In his first day in office President Obama attended the National Prayer Service at the Washington National Cathedral, a tradition that has continued off and on since George Washington's inauguration. In the rush to predict what Obama's presidency will look like, it was hard not to view the service as a symbolic mixture of the old and the new.
The service emphasized diversity and was lead by Rev. Sharon Watkins, the first woman to have that role, who made a point of quoting a diverse array of religions and traditions. Watkins also warned President Obama that his ethics will be challenged.
"But we need you to hold the ground of your deepest values, of our deepest values. We need you to stay focused on our shared hopes, so that we can continue to hope, too," Watkins said.
The Prayer Service also came one day after controversial pastor Rick Warren, who drew the ire of gay rights activists for his comparison of bestiality to gay marriage, offered the invocation. In addition, several atheist groups had sued to remove any mention of Christianity and religion from the inauguration, a request Warren ignored by mentioning Jesus Christ and leading the assembled crowd in the Lord's Prayer. Obama's attendance at the National Prayer Service suggests that while he may bring his own background to services, he's unlikely to make any major breaks with religious and political traditions anytime soon.
Many Americans are anxiously trying to determine what the new Obama presidency will mean for the separation of church and state after eight years of a Bush administration that made the intertwining of religion and politics a centerpiece of their domestic policy.
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