(CNSNews.com) – The White House has told CNSNews.com that First Lady Michelle Obama is in charge of handling questions from the press about whether and when the Obama family will join and attend a church in Washington. But repeated requests to her press office asking for a response to that question have gone unanswered.
Although President Obama has not had difficulty selecting a golf course on numerous Sundays since he took the oath of office (see earlier story by CNSNews.com), choosing a church has resulted in a wide range of statements on the subject, from Obama himself as well as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Joshua DuBois, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Statements by Obama and his spokesmen on the subject date back to May 2008, when Obama officially resigned from Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago where he had been a member for 20 years. The resignation came after news reports focused on repeated controversial statements from the pastor of the church, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Back then, Obama told reporters his family would probably not join another church until after the November presidential election.
“But, you know, I'm confident that we're going to be able to find a church that we find comfortable with and that will reflect our concerns and our values,” Obama said at a May 31, 2008 press conference when he announced he was leaving the Trinity United Church of Christ.
“I'm not going to approach this as a political exercise. This is a deeply personal exercise about trying to express your faith,” Obama said at that press conference.
“Now, you know, Michelle and I, our lives are fairly unsettled right now. We don't know how this nomination's going to go. We don't know how the remainder of the election's going to go. I'm travelling all the time anyway, so I'm gone on Sundays oftentimes. And so we probably won't make any firm decision on this until January or when we know what our lives are going to be like.”
“You know, this is where you trust in God's will,” Obama said. “I assume he will lead us to a place where we can worship him and do good work. But it does raise an important point. I don't want--you know, I don't consider Christianity a place to avoid the real problems in the world. My faith tells me that we have to engage in those real problems in the world. And, you know, sometimes when you're engaging in the real problems that are out there, there's going to be some conflict and some controversy, and I would expect that I'd have a pastor who would not shy away from speaking out on those issues when he or she saw fit.”
Two days before being sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, Obama, his wife, and their daughters, Sasha and Malia, attended the predominately black 19th Street Baptist Church. On Jan. 18, 2009 The Politico reported that the then-president elect had said he sees church membership as a way to bridge the gap between the capitol’s two halves, and that the first family will visit several churches before settling on a church home.
On inauguration day, Obama and his family – as tradition dictates – attended a service at the National Cathedral.
The next time the Obamas went to church was on Easter when the attended services at St. John’s Episcopal Church, a church attended by many presidents dating back to James Madison. The church, which is not far from the White House, is known as “the church of the presidents.”
But Dubois said that visit did not mean the Obamas had picked a church.
“The First Family has not made a decision yet on which church they will formally join in Washington, but they were honored to worship with the parishioners at St. John’s Episcopal Church and at 19th Street Baptist Church earlier this year,” DuBois said.
In March, McClatchy newspapers reported that the search for a home church might be complicated by both the controversy stirred by Rev. Wright and security requirements that would be imposed on other church members.
“The Obamas are committed Christians,” DuBois told McClatchy. “What has become clear is it’s no easy task.”
DuBois did not say which churches the Obamas were considering, but that multiple denominations were being considered, both historically black and mixed-race congregations, according to McClatchy.
On April 9, in advance of Easter, The Politico reported that Gail Anderson Holness, president of the Council of Churches of Greater Washington, confirmed that the more than 100 churches on the council had signed a letter welcoming Obama to D.C. and inviting him to attend.
“Since he is going to be in the area, I think he would be in worship and have his children involved in the process of worship too,” Holness said. “But my belief is that that decision solely rests with him and Michelle.”
A White House aide told The Politico in that article that the Obamas were leaning toward an African-American church, citing Obama’s first book, “Dreams of My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance,” that there was “something compelling him about the African-American worship tradition and that remains the same. He has made his perspective pretty clear.”
Media reports about Obama attending the church at Camp David led to a June 29 story by Time magazine claiming Obama had decided to make Evergreen Chapel his primary place of worship – a claim denied the same day by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs at a press briefing when asked if that were true.
“No,” Gibbs said. “There have been no formal decisions about joining a church. I think I’ve mentioned in here in the past couple of weeks that when he goes to Camp David he has attended services in the chapel there, he enjoys the pastor there.”
“They’ve not formally joined that church and there have been no formal decisions on joining a church in this area,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs went on to repeat Dubois’s claim about logistical difficulties.
“I will say I think one aspect of the article that is true, as I mentioned here in that same discussion, was the concern that the president continues to have about the disruptive nature of his presence on any particular Sunday in some churches around the area,” Gibbs said. “I think that was discussed in the article. And I know he is -- I think obviously he shares the strong belief that there's a very personal nature to one's spirituality. And for it to be -- for his presence to be disruptive, I think he believes that takes away from the experience that others might get and he certainly doesn't want to do that.”
In the July 19 Washington Post, however, under the headline “Obama Becoming A Man About Town,” an article detailed the Obama family’s frequent outings in the D.C. area to see sporting events, visit eateries and attend culture and arts events.
The article compared Obama with Bush, who it said preferred to spend evenings at home or at his Texas ranch.
“In their first two weeks in D.C. the Obamas probably went out more than President Bush ever did,” Victoria Isley, marketing chief of the D.C. Visitors Bureau, was quoted in the article as saying.
On July 2, President Obama met with a group of reporters – mostly those from Catholic news organizations -- ahead of his recent trip abroad, which included a visit with Pope Benedict XVI.
According to the National Catholic Register, Obama said that finding a D.C.-area church was proving difficult.
“Michelle and I decided that we would wait a few months after arriving before we made a decision on this, partly – let’s be blunt: I mean, we were pretty affected by what happened at Trinity and the controversy surrounding Reverend Wright,” Obama said at the meeting. “It made us very sensitive to the fact that, as president, the church we attend can end up being interpreted as speaking for us at all times.”
He also said that he and Michelle might not pick one church at all.
“We may choose, rather than to join just one church, to rotate and attend a number of different churches,” Obama said.
On July 6, Religion News Service reported that although he misses attending church, Obama said Dubois sends him “a little note of sustenance” every day on his Blackberry.
“Every morning I get something to reflect on, which I very much appreciate,” Obama said.