A year ago, the big question was "where would the Obamas go to church?" From a human interest angle, it was right up there with what kind of dog they'd get and where the girls would go to school. Everyone had ideas about what church community they would join. A year later, the Obamas have not joined a church and have taken a private approach to their faith expression and formation, one that does not routinely include a faith community.
Ariel Sabar of the Boston Globe reports:
...since President Obama took office a year ago, his faith has largely receded from public view. He has attended church in the capital only four times, and worshiped half a dozen times at a secluded Camp David chapel. He prays privately, reads a “daily devotional’’ that aides send to his BlackBerry, and talks to pastors by phone, but seldom frames policies in spiritual terms.
The greater privacy reflects not a slackening of devotion, but a desire to shield his spirituality from the maw of politics and strike an inclusive tone at a time of competing national priorities and continuing partisan division, according to people close to the White House on faith issues.
“There are several ways that he is continuing to grow in his faith, all of them - or practically of all them - he’s trying to keep as private and personal as possible so they will not be politicized,’’ said Pastor Joel C. Hunter, who is part of an inner circle of pastors the president consults by phone for spiritual guidance.
The apparent lack of interest in a public religious life has been noticed by some religious leaders and political analysts, who say it opens Obama to questions of sincerity. Others point out that his support among religious voters his campaign attracted might be threatened as well.
“You can’t be using the church just to get elected and then push the church to the side,’’ said the Rev. Wilfredo De Jesus, a prominent Chicago pastor who had campaigned for Obama among Hispanic evangelicals, many of whom had voted in earlier elections for George W. Bush. “If the president says he’s Christian, then in his narrative, and in his speeches and in his life, that should be displayed.’’
Some say his administration has just had too much on the plate:
“We have a recession, we have the health care agenda - Obama has taken on so much, why add one more thing, especially one that you can’t legislate on?’’ said Professor Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College.
Of course, the president has concerns that very few Americans have to worry about. Security, for one thing, and the fact that someone has actually counted how many times and where he and his family have gone to church. He also has resources that most Americans do not have: aides who text him devotions, military chaplains who can come in and out of the White House or Camp David, and a circle of pastors who can advise him by phone.
The missing ingredient is community. In this respect, the church-shopping Obamas of a year ago and the private faith that uses personal resources is a position that is like many Americans, who can shop for a faith that suits their needs and tastes on-line, in stores and in the media. While institutional religion declines in trust and support, the idea of a community of faith often gets lost.