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Mr President does God

January 23, 2009

Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
Times Online - UK
January 20, 2009
The new US President is expected to meet both the Pope and the Dalai Lama during his first year in office, according to the author who has just published a bestselling guide to the faith of Barack Obama.
Stephen Mansfield, who in his book The Faith of Barack Obama describes his Christian faith as one of his great driving forces and also one of his biggest challenges, said he believes Obama will early in his Presidency meet Pope Benedict XVI in Rome and the Dalai Lama at the White House in Washington.
But first he will "roll up his sleeves" and get to work on addressing the economic crisis, he said.
Religion has captured the headlines as never before since Obama first became a candidate and then President-elect, and then designed 10 days of inaugural celebrations with elements intended to please every party in the diverse faith communities of the US.
In spite of the constitutional separation between Church and State in the US, Obama's faith and every expression of it is being subjected to unprecedented scrutiny, down to whether he will or will not say "so help me God" at the end of the oath at his swearing in.
The words are not in the official text but some past presidents have chosen to add them. A federal judge, Michael Newdow, has filed a lawsuit to prevent Obama saying them.
The Chicago Tribune, a paper serving Obama's home city, reports that at previous inaugurations, "ceremonial prayers uttered on behalf of the incoming president drew about as much attention as the flags on the podium."
In the Christian community battle lines were drawn when he invited Rick Warren, an anti-gay Baptist pastor who Obama respects because of his social and environmental conscience and his evangelicalism, to pray the invocation at today's inauguration.
It then emerged that he had also invited Bishop Gene Robinson, the openly gay Bishop of New Hampshire whose consecration in 2003 has brought the Anglican Communion to the brink of schism, to pray the invocation at the opening of the celebrations themselves.
Bishop Robinson went on to open his prayers on Sunday with a prayer to the "God of our many understandings," thought to be a reference to the universal "higher power" of the third and eleventh of the 12-step recovery programmes popular with reformed addicts and alcoholics. The original author of this concept, a reformed alcoholic financier called Bill Wilson, deliberately made this concept of God a general one to allow people of all faiths and none access to the 12 steps.
This concept of universality as spelled out best in the literature of Alcoholics Anonymous has subsequently come to define the Obama approach to religion in this week's celebrations.
The Rev Sharon Watkins, the first woman president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), is to preach and, according to the Associated Press, a prayer will also be offered by Ingrid Mattson, the first woman president of the Islamic Society of North America, the nation's largest Muslim group.
The Rev Joseph Lowery, a Methodist who is regarded as the dean of the civil rights movement, will say the blessing.
Three rabbis, David Sapperstein, Jerome Epstein and Haskel Looksetin, representing the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox branches of American Judaism, will also say prayers.
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington Donald Wuerl is expected to have a part to play in the service. And although he has yet to declare which church the Obama family will attend on Sundays when in Washington, before his swearing-in he will go to the "church of presidents", St John's.
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