If President-elect Obama chooses not to attend church, that’s his business. The idea that our president must attend church, flies in the face the very religious liberty upon which our nation is founded. But telling us that he has made that choice because he “doesn’t want to disrupt the service for others” stretches even this supporter’s ability to trust his answer on this issue.
For starters, my guess is that while his attendance at a church of his choosing would cause some logistical challenges, on balance, most worshippers would be delighted share a pew with the president-elect. Far from disrupting the service, I imagine it would affirm the faith of those who worship alongside him.
And even if one accepts his rationale for not attending church with others, it does not explain why the president-elect has not made alternative arrangements for formal prayer in a more private setting. He would be far from the first public figure to do so. So that cannot be it either.
It would be quite interesting to here from him why he chooses not to engage in any kind of public worship at this time, especially after so many years of regular church attendance. But whatever the real answer is, the inability to share it has as much to do with the American public as it does with President-elect Obama.
Are we really ready to hear our president say that public prayer is simply not that important to him? How safe is it to make such an admission to the American public, which is overwhelmingly churched? It is precisely those among us who would most like to see a president engages in some form of regular prayer that must make it okay to say that he chooses not to.
If all we do is harangue those whose religious views differ from our own, then we make it impossible to have an honest conversation about the value of prayer in our lives. If we want President-elect Obama to really tell us what’s going on, then we must be ready to hear what he might have to say. Failing that, we will get the kind of avoidant answers which help nobody, but at least avoid the nasty fights over religious faith which we seem compelled to have over and over again.
President-elect Obama owes the American people a better explanation for why he is not attending church. And the American people owe him the respect he deserves for making a perfectly reasonable choice about the place of prayer in his life. If he could give that answer and we could really hear it, the nation would be the better for both.