This is actually an interesting question and I’ll be watching the media today (once I get home from a festive family event near Boston) to see if the First Family makes it into a pew somewhere other than Camp David.
I raise this question because I hang out from time to time with reporters in Washington, D.C., who care about religion and the news and one of the questions that keeps coming up is this: When is President Barack Obama going to start going to church? This question is especially important to people who care about the role of the black church in public life.
Over at Religion News Service, veteran reporter Adelle Banks asked a related question in a recent story. The headline at the wire service’s home page put it this way: “Is Obama ignoring black church leaders?” It opens like this:
When President Obama was elected, some black pastors, fresh from a campaign that featured extensive outreach to their churches, expected meetings with the president, or at least to be enlisted as informal advisers.
For better or worse, those expectations have largely fallen flat.
“I think he doesn’t avail himself as fully as he could of the input of black religious thinkers, and this is not a judgment upon his regard for us,” said Obery Hendricks, a professor at New York Theological Seminary. “I’m not sure why that is.”
The Rev. James Forbes, the former senior pastor of New York’s Riverside Church, said the White House is doing a delicate dance in the aftermath of Obama’s ties — and public breakup — with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his former pastor, whose fiery sermons nearly derailed his campaign.
“It has to be a consideration: How does the first black president position himself in the public eye in regards to blacks?” said Forbes, who has neither been invited nor sought access to the Obama White House. “I think his handlers would assume that they want to make him as color-blind as he can possibly be.”
That’s one theory, but there are others. Maybe, when it comes to picking an approach to the Christian faith, Obama simply doesn’t fit very well in the historic black church? After all, while the press loved to describe Wright as a powerful figure in African-American church life, his fiery preaching truly blended the content of liberal mainline Protestantism (especially, as has been noted, the work of the intellectual James H. Cone) and the imagery and themes of traditional black preaching.
In fact, when you read through Banks’ news feature, note the zip codes represented by the leaders that leap into the picture when talking about Obama. Other than a few voices from Atlanta — a city with a wide range of pulpits, in terms of theology and politics — the emphasis is clearly on the more liberal mainline Protestant side of the black church scene. Where are the evangelicals and major Pentecostal leaders?
However, it helps to remember that Obama — like Wright — found his natural church home in the predominately white and openly liberal (or progressive, if you prefer that word) United Church of Christ. Remember those powerful TV advertisements that tested the borders of free speech on commercial television?
So, once again, what (other than questions about personal safety) would prevent the Obama family from returning to its theological roots and settling down at a United Church of Christ congregation inside the District, like, let’s say, the Peoples Congregational United Church of Christ? That would seem to be a natural home, for a theologically liberal Christian. It would be a natural political home, as well, based on the content of Banks’ timely article.
What’s the problem?
It’s Easter. Do you know where your president is? There’s a story there, based on the faith-based persona Obama created in his White House campaign.
P.S. After writing this, I heard via a friend to a friend connection that it does appear that the president is headed to church for Easter. If it’s one of the District’s powerful black churches, it will be interesting to see if any of these issues show up in the coverage.