My Google News religion search included an interesting headline for a Los Angeles Times story: “Obama, family spend Christmas at vacation home, forgo church services.” But when I linked on the story, the actual headline was “Obama visits Hawaiian base.”
Having just been at the Marine base President-elect Barack Obama visited in Kailua, Hawaii — my father-in-law was stationed there when my husband was born — I was excited to read the story anyway. Of course, I was excited to read something about Obama dining on musubi, a Spam sushi roll that my husband made me try during my visit there. Delicious. Anyway, there was a brief tidbit that referenced the Google News headline:
Their Christmas did not include attending church. “The president-elect didn’t want to disrupt a church community on Christmas with the burdens that come with a presidential visit,” Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said Thursday.
It’s a good and important detail in a story covering the Hawaii trip in general. For those looking for more information about the Obama’s long-term church plans, John McCormick of the Chicago Tribune had an entire story on the topic, “Between Churches And Worried About Security, Obama Misses Out On Religious Services“:
Barack Obama has long stressed the importance of religion in his life.
But as his fellow Christians around the world attended Christmas services on Wednesday and Thursday, the president-elect and his family remained sequestered at their vacation compound on the windward coast of Oahu.
His lack of attendance at formal religious services showcased a dilemma faced by Obama, who is between churches and often also expresses concern about bringing the disruption of his security detail into the lives of others.
Still, he has not attended a public church service since before being elected.
The article goes on to use the same LaBolt statement quoted above. It’s so odd — and perfectly understandable, when it’s the president-elect — to have the church attendance decisions of any individual discussed in national news. This story did a good job of balancing the Obamas’ stated belief in the importance of church attendance with the challenges of making that decision under their new circumstances.
Here’s Obama talking about the issue with the newspaper:
“Michelle and I have not found a home church since we left Trinity [United Church of Christ]. And it didn’t make sense for us to join one now, right before we’re about to move,” he said. “So, I’m reliant on the pastors who are friends of mine and who I talk to for support and my own prayer life at home.”
The article mentions that churchgoing is not a regular habit of many recent presidents and that context is most helpful. The one question that I’m curious about is sacramental life. These stories never seem to mention how the sacraments are handled for presidents who don’t worship regularly. As someone who receives Holy Communion weekly, I can’t imagine going for any length of time without it. I believe there is some variance in how Holy Communion is administered in the United Church of Christ, which is what Obama’s only previous congregation is, but the church body does recognize two sacraments — “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.”
The story spends a lot of time discussing the politics of Obama’s religious decisions, including his choice of Pastor Rick Warren to pray the invocation at the inauguration, but it would be nice to have a bit more focus on the religious aspects of presidential worship.