As everyone knows by now, the Obamas are between church homes. That’s a difficult place for any churchgoing family, but especially one that has become the focus of the fears and hopes of the entire world. Finding a new church won’t get any easier now that they’re moving into the White House.
I can’t imagine a more important or problematic decision for this young family to make. Important because Barack and Michelle Obama clearly want to raise their children in the church, and because no family will need the love, guidance and support of a faith community more than the Obamas in the next four to eight years. Problematic because this decision seems fraught with theological, political and symbolic complications.
Should they subject any pastor or congregation to the public scrutiny and scorn that their former pastor (Jeremiah Wright) and church (Trinity United Church of Christ) endured during the campaign? Or to security concerns, which could be even worse than those which kept Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush from going to church?
As the first African-American First Family, will they be criticized if they choose a black church, or if they don’t? If they choose a white pastor, or if they don’t? If they choose a United Methodist or American Baptist congregation rather than a historically black denomination? If they choose a church across town, or in a tonier part of town rather than one near the White House?
After the Wright fiasco, dare they choose another church in the liberal United Church of Christ denomination, or another pastor who subscribes to black liberation theology? And if they don’t, will they be criticized for bowing to political pressures? Just about any choice they make will be seen as political by some.
And what about the National Cathedral? On Faith co-moderator Sally Quinn suggests that might be the perfect choice for America’s new First Family. Symbolically, there isn’t a more pluralistic Christian church around. But despite the interfaith openness, it’s still an Episcopal church. Can the president possibly choose a church in a denomination currently being torn apart over the issue of gay marriage and ordination?
No doubt the Obamas are getting plenty of advice. In fact, according to Post religion reporters Michelle Boorstein and Jacqueline Salmon, the Obamas are being courted by Methodist, Baptist, United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian and Episcopal congregations. “This is unique in American political history,” said Gary Scott Smith, a history professor at Grove City College and author of “Faith and the Presidency.”
I was going to suggest that they not choose A Church. I was going to suggest that the Obamas spend the next four to eight years visiting every possible house of worship from Baptist to Buddhist, from Methodist to Mormon to Muslim, from Catholic to Jewish to Pentecostal. It would be a great learning experience for the First Family and for all of us. And what an opportunity to make a statement for America’s brand of religious tolerance and pluralism.
But that’s not fair. The Obamas are going to have to make plenty of sacrifices over the next few years. Their family’s faith life shouldn’t be one of them. They should pick the church that’s best for them and their girls. And we should agree that it’s no one else’s business and leave them alone about it.