Commentary: The Message Behind Obama's Bibles

The decision to use the bibles of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. is symbolic of President Obama’s political and spiritual core.

Posted: 01/10/2013 06:01 PM EST
Commentary: The Message Behind Obama's Bibles

President Obama may be the object of some criticism over the lack of diversity in his appointments to his second term White House. But he’s getting no flak whatsoever for the diversity of the participants in the inaugural program.

There is Beyoncé singing the National Anthem. Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of civil rights icon Medgar Evers, will deliver the invocation. And this year’s inauguration will include Richard Blanco, an openly gay writer of Cuban descent, who will serve as the inaugural poet.

In addition, Obama is planning something that is as unprecedented as it is extraordinary. The president is planning to have his hand on two bibles at the inauguration. One of them belonged to Abraham Lincoln; the other belonged to Martin Luther King Jr.

It provides a fascinating glimpse into President Obama’s own sensitivities regarding race. Let’s face it: The selected bible for an inaugural ceremony is determined with great deliberation, usually receiving more thought than which member of the White House staff might be serving breakfast on a particular morning.

The Lincoln bible and the man who carried it represent recognition of the ability of the nation’s 16th president to take on the most challenging issues of the day with a down-to-earth process of tackling issues coolly and with an uncommon detachment. It is the bible Obama used when he first took the oath in 2009.

The historic use of the King bible at Monday’s swearing-in represents the first time it has been used at a presidential inauguration, offering a tribute — on the official King Holiday no less — to the most revered civil rights leader of his era. What’s more, it signals an embrace of the philosophy, world view and spiritual tenets of the celebrated Black Baptist minister.

King, who died in 1968, spent his life advocating for equality for people who were largely on the margins of American — both in legal rights, in economics and in job opportunities.

The use of the King bible also offers a challenge to the 44th President of the United States. The world of 2013 is an era where African-Americans are fighting against restrictive voter identification laws, where Black unemployment eclipses that of the overall jobless rate, where young Black men are being stopped and frisked and where young lives are snuffed out in a country awash with semi-automatic assault weapons.

We can only hope that the proximity to King’s bible will create in the president a new level of zeal to solve these problems. It would be a welcome blessing. 

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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