Obama’s Church Choice Likely to be Scrutinized

November 19, 2008

Churches in the nation’s capital have started extending invitations to
President-elect Barack Obama and his family, touting their
African-American roots, their ties to presidents past and to Obama

The choices are abundant. Numerous, thriving congregations are an
easy walk from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Just across Lafayette Square from
the White House is St. John’s Church, an Episcopal parish known as the
“Church of the Presidents,” where presidents as far back as James
Madison have worshipped. St. John’s has a standing invitation: Pew 54
is the President’s Pew, reserved for the nation’s leader.

Or he could choose, as many presidents have done, not to attend
services at all. President George W. Bush, for instance, has only
infrequently attended services in Washington, occasionally going to St.

Whatever choice the Obamas make, it is sure to be analyzed through
the prism of Obama’s relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who
was Obama’s pastor for 20 years at Trinity United Church of Christ in

Obama resigned from Trinity during the presidential campaign after
inflammatory comments by Wright from the pulpit became a campaign issue.

Nick Shapiro, a spokesman for Obama’s transition, declined to discuss which church the Obamas might attend.

Obama has spoken frequently about the importance of his Christian
faith. In his 2006 book, “The Audacity of Hope,” he wrote that “the
historically black church offered me a second insight: that faith
doesn’t mean that you don’t have doubts, or that you relinquish your
hold on this world. … You needed to come to church precisely because
you were of this world, not apart from it.”

Despite those words, Obama has attended church sparingly in the past
several months. Since winning the election, he has spent Sunday
mornings at the gym. Many Washington-area churches hope that will
change after he is inaugurated.

At Metropolitan AME Church, a historic, predominantly black
congregation six blocks from the White House, senior pastor Ronald
Braxton says parishioners have been buzzing about the possibility that
the incoming president, his wife, Michelle, and their daughters, _
10-year-old Malia and 7-year-old Sasha _ might attend services with

Braxton said it would be good if Obama resumed worshipping at a congregation rooted in the black community.

“He’s familiar with African-American worship traditions,” Braxton
said, referring to Obama’s membership at Wright’s church in Chicago.
“Metropolitan AME would be a wise a choice and a safe haven in which to

Metropolitan AME has about 2,000 members, including former Clinton
administration insider Vernon Jordan and former Transportation
Secretary Rodney Slater, Braxton said. The church has a long history as
well _ Frederick Douglass worshipped and was eulogized there. Bill
Clinton attended inaugural prayer services there in 1993 and 1997.

Braxton said the AME denominational leadership is interested in
where the Obamas will worship, and is developing plans to extend a
formal invitation.

Church member Michael Horton said the congregation could provide the Obamas a base of moral support.

“Our current congregation is full of ‘agents-for-change,'” he said,
playing on one of Obama’s campaign themes. “I believe there is no
better place for the Obamas to worship and feel comfortable.”

The Clintons regularly attended Foundry United Methodist Church,
about a mile from the White House, during their White House years, but
never formally became members.

Senior pastor Dean Snyder said the congregation generally remembers
the Clintons’ time there fondly, with sporadic complaints about
security lines and metal detectors.

Snyder, whose congregation has staked out a strong position
supporting gay rights and gay marriage, said the congregation has
outreach plans to all new arrivals associated with the change in
administration, including efforts to get the word out to the First
Family “that Foundry is a welcoming church.”

The United Church of Christ, the denomination from which Obama
resigned when he left Wright’s church, issued a written invitation to
join a UCC denomination in Washington and resume his connections to the

The UCC is mostly white, a descendant of New England Puritanism. But
the denomination is diverse racially and culturally, stemming in part
from the church’s extensive involvement in the abolitionist movement.

“It would be an honor for the Obamas to attend a UCC church,” said
Nathan Harris, pastor at Lincoln Congregational Temple, a small UCC
congregation in Washington. “Hopefully he and his family will pray and
find a place that works for them.”

Randall Balmer, a professor of American religious history at
Columbia University who wrote “God in the White House: How Faith Shaped
the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush,” said there is
no obvious choice for Obama as he searches for a congregation.

And while he said Americans generally like to know that their
president goes to church on Sunday, they tend not to be concerned about
the particular denomination. He hopes that same deference will be
extended to the Obamas’ choice.

“I’m sure he’s going to be careful. He got burned,” Balmer said,
referring to the Wright controversy. “He probably will be a little bit
cautious with whom he associates.”

Pastors at D.C. congregations said they understand that their own
words would be scrutinized more closely if the First Family were
sitting in the pews, but universally said they wouldn’t change what
they preach.

“I hope that I am deliberate and thoughtful about what I say every Sunday,” Snyder said.

Source: Washington Post

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