and/ or prayed a traditional prayer to a Hindu god. But isn't this what we are setting ourselves up for in America? You are right to point out how the non-Christian masses might have responded to The Lord's Prayer. I was glad for it being there-- but again, I would have been upset had the leader recited an Islamic prayer to Allah.

so what's the answer to this quandry? On the one hand I hate to see the vestiges of Christianity completely extracted from moments like this. On the other hand, I don't want to see another major world religion dominate or contribute to the service. On the other hand, I'm not sure I want a completely secular liturgy either.

What gives?

3:57 PM EST  
Blogger Joshua Andrew Smith said...

Thanks for your assignment, Professor Walt. I'm enjoying the exercise.

I think what was missing was the centerpiece: the mass. I know it's not missed in the majority of evangelical services, but the majority of Christendom I think would have had a hard time drawing the parallel between the event and a worship service simply due to the gaping void. I think the eucharist is what does and should set apart Christian worship from all others, and is why it was so hard for us at first to peg this event. I saw it as not much more than a well designed regal fanfare with echoes of hollow Christian tradition.

I'm pretty sure wherever Christ's influence is present it's best for us not to remove it for the sake of political strategery. Will its presence eventually open the door to idol worship in its place years down the road? Probably. I'd actually bet on it. But I don't think the alternative is to remove even a weak version of Christ in favor of secularism. I think some salt is better than none. I'm prepared to be wrong on that one, though.

Having said this, I believe there is hope that life can be poured back into our empty rituals and forms just as easily as death can be if His people who are called by His name would humble themselves and pray and seek His face and turn from their wicked ways, then will He hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

May it be so for America.

4:44 PM EST  
Anonymous Chad said...

I was thinking the same thing when I was watching it, and we had an interesting class discussion at lunch (with my ethics class) on this very subject. The two pieces that we spoke about the most were the two prayers, and what it means to pray in such a public setting while realizing that you are not in worship, and that there are a significant amount of non-Christians around.

Throughout the whole thing, I did notice a specific view of God. Most of the time, it was the Father that was being metioned, and their were specific "throwbacks" to the exodus story and other OT allusions. Justice was mentioned alot, but not how the prophets use it, and prosperity was linked to things that a Christian wouldn't link them too.

I think that what we saw was a good example of "civil religon", the state realizing that their has to be mention of a higher being in these ultra-traditional matters. It also reminded me of Torrance, and what he wrote about regarding Trinitarian and Unitarian.

Most people in my class applauded Warren for his prayer, and that our government still wanted these prayers in the service. Our prof then pointed out the amount of pluralism (which we had already talked about) that was weaved into the entire Inauguration and how comfortable would evangelical America be if there was a Jew, Muslim or a Hindu offering up these prayers.

The list was good JD, thanks for hosting this conversation.

8:42 AM EST  
Blogger Rob said...

one glaring problem is that you have three hands, JD...if I read your post right.

shots at your specific questions:
1. Who was the god and how do you assess that?
America (upheld in its prosperous and prominent, but changed state.), but it was a service in which the messiah of this particular God was present and being exalted. I'm not trying to be cute there, the 2 million plus were there for Barak more than America. But the speakers heralded "father-America".

2. If it was a particular god, what does the separation of church and state mean?
It means that state is first, and inclusion of moderate amounts of Christendom as connected to our history is allowed.

3. What faith was lifted up and celebrated?
Again, Christianity was included, but niether lifted up nor celebrated. Clearly, Barak and America-who-would-elect-Barak was celebrated.

4. What story or stories were being remembered in the service? Which was primary or most prominent?
There was also, in Lowery's prayer, a lifting up of the story of blacks in America. An Exodus story begun with Lincoln, prophesied by Luther-King, and now come to fruition.

5. What are the implications of these fascinating dynamics?
We are secular, but our roots (in form and pageantry) are in Christianity. This perhaps is even more true in the non-Muslim black community.

I think there is something in the Bible about having the form of religion, but no substance. I think there was a lot of that going on.

9:39 AM EST  
Blogger dan said...

I recently read the book, Christ and the Caesars. The whole point of the book is to show how the Caesars were worshiped as god. The state religion is the one form of religion that is capable of allowing all religions as long as they accept its authority. The new Caesar was shown as the one who would come and save the day. He would be the one to bring the people into salvation. He was the one who would make the world a better place. It was on the day of his advent that all was made better. When thinking about tuesday, that's one thing that so many people seemed to be saying or celebrating.

The also talks about how the language of the early church was stolen from the worship of the empire. Not because Christianity is false, but that it is defining itself as better than the civic religion of its day. The language of the Christian liturgy is really the liturgy for a ruler, a king, an emperor, a president.

5:48 PM EST  

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