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Can any sitting President join a church in DC?

Can any sitting President join a church in DC?

It’s been widely noted that President Obama has not managed to join a congregation in DC since arriving there three years ago. He attends church at Camp David, occasionally at St. John’s Lafayette Square, and other places. But he’s not settled in, nor did his predecessor George W. Bush.


Amy Sullivan, writing in Time Magazine, points out that there are reasons beyond the obvious and frequently cited ones of personal security and disruption of the worship service. By simply attending a congregation, for instance, it may be understood by some that a President in endorsing a position he or she doesn’t intend to endorse.

“It’s not surprising then that the President would be a bit wary about joining a new church. As Republican candidates have discovered during this presidential campaign, they are now questioned about sermons their pastors have given–even statements made by religious leaders who are associated with them–and positions that their churches hold. If Obama were to choose a new church, the congregation would be under a microscope about its beliefs and every sermon would be treated as a potential political statement.

Technology has only made this increased politicization of a candidate or president’s religion more acute and made it nearly impossible to worship in peace. Whenever the Obamas attend a historically-black church in Washington, people start lining up hours before the service, crowding out regular church members and jostling to get video of the First Family. Even at St. John’s, which is used to presidential visitors, gawkers have taken cellphone photos of Obama on his way up the aisle. That simply wasn’t a problem the Clintons had to deal with in the 1990s. Congregants might stop by to shake Bill Clinton’s hand as they filed back from communion, but no one would have had the nerve to whip out an old-school camcorder.

Nor would they have been able to listen to Foundry’s sermon via webcast or podcast. Compare that to this week, when it would take just minutes to cause mischief with the sermon Obama heard on Sunday. Sure, the Rev. Luis Leon made clear that he wasn’t delivering a political sermon–”This isn’t a political diatribe, by the way.” But if you pull out other statements, you could make it seem as if Leon delivered a sermon denouncing Obama and his supporters instead of a meditation on preparing for the birth of Christ. “We were expecting a messiah to be our President,” Leon said. ”We were creating an illusion about what was happening in America and we were going to be disillusioned sometime down the road.””

More here.

Valid point? Should we give up expecting the Presidents to put faith before politics?

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John Robison

John Quincy Adams attended worship services at all three of the Churches in DC at the time of his Presidency. Presbyterian in the AM, Unitarian in the early afternoon and Episcopal for Evensong. HIs wife would make similar rounds, except when Holy Communion was offered at the Episcopal Church, in which case she gave the Unitarians a skip. They were a mixed family.

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Jim Naughton

I am a fan of Amy Sulivan's, but this essay is not persuasive. As Peter points out, George W. Bush and his wife Laura went to St. John's with great frequency. They were good friends of the Leons (staunch Democrats), and spent time together away from church. Luis gave the invocation at W's second inaugural. This all took place during a period when the actions of the Episcopal Church on LGBT issues was under constant criticism from many in the President's party, yet W's attendance at St. john's never became much of an issue.

I have no feelings about whether Barack Obama should join a church. Bush, whom I think is still a Methodist, never joined St. John's. Just saying that it is possible for a President to have a regular place of worship.

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Peter Ackerman

I question the wording of the not "being able to join a church" as you have indicated here. As it relates to George W. Bush, whenever he was in D.C. he could always be found worshipping at St. John's Lafayattee Square at the early service. I went many times in 2004 to that service and always found him there when he was in town. Now, he may not have pledged or transferred in, but he was in the pews more often than not, which seems to go against what the article is trying to prove.

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