Monday, November 24, 2008

Where Will the Obamas Go to Church?

Among the many things that have been the subject of conjecture regarding the Obama administration and the new first family, there has been one issue has flown under the radar.

Lost among repeated conversations regarding the president-elect's choice for Secretaries of State and Treasury, whether or not the auto industry should be bailed out and how he will handle the financial crisis in general, is the yet unanswered question: where will the new first family worship?

As with almost any other family, this is a personal matter. But given the near unprecedented controversy surrounding Barack Obama's faith, his church and how both influence his politics where the new Chief Executive and his family go to church will be a matter of great attention in the near future. Like, the first Sunday they all go to church after inauguration...

There evidently something of a competition for the Obama's church membership. The Washington Post reports, "When Amy Butler, pastor of Calvary Baptist in Northwest Washington decided to woo the Obamas, a friend in the local faith community had some advice: 'He just laughed and told me that I should get in line.' "

You can well imagine what a coup it would be to have the newest and most popular couple in town as members of your church!

The report continues, " 'I can't recall another situation where there is this kind of interest before the president even takes office in terms of where he is going to go to church, and churches campaigning for his attendance,' said Gary Scott Smith, author of "Faith and the Presidency" and a history professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. 'This is unique in American political history.' "

However, I'm a little partial to columnist's Sally Quinn's suggestion: what about the Washington National Cathedral?

Quinn's rationale? "It's the place where, in recent years, presidents have gone for the inaugural prayer service the day after being sworn in, where ex-presidents are mourned at their death, where presidents and Americans as a people congregate during moments of crisis, as they did after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. 'The reality is that the cathedral serves as a sacred space for the nation,' says Sam Lloyd, dean of the cathedral. 'A place the nation looks to in critical times.' Washington National Cathedral also transcends politics and even the separation of religions. Though nominally an Episcopal church, it welcomes everyone. It is at once deeply Christian and deeply interfaith. The Episcopal Church has a long history of inclusiveness."

I think the idea has some merit. Inclusive and interfaith enough for there not to be the appearance of endorsing one denomination over another. But I believe it also provides the incoming president and his family with the spiritual nurture and support that has been integral to their lives.

Ms. Quinn goes on to say, "The Jeremiah Wright episode, though hopelessly misunderstood by most Americans, drove Obama to give his speech on race in America. 'The most segregated hour of American life occurs on Sunday morning,' he said. For the first time, many white Americans were exposed to rhetoric inside a black church that shocked and surprised them. But what it really did was to expose a deep religious divide in the country.

"Last year was the 100th anniversary of Washington National Cathedral. It was celebrated for an entire year, with the theme being reconciliation. Archbishop Desmond Tutu flew in from South Africa to kick off the large anniversary dinner. The church spent a week considering the subject of racial reconciliation, with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) delivering a Sunday sermon and playing a key role. There have been large conferences on gender and equality, with participation by women's advocacy groups from this country and the developing world."

Again, I like the idea. But while I believe its important to have a man of faith as the leader of the free world, I hope that each of these churches and the rest of us keep something in mind illustrated by the following story:

One Christmas Eve, a Washington D.C. church received a telephone call. The secretary put the call through to the pastor saying the man on the other line was interested in attending service that evening but wanted to know something about the church.

The pastor took the call and the voice on the other line said, "We're visiting D.C. and want to come to church on Christmas Eve. But we want to know whether this is the church the President attends and would he be there for the service."

"Well", said the pastor, "the President attends this church quite often, however, I'm sure he is very busy and we just don't have any word as to whether or not he will be at services on this evening. On the other hand we are quite certain the Lord will be here and His Presence is usually sufficient to carry on with worship."

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