The inauguration of Joe Biden: Two historic values that can divide us or unite us in a hopeful future

Joe Biden at The Queen Theater
President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen theater, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. will be inaugurated as our forty-sixth president shortly after noon ET today. He will take the oath of office with his left hand on a family Bible that is five inches thick, with a sturdy leather cover and solid metal clasps. It has been in his family for 127 years and has been used every time he has been sworn into an office.

Prior to the inauguration, Mr. Biden will join Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for a prayer service at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in downtown Washington, DC. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy will also attend. 

Today also marks the third day of ecumenical, nonpartisan virtual prayer services and testimonies intended to restore a sense of harmony to the transition of power. Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, is one of the leaders. 

America is most definitely in need of such harmony. 

“Your success now is our country’s success” 

When Joe Biden becomes our president, he will need and deserve our consistent and passionate intercession (1 Timothy 2:1–2). He will need and deserve the encouragement of our people in the knowledge that, as President George H. W. Bush wrote to President-elect Bill Clinton, “Your success now is our country’s success.” 

And we as a people will need to commit ourselves anew to those historic values that birthed our nation and can chart our future with hope. 

Before the 2020 election, 80 percent of Biden supporters and 77 percent of Trump supporters stated that they and the other side “fundamentally disagree about core American values.” Ninety percent of Biden supporters and 89 percent of Trump supporters said the other candidate’s election “would lead to lasting harm to the US.” 

Recognizing the divided and divisive culture of our nation, Mr. Biden “wants to use the [inauguration] to call Americans to unity,” according to his incoming press secretary. But as I am sure Mr. Biden and those praying for harmony know, seeking unity will not succeed unless we commit ourselves to values that are essential to such unity. 

Just as a wheel requires a hub, a culture requires fundamental values that enable its people to thrive together. I believe that our nation is struggling to find unity because we are ignoring or rejecting two foundational stones that enabled our founding and are vital to our future. And so, I invite you to join me in praying for our new president and our country to champion these values across the years to come. 

Thomas Jefferson on the urgency of equality 

America’s founding creed states that “all men are created equal.” The author of these revolutionary words clarified them in his first inaugural address. Following his bitterly contested victory over incumbent John Adams, Thomas Jefferson said of the two parties of his day, “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.” 

Then he encouraged the nation to “bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.” 

On this basis, President Jefferson called his fellow citizens to “unite with one heart and one mind” and to “restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things.” And he warned of “political intolerance” capable of “bitter and bloody persecutions.” 

Ronald Reagan, who was inaugurated forty years ago today, made a similar declaration. He asked why our nation has “achieved so much, prospered as no other people on Earth.” His answer: “Here, in this land, we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before. Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than in any other place on Earth.” 

I am praying for America to extend this commitment to “the dignity of the individual” to every citizen from birth to natural death. As I will write in the coming days, the sanctity of every life as made in the image of our Maker is absolutely crucial to our democracy and our future (Genesis 1:27). Much of the divisiveness we are facing results from divisiveness over this fundamental value. 

Abraham Lincoln on the priority of justice 

Our commitment to the equality of all people leads naturally and powerfully to a commitment to justice for all people. 

Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address was delivered in the midst of the gravest threat America has ever faced. On March 4, 1865, the president called for our nation “to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” 

Mr. Lincoln was right: for peace to be “lasting,” it must be “just.” 

Scripture teaches, “When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers” (Proverbs 21:15). We are to “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). 

The equality of justice calls us to battle systemic racism and prejudice in all their forms. And it requires us to balance calls for sexual freedom with the urgent priority of religious liberty

I am praying for America to reaffirm our historic commitment to justice. As I will write in the coming days, the threat to religious freedom is alarming and the imperative of justice for all people is urgent. Much of the divisiveness we are experiencing results from divisiveness over these crucial commitments. 

“That there be no divisions among you” 

Paul’s word to the conflicted Corinthian congregation is God’s word to us today: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). 

When we have “the same mind and the same judgment,” we can heal our divisions and face our future with hope. Let us pray and work to this end for the sake of our nation and the glory of our Lord.