Over the years I have had the privilege of helping families find a church to call their own. It’s an important decision. Parents want to be sure there are substantive programs to help their children grow spiritually. They also want to be sure the worship experiences and educational opportunities will promote their own continued faith development.
It’s a big decision, and that’s under normal circumstances. Imagine the whole country is watching and waiting for you to decide where you will go for worship. Feel any pressure?
Welcome to President Obama’s world.
Of course, the Obamas have not made a final decision about where they will attend worship regularly. It was tough enough just trying to decide where to go Easter Sunday. After no small deliberation, the Obama family decided to attend services at the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church. A safe move, and an appropriate decision. Every president since James Madison has attended a service at St. John’s.
The president’s situation in searching for a church to join is complicated by several factors. For one thing, former President Bush was an outspoken proponent of the Christian faith. In fact, some commentators described Bush as the de facto leader of the Christian Right.
Additionally, over the past 25 years, conservative Christians have been visible and active in the political process. Whatever the U.S. Constitution may express about separation of church and state, in every election since the Carter presidency, Christian concerns have become part of the political debate.
We also cannot overlook President Obama’s own approach to faith during his campaign. There was a concerted effort to reach out to evangelicals as well as other people of faith. It was clear from the outset of the presidential race that then candidate Obama was just as comfortable in his faith as President Bush had ever been.
And then there is the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, President Obama’s former pastor. As Rev. Wright’s incendiary preaching looped over and over again in the 24-hour news cycle, it became impossible not to ask how this preaching might have affected Barack Obama.
So of course the whole country is watching to see where the Obamas will go to church. And no matter where they go, the second guessing over their decision will go on endlessly.
It will be like the woman married to a man who was never happy with anything she did. One day he asked her to cook him two eggs—one fried, one scrambled.
Believing she could not go wrong, she rushed into the kitchen and cooked up the eggs. As she placed them before her grumpy husband, he replied, “You scrambled the wrong egg.”
For some, no matter where the Obamas go to church, it will be the wrong egg.
By the way, it’s no picnic for the church either. I asked Philip Wogaman who was the Clintons’ pastor while they were in the White House, what it was like to have the President of the United States regularly attend services.
“It’s a pain,” he said, without a hint of humor. “The Secret Service basically takes over the building. If the Clintons arrive late, people have to be moved around. It’s a big distraction.”
He was thoughtful for a moment and then he said, “But it’s also sort of special. For an hour, the leader of the free world sits humbly in the presence of God.”
That is sort of special. Maybe we should let the Obamas worship in peace.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.