Friday, February 15, 2013

Presidents as Pastors in Chief: An Update on Religion in Inaugural Addresses

It did not receive much attention on Monday, January 21 during President Obama’s second inauguration, but some were alarmed when the reporter at the private pre-inaugural worship service at St. John’s Episcopal Church noted that Rev. Andy Stanley, who gave the sermon, referred to the President as “Pastor in Chief.” In an interview with Christianity Today several days after the inauguration, Stanley said his remark had been taken out of context by some reporters, clarifying that it had come from being impressed by the President’s visit with families after the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. Stanley had said, "Mr. President, I don't know the first thing about being President, but I know a bit about being a pastor. And during the Newtown vigil on December 16th after we heard what you did—I just want to say on behalf of all of us as clergy, thank you." And added, "I turned to Sandra [Stanley’s wife] that night and said, 'Tonight he's the Pastor in Chief.'" Other commentators also referred to President Obama as pastor in chief after being moved by his separate visits with each family who lost a child and by his speech to those gathered in mourning.
Later on Monday, President Obama’s inaugural address did even more to cast him as Pastor in Chief with his use of religious language and themes. He used the word “God” five times (and twice more with “His” and “He”), which is just short of Reagan’s record of eight in 1985. Obama also mentioned “our creed” five times, giving the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence significance as a kind of civil religion. Finally, he ended by saying, “Thank you, God Bless you, and may He forever bless these United States of America.”
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