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Obama calls for ‘era of responsibility’ at inauguration

WASHINGTON (BP)–Barack Obama, minutes after being sworn in as the country’s first African American president Jan. 20, said the crisis that confronts the United States requires a “new era of responsibility” from its citizens.

Obama, 47, told a vast television audience and a National Mall crowd in sub-freezing temperatures estimated at about 2 million people that “the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many,” but he promised they “will be met.” He said the crisis includes not only a war “against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred” but a “badly weakened” economy.

He told Americans, “[W]e have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.”

While there is much that government “can do and must do,” Obama said, “it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies.”

Minutes after Vice President-elect Joseph Biden was sworn in, Obama took the oath of office from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to mark a historic first in America. He is the son of a black Kenyan-born man and a white Kansas-born woman, both now deceased, who met at the University of Hawaii.

“I don’t how anyone could watch those images of President-elect Obama taking the oath of office on the west front of the Capitol and look at the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial beyond and not think about Dr. King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, after the inauguration.

“In the long span of history, it’s not very long from 1963 [when King spoke at the Lincoln Memorial] to 2009,” Land said. “The fact we have had this racial divide and racist past and now have an African American man and son of an African immigrant as president is an extraordinary and graphic testimony to the power of our ideals, in that this country is still dedicated to the promises of its founding document that we believe ‘that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.’

“With the inauguration of its first African American president, this country has turned a tremendous chapter in its history,” Land told Baptist Press. “I think there are tens of millions of Americans who didn’t vote for him who are still gratified that page has been turned.”

Obama commented on the barrier-breaking event for America when he said “our liberty and our creed” is why people of all races and faiths “can join in celebration across this magnificent mall. And why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”

The economy’s woes call for “bold and swift” action, the new president said. He lauded the free market, saying its ability “to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched.”

He said the country could defend both its “safety and … ideals,” in an apparent criticism of President Bush’s anti-terrorism policies that were attacked by civil liberties advocates.

The United States “is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more,” Obama said. He said America will “begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan.”

Americans “will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in its defense,’ Obama said. He told terrorists, “Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”

The new president told Muslims, “[W]e seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

Obama honored U.S. military forces who are serving overseas as well as the “fallen heroes” in Arlington National Cemetery. He said their “willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves” is the “spirit that must inhabit us all.”

Land said he “was struck by the muscularity” of Obama’s speech “in its statements about national security and its statements about defeating worldwide terrorism and his strong affirmation of the market as an extraordinary engine for creating wealth and opportunity.”

Obama commended Bush not only for his service as president but for the “generosity and cooperation” he had demonstrated during the transition.

Southern Baptist Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California, delivered the invocation. The choice of Warren brought much criticism from homosexual rights advocates after his support for Proposition 8, California’s successful November ballot initiative that barred “gay marriages.”

In his prayer, Warren expressed rejoicing in the inauguration of the first African American president, saying, “And we know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven.” Warren asked God to give Obama “the wisdom to lead us with humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, the compassion to lead us with generosity.”

Land said, “I was proud of Rick Warren for praying as an orthodox and devout Christian would pray — in the name of the One who changed his life, Jesus.”

Obama’s inauguration capped a meteoric political rise that began on the national stage when he delivered the keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Having served in the Illinois Senate since 1997, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in November 2004. His November election over Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee, sent him to the White House before he completed a single term in the Senate.

As his first official act, Obama issued a proclamation declaring Jan. 20 as a National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation. He urged Americans “to serve one another and the common purpose of remaking this Nation for our new century.”
Tom Strode is Baptist Press Washington bureau chief.