Should Obama Attend Church?

South façade of the White House, the executive...
One place to pray. Image via Wikipedia

Tonight NBC Nightly News aired a clip from Matt Lauer’s interview with President Obama, in which he asked the President why he has not chosen a church to attend. He was told that so doing would create too much of a distraction for fellow parishioners, and that the President, instead, receives a daily “devotional” email from a group of pastors nationwide.

Presidents Clinton and Carter managed to choose and attend church while serving in the White House. Given that this Sunday is Easter, one of the most important, if not the most important, days of Christians’ liturgical calendar, this choice, or lack of one, strikes me as odd and evasive.

I began attending a local Episcopal church in 1998 after a personal crisis, being victimized by a criminal, made me deeply question my values, my decisions and my lack of a larger community. I don’t attend every week, but when I do it’s with immense gratitude for a place I’m thoughtfully reminded of deeper and wider values than my own petty personal concerns. I also appreciate being part of a larger community that has warmly welcomed me and my partner, a Buddhist, and helped nurture our spiritual growth. Many of our ministers and assistants, much to my surprise — not having been a “cradle Christian”, attending church faithfully since birth — have become beloved friends.

If Obama truly wants to participate in Christian life, being visible in this specific, chosen, sacred place is part of that commitment, as he knows. He and his wife and two daughters may arrive by limousine surrounded and protected by the Secret Service, but the unyielding hardness of a wooden pew, the Bible and the sermons based on it he would hear there each week, usefully remind us all that’s not how he — or any of us, regardless of our temporal wealth and power — will be leaving.

A good church (or mosque, temple, synagogue or any public place of worship) — and there are many that are not nourishing — is a plot of deep, rich, fertile soil, a place to put down some roots and see what blossoms. When you publicly and collectively meditate and pray for others, it reminds us of our larger humanity and our connection to those, as our service says every week, who are ill, dying, sick or in need.

From mensnewsdaily:

As you know, attending Sunday morning worship enables you to worship God, which for Christians is both a responsibility and privilege. These services help supply you with moral inspiration and spiritual strength, which are vital to your work as president. Attending habitually will also enable your wife and children to receive biblical instruction and Christian nurture. You have repeatedly claimed that your faith is important to you and helps guide your political priorities, policies, and work. You have frequently used religious rhetoric and scriptural principles and passages to support legislation you are promoting. You have also sought to enlist clergy, committed lay Christians, and religious organizations to work to achieve causes in which you believe strongly. Moreover, attending church faithfully would testify to your professed values and help you gain greater credibility with religious Americans.

Equally important, your regular attendance would set a good example for our nation.

Wrote Time:

Church, in fact, has been a surprisingly tough issue for the Obamas. They resigned their membership with Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago in 2008 after Obama renounced the church’s controversial former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. And while the First Family intended to find a local church to attend when they moved to Washington, concerns about crowds and displacing regular worshippers has prevented them from finding a new religious home during their first year here.

The Obamas have attended Sunday services in Washington three times this year — once at the predominantly African-American 19th Street Baptist Church, and twice at St. John’s Episcopal Church across Lafayette Square from the White House. Asked at Tuesday’s White House briefing whether the First Family is still searching for a local church to join, press secretary Robert Gibbs responded: “The President has attended fairly regularly up at Camp David a church that he’s comfortable in and has enjoyed attending.”

What do you think? Does it matter to you if he chooses a church and becomes a part of that larger community?

Or is he avoiding controversy and further political divisiveness by keeping his prayer life confined to the White House?

23 thoughts on “Should Obama Attend Church?

  1. ebizjoey

    Of course he should, and everyone else should attend service too. Up front, what does one loose if they are wrong, just die and nothing is their, gone- but if you are wrong, oh my, its not worth it at all, believe people! I have made my faith known in some comments at T/S, and I am sort of hurt that my web friend Rick Ungar called out a comment deriding me but not mine (I expected a grilling, no problem with that, but call me out too) in a post in the same vein, but yeah, he should, and it is not surprising given what was preached in Chicago and that he could not divorce himself from Rev. Wright anymore than he could his Grandmother that looneys are talking about the anti- you know, well he is inviting problems- perception is part of sophistication, and he is not looking well here. This needs to be talked about, thanks for writing- life is short, it is a priority topic as far as I can see, there is so much plain just bullsh.. made important, and it is not, but this does say something about a person, especially those raising children.

    1. Pascal’s Wager assumes that one can essentially dupe God by going through the motions, attending church, and pretending to care, you know, just in case. Why would such a person be rewarded by a God who supposedly rewards faith and genuine belief? Is the creator of the universe so easily fooled?

      You believe or you don’t. If you don’t, just live a good life, treat others kindly, and above all, be true to yourself and others.

  2. inmyhumbleopinion

    Heck, Caitlin. We’re not even evolved enough in this country to acknowledge that many people are atheist or agnostic, never mind getting into a constructive discussion about whether or not the President is a practicing Christian. It could be as simple as he hasn’t found the right fit for a congregation, or as potentially incendiary as he–gasp–isn’t that observant. Whatever the reason, I think it’s kind of refreshing that our President doesn’t wear his religion on his sleeve. So many of our problems in this world originate with fundamentalism and the inability to separate church and state. I think the Obamas should worship how they wish–or not.

    1. ebizjoey

      We have elections too and I don’t want no heeven running the country, they didn’t even go on Christmas, but went for years hearing that crap- he is getting a free pass! Back to ABC Lost…

  3. Susan Toepfer

    This is a country where citizens are free to worship as they choose. Why should the President not be allowed to worship as he chooses?

    1. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.” – Matthew 6:5

      Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.

      -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Danbury Baptist Association

      Amen, Susan. I find the whole notion that Obama needs to parade his private beliefs like some sort of pious peacock to satisfy the bible-thumpers invasive, vulgar, and more importantly, utterly irrelevant to his (or the country’s) spiritual life. He owes the nation nothing in this regard.

  4. Christianity does not have a monopoly on values or ethics. In fact, whatever values it offers are bundled with outdated scripture, bad law, and hateful beliefs. The Bible was used to justify slavery, now it’s used to justify homophobia and the denial of homosexual rights. While not all Christians embrace those views, they’ve also failed to reject or even alter these outdate parts of their cannon.

    I mean, God kills a guy in the Old Testament for pulling out. Let’s get real folks.

  5. mcair

    I happened to catch this stupid segment on the news tonight, Matt Lauer asking the president if he’s found a church yet, as though that’s any of his, or mine, or your business.

    Don’t you think the guy has enough on his plate without trying to force your religious mores upon him and his family, as though he’s somehow obligated to mirror your personal beliefs? It’s so trite, so ridiculous and so damn petty.

    Honestly lady, get a life. You go to church and you say how wonderful it is and all – great. You enjoy, and for the love of God, keep it to yourself, will ya?!!!!

  6. hidflect

    I think Obama is too smart to be a Christian. He’s a deist at best. Attendance at the Reverend Wright church smacked of political vote pandering to me. I think the Right Wing media suspect this, hence their constant “Muslim” tagging on him early in his campaign/presidency.

  7. Caitlin Kelly

    Thanks for your comments. I figured it would draw a range of feeling. It’s a fair question.

    Has anyone noticed how religion rarely gets discussed at True/Slant? I have.

  8. Without reading your article – only the headline – my answer is…only if he would anyway, regardless of whether or not he is President…

    It is hypocritical to attend church if it for political reasons.

  9. After reading the article, the President is attending to his faith in a way that is comfortable with him. Isn’t that what anyone would ask? We need to respect what works for one person doesn’t work for another. If it works for him -that’s great.

  10. Ms. Kelly,

    You asked:”What do you think? Does it matter to you if he chooses a church and becomes a part of that larger community?”

    No. If I were planning on undergoing brain surgery, the only question I would ask is if my surgeon were qualified to cut open my head, mess around with it, then put it back together in a fashion that would make me better. What he does in relation to church, temple, mosque, &c would never enter into it. The same is true for the President.

  11. Jerry Lanson

    I would rather have a president who is honest about his faith than one who puts on a show about his faith. Some Americans go to church (or synagogue or mosque or other). Others don’t. To me, it says nothing, one way or another, about their beliefs. It’s a personal matter how and whether someone worships.

  12. allamerican

    Does it really matter? This issue that Obama faces is such a catch 22. If he attends a church then the issue becomes which church, which religion and why. If he doesn’t, then does that shed light to his true ethical and moral standards? It makes no sense. Why do people need other people to do that THEY think is right? Shouldn’t spirituality be an individual experience? I don’t care what he does to celebrate his faith, as long as he’s willing to do the job that he has been hired for, that’s being the president. There are TOO many people with TOO many ideas, beliefs and cultures in this country for him to try to “relate” or “connect” to all of them, so why add this to the fire? To each their own, let us find comfort in our own faith and not worry so much about what others are doing with theirs. Maybe then we’ll find a little bit of peace.

  13. Pingback: The unchurched president · Secular Right

  14. I’ve been thinking about the difference between faith and organized religion a lot this week (it’s Holy Week, whattayagonna do?).

    The fact that the President hasn’t chosen any one particular organized religious community attend when he has time kind of makes me happy — especially after 8 years of overtly Christian leadership.

    I think that the President has some kind of moral core which is probably informed by beliefs that can best be described as faith. I think most people do — lord knows my belief in the power of the rational brain to work out most of life’s problems is something that I have to take “on faith” as there is so much evidence to the contrary. I’ve got no problem with our political leaders being informed by some sort of spirituality.

    But, I’m kinda glad that he hasn’t yet chosen one particular church as his own. I like it that when I hear the President talk and see him act, I can believe that these are his views — not the views of some pastor or deacon or messiah that nobody voted for.

  15. michaelnow

    What do you think? Does it matter to you if he chooses a church and becomes a part of that larger community?

    Or is he avoiding controversy and further political divisiveness by keeping his prayer life confined to the White House?

    funny those should be his only options. how about he is doing whatever he wants with a part of his life that is none of your business and has nothing to do with his job. remember the seperation of church and state?

  16. leonkelly

    I don’t think this is anybody’s business but the President and his family’s. Ours is a nation of religious freedom (and hopefully more tolerance going forward). His choice to attend (or to read e-mails) is his and his alone. We all know plenty of people who attend church on a regular basis who are mean and nasty the moment they walk out of church and mix with the rest of society.

  17. Caitlin Kelly

    Is there any subject more touchy? Interesting answers.

    There is a deliberate mis-reading of my question in saying I am suggesting he is faithless by not attending a specific church. No. I raise other questions about what becoming a parish member provides, some of which, as Obama has seen, can become politically problematic. I do not suggest he is lacking devotion, which, I agree, is not for me to say or guess — but as President he also plays a wide range of highly symbolic roles, as we all know. His “surprise” trip this week to Bagram?

    Places of worship are indeed illed with poorly behaved hypocrites. Side issue. My point is not that sitting in public view makes you any better or more faithful. If you publicly declare you are a Christian — and this is part of Obama’s person and political persona (and I look forward to the day we have a Jew or Muslim in the White House, although I won’t hold my breath), it’s a logical expectation you will actually choose and attend a church, even occasionally. No more, no less.

  18. john

    My answer is quite simple. It does not matter if he chooses a church and becomes a part of that larger community, he is already part of a much larger community as the leader of our secular republic. Part of that means, in addition to being on his own personal spiritual journey, he must be cognizant of, and a defender of all our people, including believers and non-believers, regardless of his faith.

    When it comes to politics, we spend way too much time interrogating people over their faith, rather than defending their right to practice whatever faith means to them. For Obama, I am sure he avoids controversy by keeping his faith personal, but that doesn’t matter. It’s no secret that at least one party is heavily dogmatic and has become more of a theocracy than a party that defends the principal of religious freedom in America. For that reason alone, having a president that choses to keep his faith personal should be celebrated.

  19. michaelnow

    ” it’s a logical expectation you will actually choose and attend a church, even occasionally.”
    since when does a “church” have anything to do with beeing a christian or a synagogue to do with beeing a jew? i reiterate my called out statement that none of this is anyone’s business and certainly seperate from state business which is where the symbolism of the presidency stricly resides.

  20. Pingback: Below The Beltway » Blog Archive » My Hopefully Last Post On The Inane “Obama Picking A Church” Meme

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