President George W. Bush touted Saturday’s inauguration as the introduction of a new era of unity and civility. But unity and civility were sacrificed on the altar of right-wing Christian fundamentalism to create a feeling of exclusion and alienation among many of the nation’s citizens.
The ceremony began innocuously enough with the introduction of the key players and various congressional dignitaries. Then came the invocation delivered by Rev. Franklin Graham that obliterated any notion of uniting the nation. Exhorting Americans to atone for their “national sins” and pleading with the new administration to act according to “God’s holy laws,” the invocation took on the tone of a stump sermon at a Baptist revival rather than a respectful nod to the many religious traditions that make up the tapestry of American faith. To add insult to injury, Rev. Graham closed his prayer referring to the Christian holy trinity and Jesus Christ as “our only savior.” In the benediction, the prayer following the ceremony, Rev. “Kirby” Ball revisited the hellfire and brimstone after Bush’s speech. Rev. Ball again spoke of confessing sins and also ended extolling the virtues of “Jesus the Christ.”
How ironic that a celebration of all Americans’ beliefs, freedoms and most cherished institutions became a forum for a vocal and irksome minority bent on pushing their faith on others. How ironic considering the earliest American settlers came to worship freely and escape religious persecution. How ironic that now the ceremony installing the man sworn to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution” would emphasize one religion over others and abandon the principles of the very document celebrated.
Unity and inclusion does not mean forcing those who disagree or believe differently to conform or involuntarily endure expressions of ideas and faiths opposing their own. Inclusion means celebrating the differences that make America a diverse and vibrant nation, tolerating dissent and working to represent everyone. Perhaps if the religious component of Saturday’s inauguration had even attempted to include and unite those Americans Bush does not consider among his supporters, he would not now need to atone for the sin of alienating so many Americans.