Obama Leaves Out ‘Under God’ in His Recitation of the Gettysburg Address [UPDATED]


Ken Burns has posted a video of President Barack Obama reciting the Gettysburg Address.

Amazingly, the president fails to recite the words under God in the phrase, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”

I’m not sure why President Obama deleted this phrase. (I’ll leave that to conspiracy mongers.) There are five copies of the Gettysburg Address from Lincoln’s lifetime, known as the Bliss, Nicolay, Hay, Everett, and Bancroft copies. The Bliss copy–the only one with Lincoln’s signature on it–is generally considered authoritative. It and the Everett and Bancroft copies contain the words under God, while the Nicolay and Hay copies don’t.

Regardless of what was written, however, it is certain that when Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, he uttered the phrase, “under God.” I’ll let Robert P. George explain:

Of course, none of these copies is actually the Gettysburg Address. The Gettysburg Address is the set of words actually spoken by Lincoln at Gettysburg. And, as it happens, we know what those words are. (The Bliss copy nearly perfectly reproduces them.) Three entirely independent reporters, including a reporter for the Associated Press, telegraphed their transcriptions of Lincoln’s remarks to their editors immediately after the president spoke. All three transcriptions include the words “under God,” and no contemporaneous report omits them. There isn’t really room for equivocation or evasion: Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address—one of the founding texts of the American republic—expressly characterizes the United States as a nation under God.

President Obama has been the subject of too many conspiracy theories, and I’m sure the omission of the words under God will generate an entirely new round of them. At best, the omission of the words was unintentional, perhaps the result of a faulty text provided to the president by Ken Burns. At worst, it was intentional, either the reflection of an academically persnickety textual criticism–nonetheless false–or the grinding of an ideological axe. Either way, the president should be embarrassed that he got roped into misquoting one of America’s most famous speeches.

UPDATE: Larry O’Connor notes:

A text box now appears on the Ken Burns website http://www.learntheaddress.org which states: “Did you know there are five versions of the Gettysburg Address? We asked President Obama to read the first, the Nicolay Version.”  A cached version of the same webpage from several days ago shows no such reference.

Curiouser and curiouser.

UPDATE 2: Over at The Wire, Abby Ohlheiser defends the president by noting that he is reading the Nicolay copy of the Gettysburg address. “Far from an issue of omission, the fake controversy now dominating the anniversary of the important speech is more or less about conservative perceptions of the president’s arrogance. Even though comparing oneself to Lincoln, paraphrasing his words, imbuing new meaning to the Gettysburg Address itself is a routine practice for politicians from every party, there’s a certain special fury summoned when Obama does it. If anything, Ken Burns’s project demonstrates that no matter what critics might feel, everyone deserves to access, personify and celebrate the meaning of the speech. No matter which version it may be.” How she can describe as a “fake controversy” the omission of words from the Gettysburg Address that she herself concedes Abraham Lincoln actually spoke is beyond me.

UPDATE 3: The White House has released a handwritten, one-page essay by Pres. Obama that explains what the Gettysburg Address means to him. It is unclear to me which of the five copies of the Gettysburg address hangs in the side office Pres. Obama refers to. According to this source, cited by Ken Burns’ website, it is the Bliss copy which hangs in the Lincoln bedroom.

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The World Wide (Religious) Web for Monday, May 2, 2011


Obama bin Laden is dead. Here’s President Obama’s statement. He was, apparently, given an Islamic burial at sea.

Pope John Paul II is one step closer to sainthood.

Remembering David Wilkerson.

San Francisco wants to outlaw male circumcision. I’m sure rabbis will soon declare SF non-kosher.

Seven urban legends preachers should avoid using as sermon illustrations.

Your soul lives online long after you’re dead.

Check out David Hume’s non-religious defense of traditional marriage against polygamy and loose divorce laws.

What a misleading article in The Nation can teach evangelicals about adoption.

GetReligion.org asks, “Is it ever OK to lie?” The blog post analyzes the debate over Live Action’s use of undercover reporters to expose abuses at Planned Parenthood. There are good links to primary and secondary sources in the post.

ChristianityToday.com reports on why Beijing’s largest house church refuses to stop meeting outdoors. Reading this reminds me that religious freedom is truly the first freedom.

Mathew N. Schmalz thinks “the royal family needs religion,” though not for the obvious reasons—you know, sin and salvation. Hint: The need has something to do with “buttressing its legacy.”

Marilynne Robinson, author of Gilead, has this to say about Calvinism and Christian liberalism: “Contrary to entrenched assumption, contrary to the conventional associations made with the words Calvinist and Puritan, and despite the fact that certain fairly austere communities can claim a heritage in Reformed culture and history, Calvinism is uniquely the fons et origo of Christian liberalism in the modern period, that is, in the period since the Reformation.” I don’t think she means by liberalism what most people mean, however.

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Psychologists discover “a statistically significant trend toward narcissism and hostility in popular music. As they hypothesized, the words ‘I’ and ‘me’ appear more frequently along with anger-related words, while there’s been a corresponding decline in ‘we’ and ‘us’ and the expression of positive emotions.” I am personally outraged at popular music’s narcissism and anger. Just kidding! Although I wonder what level of narcissism is present in contemporary worship songs.

Al Mohler offers insights about why conservative churches are growing. Sure, evangelical churches are growing and the mainline churches aren’t. But what if the country as a whole is growing at a faster rate than evangelical churches are? That’s the relevant missional problem, it seems to me. I don’t particularly care if evangelical churches are growing because of transfer growth from mainline churches.

How do you contextualize Christianity in majority Muslim countries? One answer is the so-called “insider movement,” which encourages converts to continue to self-identify as Muslims and to attend prayer meetings at the mosque. Is that a good idea?

“What is the key spiritual issue of our time?” Jesus offered a two-fold answer: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Eboo Patel gets the second half right.

Joe Carter asks, “What Would Jesus Drink?” I get the feeling this one’s going to be controversial.

Francis Chan asks, “What would the church look like today if we really stopped taking control of it and let the Holy Spirit lead?” That’s a good question, especially for Pentecostals.

Over at AGTV, my dad explores “Life’s Greatest Question” from Mark 8:29–30.

The Welcome Rise of the Pastor-Scholar. Well, I certainly welcome its rise.

Christ Alone is the first book-length response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins. Extensive excerpts are available online. (My own review of Bell’s book is here.)

The 20th Annual Wheaton Theology Conference looked at the topic, “Global Theology in Evangelical Perspective.” You watch or listen to each of the lectures at the link.

Timothy Dalrymple begins a series on abortion over at Patheos.com. Part 1 looks at Kermit Gosnell and the climate of disregard for life created by the abortion industry.

If you’re into this kind of thing: the religious aspects of the upcoming royal wedding in the United Kingdom.

P.S. This is not really a religious story, but the White House has released President Obama’s certificate of live birth. This should put to rest all conspiracy theories about the president’s birth. Now if someone would just get Andrew Sullivan to shut up about Trig Palin.

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Here are ten religious posts that caught my eye today:

Lee Strobel discusses how Easter killed his faith in atheism. If you’re interested in the topic, check out N. T. Wright’s exhaustive study, The Resurrection of the Son of God, which—at 740 pages is not merely exhaustive but exhausting…to hold, anyway. Or read Michael Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, which is 22 pages shorter.

President Obama hosted an Easter Prayer Breakfast at the White House, and a reporter can’t help but note a political angle (in the penultimate paragraph). Personally, I cheer the president’s statement of faith. Raspberries on his politics, though.

Did the Last Supper occur on Thursday or Wednesday? I wouldn’t mind a few New Testament scholars weighing in with their evaluations…

Walter Russell Mead on how Christian faith matters in a world where the pace and intensity of change is so unsettling.

If capital punishment is a sin, is God a sinner (Genesis 9:6)?

Edward O. Wilson and other evolutionary biologists are having a fight about the origin of altruism, specifically, whether group selection or kin selection best explains its origin. Interestingly, forty years ago, Wilson promoted kin selection as the best explanation. For me, this argument demonstrates how difficult it is to overturn scholarly consensus.

The Barna Group reports on what Americans believe about universalism and pluralism.

Historian John Fea is halfway through a four part series on “the Civil War as a battle between two ‘Christian’ nations”: Part 1 is “One Nation, Under God, Indivisible.” Part 2 is “God’s Judgment Upon the South.” Fea is author of Was American Founded as a Christian Nation? Mark Noll has an excellent book on the Civil War you might want to read if you like Fea’s series: The Civil War as a Theological Crisis.

Ben Witherington posting a chapter-by-chapter critique of Bart Ehrman’s book, Forged: Writings in the Name of God—Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are: Introduction, Chapter 1, Chapter2 , Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, and Chapters 7 and 8.  I’m reading the book too and hope to have a (much shorter) review up in the next few weeks.

James Hannam argues that science and Christianity can get on better than you think. I always thought they can get along just fine, but evidently there are some atheists who think otherwise. Hannam is author of The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution, which I’m also reading and hoping to review in the near future.