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Gary Payton's Faith Walk

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Barack Obama and the Oath of Office

Barack Obama and the Oath of Office

My seventh-grade teacher, Mrs. Couch, was great at social studies and lousy at math. To this day I remember extra credit opportunities she provided us striving adolescents. For a few more points, we could memorize and recite Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the Preamble to the Constitution, and the Oath of Office of the President of the United States. (In those self-centered days of my youth, I learned and recited all three.) Therefore, for a guy who still remembers the black and white TV images of the Kennedy inauguration (fifth grade, Mrs. Johnson), the impact of Barack Obama taking the Oath of Office can’t be put into words.

The oath is simple enough, 35 words enshrined in Article II of the Constitution:

“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

The literal component of the oath speaks to enforcing, administering, and carrying out the provisions of federal law. With national and global responsibilities, the Executive Branch which the President heads consists of 15 departments, some 150 independent agencies, and 2.7 million men and women. It is a huge responsibility; some say it’s the toughest job in the world.

It seems to me, however, that there is also an implied moral component to the oath as well. Simply put, I think the President is also charged “to do what is right,” not just what is lawful. Woodrow Wilson, a Presbyterian elder, advanced the Fourteen Points to reshape the world order after World War I. Jimmy Carter, a Baptist deacon and Sunday school teacher, sought to have human rights as the centerpiece of foreign policy.

The January 20 inauguration of Barack Obama has prompted an outpouring of letters, prayers, and hope from around the world. The US Conference for the World Council of Churches, an organization of 34 denominations, expressed hopes for the new President: reduce poverty, remove US troops from Iraq ahead of schedule, improve education, end torture as a means of interrogation, and use the “bully pulpit” with humility and respect.  Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Carter of the Church of the Brethren urged Obama to “act morally: be transparent, not only in action but most of all in motives. Be responsive to real needs rather than to rhetoric. Raise the level of civil discourse. Be truthful to your faith heritage. Do justice. Love kindness and walk humbly with your God, for you are a child of God called to serve.”

Barack Obama has been a seeker, like me and millions of other Americans. In the 1990s he was baptized through the United Church of Christ. He has stated, “It’s hard for me to imagine being true to my faith—and not thinking beyond myself, and not thinking about what’s good for other people, and not acting in a moral and ethical way.” In “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama declared he “felt God’s spirit beckoning me” and “I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.”

With the Oath of Office, hand on a bible, Barack Obama’s greatest tests of faith will descend on his shoulders. He will publically accept both his Constitutional responsibilities and his moral responsibilities. And, his faith walk will continue.  As another who is on a faith walk, my daily prayers will now include him, Michelle, Malia, and Sasha. As this latest chapter of American and world history begins, I invite your prayers for the Obama family, our nation, and our world as well.

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Gary Payton Gary Payton is on a Faith Walk that takes him to Russia, Eastern Europe and Sandpoint, Idaho

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