Take Your Hand Off My Bible
The Huffington Post, January 14, 2009
Most of us have a presidential fantasy. Some of us long to transform the health care system. Some imagine the possibilities in humanitarian aid. Others daydream about the presidential lifestyle -- the private chef, the bowling alley in the White House basement, Air Force One.
My fantasy centers on the inauguration. If I were sworn in as President of the United States, so help me God, I would not swear on a Bible.
I do not reject religion. To the contrary, I'm a proud observant Jew. I'm committed to the whole schmear -- no Internet on the Sabbath, jello without gelatin, arguing for the sake of arguing.
But I would not swear on a Bible because my religion is private. It must be protected; I must be free to practice it. But it should not inform public policy and absolutely should not become a symbol of loyalty to the Constitution. Use of the Bible is not required by the Constitution. Fusing the oath with a religious text believed to be the word of God mocks the Constitutional doctrine of separation of religion and government. It also, I believe, debases the sacred text to a political prop.
My interpretations of the Bible reflect my theology. They are, and always will be, open to competing interpretations. They are personal, biased, and inherently limited. Different people arrive at alternate conclusions on how they understand their Bible and want to practice their religion.
I'm thrilled that Barack Obama will be our new President. But on the matter of religion, he's not off to a promising start. Was it really necessary to ask the evangelical Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation? Rev. Warren, a best-selling author and senior pastor of the Saddleback Church, the fourth-largest church in the country, in Orange County, California, is enormously powerful. He uses his influence to advance his personal, biased, limited understanding of the Christian Bible. Rev. Warren advocates the narrowing of women's and men's life choices through restriction of reproductive rights. He supports discrimination against gays and lesbians; not only does he oppose same-sex marriage, he has compared it with incest, marriage between an adult and a child, and polygamy. He rejects the theory of evolution. He holds a frightening attitude about Jews: we will burn in hell, he has affirmed, if we don't accept Jesus as our savior.
Rev. Warren is entitled to his religious interpretations. But he does not represent America, and therefore should not have been chosen to be so visible at such an historic moment. Recognizing his error, Obama has now invited V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, to deliver another invocation at the first official inaugural event. Unlike Rev. Warren, Bishop Robinson represents inclusion and tolerance. He says, "I am very clear that this will not be a Christian prayer, and I won't be quoting Scripture or anything like that. The texts that I hold as sacred are not sacred texts for all Americans, and I want all people to feel that this is their prayer."
But the damage is done. Obama never should have chosen Rev. Warren in the first place. Obama would have done better to choose an historian, an artist, an orator -- not a preacher. God may bless America, but America should not bless God.