TEXAS FAITH: What is America’s common creed and how do we forge it together?
William Lawrence, dean at SMU's Perkins School of Theology, talks about America's common creed.
By Bill McKenzie
Throughout his inaugural address today, President Barack Obama emphasized our common creed, we the people and taking action together. In short, his speech was heavy on the communal aspects of our work as Americans.
His address contrasts with the individualism you often hear from Republicans. They regularly emphasize enterprenurialism, personal initiative and the power of local communities.
So, here is the question I would like you to consider:
What is America’s common creed and how do we forge it together?...
WILLIAM LAWRENCE, Dean and Professor of American Church History, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University
The rhetorical refrain that energized President Obama’s second inaugural address was the repetition of the words that open the Constitution: “We the people.” The Constitution contains an unmistakeable listing of the individual rights and liberties that Americans hold dear. But those freedoms are inseparable from the collective spirit that lives in those opening words. America’s common creed is that the people, all of the people, must and shall enjoy the liberties of this land.
President Obama expressed very clearly that our individual liberties require collective action. He gave appropriate recognition to America’s military personnel and civil rights leaders, for example, noting that they have made individual sacrifices for our common well-being. Sometimes those sacrifices, he said, have involved shedding blood —- whether by the sword or the lash. But individual liberty and collective identity are not adversaries. With regard to the challenges and the opportunities of the present, he said, “We will seize this moment as long as we seize it together.”
America’s common creed, as the president stated in the opening sentences of his inaugural address, resides in the founding documents of the nation. Before the Constitution, there was the Declaration of Independence, whose bold words include the truths that are “self-evident.” But, he said, those truths are not “self-activating.”
So our common creed is that all persons are created equal, that all are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But to turn that creed into a living experience requires collective action as one nation and one people....