We are poised to celebrate one of the most momentous occasions in the history of our country: the ascendancy of a an African-American to the Highest Office in the land. One hundred and forty-six years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, 45 years after the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 44 years after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we will be holding the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. Some 4.5 million people are expected to be in Washington D.C. to witness the event (20 years from now about 10 million people will claim to have been there!). We have no clear estimate of how many people will be watching from home and across the world. And what are we talking about? Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in California, will be delivering the invocation.
Rick Warren is not one of my 'preaching heroes'. The fact is, however, he is one of the most significant religious figures in our country. Millions of people have read his 'Purpose Driven Life' and the other materials derived from it (another confession: I've never read the book. Never wanted to). Those of us who have heard the gospel song, 'It's Not About Us - It's About Jesus', know that it comes from Warren's book. Theologically he really is a moderate conservative, evangelical pastor. It is safe to assume that he did not vote for Barack Obama. And he is giving the invocation at this monumental event.
Those of us who voted for Obama did so because he represented 'change'. And almost since day one after the election and his announcement of cabinet appointments, there has been whining that the 'change' we thought was coming hasn't been seen. His appointees are not young enough, they aren't liberal enough, they aren't 'out-side-the-Beltway' enough, they aren't minority enough, they aren't gay enough.
Please - stop!
What has become obvious, is that some who voted for Obama, didn't pay attention to his track record. When Obama became editor of the Harvard Law Review, for instance, there were those conservative and liberal who thought that his incoming staff would be ideologically and ethnically like him. Obama chose a racially and ideologically mixed staff for his leadership team. In fact there were those who thought that if he showed any kind of preference, he showed it toward those who were least like him.
Haven't many of us who voted for Obama, complained that the current administration talked to no one but the ones who agreed with them?! They fired government those in the administration who would not adjust facts to fit a neo-conservative world view; the President wouldn't even appear at the NAACP convention, because the organization didn't like him; they marginalized Cabinet members who wouldn't toe the party line. And now the incoming president invites someone who is a fellow Christian but who doesn't totally agree with him ideologically or theologically and asks him to give the invocation and now the liberals who are complaining.
Obama is doing what he promised to do - bring down the each against all frame that has defined our politics for far too long. Obama said that we should be willing to engage in dialogue with those who did not agree with us. Did we not expect him to model this? Or did we think this only applied to foreign policy? This is a first step that we should welcome. If we are saying that a man who doesn't march lock step in political and religious views of the newly elected president shouldn't pray and for the country at his inauguration, then Obama's election was more about vindication than it was 'change'.
Lost in all of this is the fact that one of the stalwarts of the modern day Civil Rights Movement, Dr. James Lowery, former head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference will give the benediction. Dr. Lowery marched with Dr. King and excellently pursued the fulfillment of the Dream that he spoke of in D.C. 45 years ago. Parts of that speech are always selectively quoted by those who have a political point to make (one of the reasons I agree with Michael Eric Dyson that there out to be a moratorium on reading it publicly until we understand it).
I hope that by the end of the celebration - if not Obama's administration that we will glimpse something of the era to which Martin pointed us at the end of that landmark speech. A speeding up of the day 'when all of God's children: black men, white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will join hands and sing in the words of that old Negro spiritual - 'Free at Last, Free at Last, thank God Almighty, we're Free At Last'.
Let's pray that this is the first step towards our liberation.