First family's search for a church draws scrutiny

Associated Press / April 12, 2009
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WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama and his family are looking for a new church, but his decision represents more than merely settling on a pew.

The Obamas planned to attend Easter services today, marking the president's first visit to a Washington church since taking office in January. Aides have been secretive about which church the first family will attend, citing security and the desire not to disrupt services for other worshippers. They caution that the church Obama visits might not signal that he has decided on a permanent place of worship.

Obama's choice of a permanent pastor is sure to draw scrutiny, given his history with a pastor in Chicago whose bombastic sermons almost destroyed Obama's presidential bid.

"On one level, I think he's just getting acclimated to DC. . . . Easter is a very important day in the Christian calendar; he's a Christian," said J. Kameron Carter, who teaches theology and black church studies at Duke University. "But you are the president. Whatever decision he makes is going to be analyzed with a fine-tooth comb."

Obama's campaign was blind-sided last year when video surfaced of his friend and pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, condemning the United States and suggesting the government was to blame for the HIV/AIDS scourge on black communities. Wright's sermons forced the then-senator to deliver two speeches: the first, a tempered defense of the pastor whose rhetoric inspired the name of Obama's memoir; later, a speech about Obama's views on race that has been viewed almost 6 million times online.

Wright followed up with a media tour that personally frustrated Obama and politically enraged his aides. Obama left Trinity United Church of Christ and has been without an official house of worship since then, instead relying on a close circle of advisers and pastors to help him in private.

But Obama has told his advisers he needs a church, and he faces choices.

Obama spent last Easter in the US Virgin Islands and Christmas in Hawaii.

But for his first major Christian holiday as president, Obama is publicly marking the celebration. Obama enlisted aides, friends, and advisers to scout out more than a dozen churches in the Washington area.