President Biden on Wednesday quoted Scripture, led the nation in a silent prayer, and called on members of both parties to come together, saying he will be a “president for all Americans.”
Biden, the nation’s 46th president, delivered his inaugural address moments after former President Trump landed in Florida at his Mar-a-Lago home, becoming the first president since Andrew Johnson 152 years ago to skip his successor’s public inauguration. Former Vice President Mike Pence did attend.
Although Trump broke with tradition at the inauguration, he did maintain another tradition by leaving Biden a handwritten letter in the Oval Office, according to various media reports. Its contents were not known.
Biden’s address took place after Kamala Harris took the oath of office to become the first female, black and Asian vice president in U.S. history. Country artist Garth Brooks sang Amazing Grace after Biden’s speech.
Biden’s speech focused on unity. The answer to America’s problems, he said, “is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don’t look like you, or worship the way you do, or don’t get their news from the same sources you do.”
“We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, and rural versus urban, [and] conservative versus liberal,” said Biden, who is Catholic. “We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts, if we show a little tolerance and humility. And if we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes – as my mom would say just for a moment, stand in their shoes.”
Biden urged Americans, “Let’s start afresh, all of us.”
“Let’s begin to listen to one another again, hear one another, see one another, show respect to one another,” he said. “Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war. And we must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured. My fellow Americans, we have to be different than this. America has to be better than this. And I believe America is so much better than this.”
Biden noted that he was speaking in the shadows of the capitol building, and that its dome was constructed during the American Civil War.
“Yet we endured. We prevailed,” Biden said.
Biden directly addressed those who voted for President Trump.
“To all those who did not support us, let me say this, hear me out, as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart. If you still disagree, so be it. That’s democracy. That’s America – the right to dissent peaceably in the guardrails of our republic is perhaps this nation’s greatest strength. … [But] disagreement must not lead to disunion. And I pledge this to you: I will be your president for all Americans – all Americans. And I promise you I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.”
He quoted Christian theologian Augustine (354-430 A.D.), who Biden said wrote that “a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love.” Biden then asked, “What are the common objects we as Americans love that define us as Americans?” He listed those common objects: “opportunity, security, liberty, dignity, respect, honor, and yes, the truth.”
“We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation. … As the Bible says, ‘Weeping may endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning,’” Biden said, quoting Psalm 30:5. “We will get through this together.”
Biden paused during the speech for several seconds to lead the nation in a silent prayer to “remember all those who we lost this past year to the pandemic.” At the end of it, he said, “Amen.”
“My fellow Americans I close the day where I began – with the sacred oath, before God and all of you,” he said during closing comments. “I give you my word: I will always level with you. I will defend the Constitution. I’ll defend our democracy. I’ll defend America.”
Leo O’Donovan, a Jesuit priest and the former president of Georgetown University, delivered the invocation, asking God to grant Biden wisdom.
“For our new president, we beg of you, the wisdom Solomon sought when he knelt before you and prayed for ‘an understanding heart, so that I can govern your people, and know the difference between right and wrong,’” O’Donovan said, quoting 1 Kings 3:9. “We trust in the counsel of the letter of James: ‘If any of you lacks wisdom. You should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault. And it will be given to you.’”
Silvester Beaman, pastor of Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Del., delivered the benediction, praying that “we will make friends of our enemies.” Beaman asked God to help Americans to “use our resources for the national good and become a beacon of life, and goodwill to the world.”
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Pool
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.