When President-Elect Barack Obama takes the oath of office on January 20 he, like every other president before him, will have his hand resting firmly on the bible. Incoming presidents get to pick which bible they want to use and even the verse to which the bible will be opened.
Obama will be sworn in using the same bible that Abraham Lincoln used in 1861. But which verse will he single out as the one that best describes his hope for the country?
He could use one of the standard bible verses that other presidents have used. II Chronicles 7 – 14 has been a popular choice in the past, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
But Obama, being a consensus builder, would probably shy away from calling for America to turn from its wicked ways. How can a president lead a nation of wicked people?
If he actually decides to have the bible open to a particular verse, why not make it one that no other president has used? His election was groundbreaking. Maybe he should continue that trend by being sworn in holding his hand on a verse that better reflects his political platform.
Obama ran as a pro-choice candidate. So, scouring the bible for verses that support the pro-choice position, and yes there are some, we find this one from Jeremiah 20: “Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, ‘A son is born to you,’ making him very glad. Let that man be like the cities which the Lord overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon, because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb forever great.”
Or maybe, since he has a sense of humor, he could place his hand on a verse that flies in the face of the man he is replacing in office. A little tongue-in-cheek humor at the swearing in ceremony might be fun and original.
For example, if Obama were a vindictive man, which he clearly is not, he might remind his predecessor that he ran on a platform of family values. So what does the bible have to say about family values? He might pick this verse from Genesis 19, “Behold, I have two daughters who have not known man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please.”
What’s that? It’s the Old Testament you say? Well, what about this family values jewel from the New Testament, Matthew 10: “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's foes will be those of his own household.”
Obama is nothing if not a rational man. Although he confesses to being a Christian, everyone knows that if you’re not a professed Christian in this country you have a ghost of a chance of succeeding in politics. But regardless of his official affiliation, he still wreaks of rationalism, so it might be fitting for him to be sworn in with his hand on one of the few rational bible verses. This one is from Ecclesiastes 3: “For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place, all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again.”
Obama might also want to remind his predecessor that the bible says it is perfectly ok to divvy up the booty after overthrowing a government and killing its citizens. Numbers 31 has a beautifully-phrased directive from Moses himself that he gave after plundering a tribe: “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.”
So Bush might have opted to take the oil from Iraq, not its young girls, but it’s the same idea and it would certainly have been sanctioned by his beloved bible that he lives by.
Nowhere in the Constitution does it command a president to be sworn in with his hand on the bible. But that tradition was started by George Washington and has continued to this day. When one swears on the bible, he is swearing on all its verses, not just the good parts. Might it not be a better idea for an incoming president to take the oath with his hand on a copy of the Constitution of the United States? That document, after all, is what he is swearing to uphold.