Baltimore pastor hopeful faith can play a stronger role on Obama's agenda

BALTIMORE - HOPE. It's a word that has been synonymous with President Barack Obama since he began his first campaign for president in 2007.


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It's also a word that describes the feeling Dr. Jamal-Harrison Bryant wants to leave the National Cathedral with on the day of Obama's inauguration for his second term.

Dr. Bryant is pastor and founder of Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore. The church is among the largest in the Baltimore area.

Why does Dr. Bryant think of hope when he reflects upon the inauguration on January 21st?

From President Barack Obama's choice in Bibles for the inauguration to the president's reaching out to the faith community , Dr. Bryant hopes faith can play a stronger role in politics.

"…Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit…" – Zechariah 4:6

It's the first verse of scripture that comes to the pastor's mind as he thinks of the juggling act between faith and politics and wonders how strong of a role faith will play as President Obama sets a new agenda.

Dr. Bryant feels Obama has reached out to the faith community much more than previous presidents. He believes the Bibles the president has selected for his inauguration and the speakers chosen, despite recent controversy, could be a sign of what is to come.

This year's inauguration will showcase rarities that directly relate to the faith community.

Obama will take the public oath using two Bibles , one stacked on top of the other. One will be the Bible of Abraham Lincoln, the other, the Bible of Dr. Martin Luther King. It will be the first time a president has used the Bible of Dr. King when taking the oath.

This year will also bring a rare moment among such events – a prayer led by someone not a member of the cloth. Dr. Bryant says it's a good thing.

"Prayer is available to every lay person," Bryant says. "I think it is a brilliant and ingenious move that lines up with the doctrine of our faith."

Giving the invocation at the inauguration will be Myrlie Evers-Williams, who served as the chair of the NAACP from 1995 to 1998. Dr. Bryant says she is quite capable of delivering a powerful prayer. He should know. Evers-Williams was his mentor when he served as the national youth director of the NAACP before he became a pastor.

"She is an elegant and graceful lady that I think will serve us well," Bryant says.

Originally slated to give the benediction at the swearing-in ceremony was Rev. Louie Giglio. The Atlanta-based evangelical pastor bowed out as controversy spread over a sermon he gave more than 10 years ago on homosexuality.

While Bryant believes the new choice to give the benediction will be a solid choice, he admits he is a little disappointed by Giglio's decision.

"I'm gravely disappointed that Dr. Giglio has stepped down," Dr. Bryant said.

The Baltimore pastor said one of the greatest things about America is that groups can have differences in opinion. Those differences, he said, should not create more of a divide between politics and faith.

With strong inter-faith services that are becoming more common in Obama's presidency, Dr. Bryant admits that the inclusion of faith in the country's management has been "a growing experience on both sides."

"This president has reached out to the faith community far more than others… But, it leaves us wondering, ‘where is our seat,'" Dr. Bryant says.

The pastor is hopeful that this year's inauguration will provide insight as to if or how faith will gain a seat at "the big boy table."

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