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