The ‘Scandal’ of Obama’s Empty Pew

The religious right is worried about Barack Obama and his family. Specifically, they worry that the First Family is not going to church. Well, actually, they’re worried that President Obama has “misled” them about his commitment to warming a pew every Sunday.

As a candidate, Mr. Obama made his Christian faith and involvement in a local church community with regular church attendance a key component of his campaign. Once he was elected President, there has been no relationship with a local church and he did not even attend any Christmas services celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ with his family.

The issue is not if a person has to attend church to be an effective President. They do not. The issue for Mr. Obama is one of integrity and honesty with the American people.

It’s refreshing that Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney from the Christian Defense Coalition realizes that going to church doesn’t make one a good or bad president, but this is just the tip of the iceberg on a litany of complaints about Obama’s “misleading” of the “Christian community.” Mahoney goes on to list “other troubling signs regarding the depth of his Christian faith.”

The first example comes from a speech in April at Georgetown University where “the President covered up a white cross and a symbol for the name of Jesus,” during the speech. The White House explained that it wanted a simple backdrop for the policy speech, and the university happily complied. However, the drape didn’t constitute a complete scrubbing of Jesus from the speech:

While the “IHS” directly behind where Obama spoke was covered over, said the monogram was still visible in 26 other places in the hall during his speech. Those areas just weren’t as prominent.

Besides, there’s this idea of separation of church and state that Obama should be praised for observing.

Other items on the list are no surprise: Obama skipping the right-wing sponsored “National Day of Prayer” but having the audacity to actually speak to gay and lesbian rights groups and promise to move their issues along during his presidency, or Obama’s continuing commitment to abortion rights.

The one on the list that puzzled me the most was this one:

In the midst of the worst economic downturn in decades, Team Obama spent $150,000,000 on the Presidential Inauguration ignoring the needs of the poor and struggling across the country.

This is a right-wing talking point that has been soundly refuted by several sources. The political right-wing alleged that President Bush’s 2005 inauguration only cost $42.3 million, but failed to take into account the cost of security shouldered by the District of Columbia and the federal government. When that is factored in – there’s really no contest between Obama’s spending and Bush’s:

A report from The New York Times states that the District of Columbia and the federal government spent a combined $115.5-million in 2005, “most of it for security, the swearing-in ceremony, clean-up and for a holiday for federal workers.”

(In addition to the $42.3-million Mr. Bush’s inaugural committee spent)

By that math, Bush spent about $7 million more than Obama, while “ignoring the needs of the poor and struggling across the country.”

Mahoney’s complaint begs the question of just how much value Americans put on weekly (or even regular) church attendance. According to polls, less than half of Americans are in church on any given Sunday — around 42 to 43 percent, depending on the poll. Oddly, those numbers have remained steady over the years, while actual church attendance has been in decline, leading researchers to believe that those good allegedly churchgoing folks may not exactly be truthful with pollsters.

Presser and Stinson found that many Americans were not at church when they claimed to be. Their best estimates are that the percentage of adults who actually attended religious services during the previous weekend dropped from 42% in 1965 to 26% in 1994.

Presser said: “We asked people, tell us everything you did in the last 24 hours so we can know what chemicals you might have been exposed to. If somebody went to church, they ought to tell us, but if they didn’t go, they shouldn’t manufacture it. We didn’t do what most polls of religious belief do, and ask, ‘Did you go to church in the last seven days?,’ which some might interpret as being asked whether they were good people and good Christians.”

So, if most Americans aren’t in church on Sunday morning themselves, are they really going to be concerned about whether the president is in the pew or not? Being in church doesn’t make you any more a Christian than being in a garage makes you a car. Most Americans, I would think, could tell the character of a person’s faith by how they live, not where they spend Sunday morning. By that measure, I myself, have some questions about Obama’s faith, especially as he backpedals on his promises to the gay and lesbian community, his penchant for bending to Republican pressure, and his commitment to continuing Bush’s war in Afghanistan – but his church attendance isn’t something I care about.

The religious right, however, seems obsessed with the church going habits of the current resident and what that says about the depth of his faith, but I don’t recall them complaining about George W. Bush’s lack of church attendance or the backsliding by Ronald Reagan (because security would be disruptive to service, he said). Instead, these are regarded as “Godly men” by the religious right, mainly because they agreed with the religious right on social issues. As long as the White House occupant is on board with their issues, they can spend Sunday morning doing whatever they please without fear of retribution or complaint – but let a “Kenyan-born, secret Muslim” try it and the concern trolls will always crawl out from under the bridge to lodge spurious complaints.

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