President Obama's Opening Remarks on Religion: Where's the News Coverage?

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By Ed Stetzer, CP Guest Columnist
December 11, 2009|11:59 pm

My tweet about President Obama seemed to garner a response from my colleagues in the Twitter-sphere and on my Facebook page, but not much beyond that.

Here is what I wrote while watching the opening toast of the first state dinner of the Obama administration:

    President's 1st words at his 1st state dinner pointed out that he celebrated a Hindu and then a Sikh religious event. Times have changed.

Here is the transcript from the New York Times:

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good evening, everyone. On behalf of Michelle and myself, welcome to the White House. Aapka Swagat Hai. (Applause.)

    Many of you were here when I was honored to become the first President to help celebrate Diwali - the Festival of Lights. (Applause.) Some of you were here for the first White House celebration of the birth of the founder of Sikhism - Guru Nanak. (Applause.) Tonight, we gather again, for the first state dinner of my presidency - with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mrs. Gursharan Kaur, as we celebrate the great and growing partnership between the United States and India.

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I don't blog politics. I do look at religion, culture, and trends. This seems to be major religion news that reflects a broader trend. At first, I was surprised that my friends at Getreligion.org made no mention. But, then I realized just how much times have changed.

My guess is that, to most people, it is no longer news that President celebrates the traditions and festivals of other religions.

It might be helpful to have some background on the religious events the President mentioned.

First, the Diwali or Festival of Lights. Although commonly associated with Hinduism, this festival is actually celebrated by more than just Hindus, but also by adherents to Sikhism and Jainism. Wikipedia explains:

    In Hinduism, Diwali marks the return of Lord Raama to his kingdom Ayodhya after defeating Ravana (the Demon King, and also the demons KING) - the ruler of Lanka in the epic story of Ramayana. It also celebrates the slaying of the demon king Narakasura by Lord Krishna. Both signify the victory of good over evil. In Jainism, Diwali marks the attainment of moksa by Mahavira in 527 BC. In Sikhism, Diwali commemorates the return of Guru Har Gobind Ji to Amritsar after freeing 52 other Hindu kings imprisoned in Fort Gwalior by Emperor Jahangir. He was welcomed by the people who lit candles and divas to celebrate his return, which is why Sikhs also refer to Diwali also as Bandi Chhorh Divas meaning "the day of release of detainees".

The President also mentioned celebrating "the birth of the founder of Sikhism." The Guru Nanak is the founder of Sikism. Again, more information can be found here about his birth and the legends surrounding it.

Regardless of whether you like President Obama or not, it seems like "news" to me that the President would make these his first words at his first state dinner. It seems news to me that he would mention his celebration of major religious events in two religions. Regardless of whether you are a Democrat, Republican, or independent, I cannot picture JFK or Ronald Reagan doing such a thing in their day - and President Obama points out that he was the "first" to do these things in the White House.

So, times have changed. But, they have changed very quickly with President Obama's participation in the traditions of other faiths. The President made a point of it, but the news reports did not - they were too focused on two party crashers.

Where are you, news hounds?

Adapted from Ed Stetzer's weblog at www.edstetzer.com.

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today's Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. Ed is Visiting Professor of Research and Missiology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and Visiting Research Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Ed blogs daily at EdStetzer.com.
 

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