(CNSNews.com) – As of Tuesday, three days before Christmas, the White House did not know if President Barack Obama would be attending church to celebrate Jesus' birth.
During his first year in office, Obama has not regularly attended a Washington-area church. He left his Chicago church in 2008 when its outspoken pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, became a liability to his presidential campaign.
“I don't know what the president's schedule is. As I mentioned at the very beginning, some of that is up in flux,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said when CNSNews.com asked if the president would attend church on Christmas.
Obama and his family were scheduled to leave Washington on Wednesday to spend Christmas in Hawaii, but on Tuesday, Gibbs told reporters that the schedule might change if Obama chooses to stay in Washington for the Senate’s expected Christmas Eve vote on health care reform.
In response to occasional questions this year about Obama's non-attendance at a Washington-area church, Gibbs has told reporters that the first family is still searching for a church. “The president has, as you all know and as we’ve discussed, attended fairly regularly up at Camp David a church that he’s comfortable in and has enjoyed attending,” Gibbs said Tuesday in response to CNSNews.com's question.
“The president also understands that whenever he does go to church it’s, in many ways – there are a number of inconveniences that other parishioners have to go through, and the president has tried in many ways to minimize that,” he added.
In July, the White House told CNSNews.com that First Lady Michelle Obama was in charge of handling questions from the press about whether and when the Obama family would join or attend a church in Washington. But repeated requests to her press office asking for a response to that question went unanswered. (See earlier story: First Lady's Office Mum on When Obamas Will Pick A Church to Attend, July 21, 2009)
For more than two decades Obama attended Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. In 2008, videos of the Rev. Wright's sermons surfaced, showing the pastor making racist and anti-American remarks.
Wright referred to the United States as the “United States of KKK of America,” a reference the militant white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan; and after the 9/11 terror attacks, Wright declared that “America’s chickens have come home to roost.”
Obama first claimed he was not aware of any of Wright's inflammatory remarks but later announced that he and his family were leaving the church.
Over the summer, Time magazine reported that the Obama family would be making the Camp David's Evergreen Chapel, led by Navy chaplain Carey Cash, their church home.
Cash is the great nephew of singer Johnny Cash. Obama told religion reporters in July that Cash “delivers as powerful a sermon as I've heard in a while. I really think he's excellent.”
The Camp David church is off limits to the public and the media, and only a few military families attend.
However, the White House corrected Time’s assertion that the family had settled on a church.
“The president and first family continue to look for a church home,” White House spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said in a July 4 Los Angeles Times story. “They have enjoyed worshiping at Camp David and several other congregations over the months, and will choose a church at the time that is best for their family.”
In October, The Washington Post did a profile on Cash, a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, an Iraq War veteran and a critic of Islam.
According to the Post, Cash called Islam a violent faith that “from its very birth has used the edge of the sword as a means to convert or conquer those with different religious convictions.”
The organization Military Religious Freedom Foundation has criticized Cash for proselytizing Christianity in the military and for his participation with Campus Crusade for Christ’s Military Ministry, a program for evangelical chaplains.
The Post reported that Cash would not speak to reporters at the request of the White House, but the newspaper quoted friends and people who served with him in Iraq during his 2003 deployment as having high praise for him. He reportedly baptized more than 50 men during the war.