FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Obama’s Church, Obama’s School
Lessons About The New First Family's Choices
Sally Quinn of the Washington Post has a recommendation for the Obamas to choose the National Cathedral as their place of worship that is practically a parody of liberal attitudes towards religion:
Washington National Cathedral also transcends politics and even the separation of religions. Though nominally an Episcopal church, it welcomes everyone. It is at once deeply Christian and deeply interfaith. The Episcopal Church has a long history of inclusiveness. The first black bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, John Walker, presided there. Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first female presiding bishop in the Episcopal Church, was inducted there. And Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson of the Diocese of New Hampshire was the first openly gay bishop in Christendom.
“We are a place that welcomes people of all faiths and no faith,” says Lloyd, echoing Barack Obama’s words of two years ago. “Whatever we once were,” Obama said then, “we’re no longer just a Christian nation. At least not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation and a Buddhist nation and a Hindu nation and a nation of nonbelievers.”
The cathedral sponsors programs on interfaith dialogue with Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Bahais and people of other faiths. Former president Mohammad Khatami of Iran attended a Christian-Muslim-Judaic conference there in 2006. Twice a year, there is an Abrahamic roundtable with Bishop John Chane, Rabbi Bruce Lustig and professor Akbar Ahmed of American University’s School of International Service. Last spring, a “Lighting to Unite” event concluded the centennial. The theme: “One Spirit among many nations.” With a background of sound and lights, the festival drew believers and nonbelievers from all over the country. “We wanted them to experience their humanity,” says Lloyd, “to have the sense that they shared a common life with each other.”
I am drawn to the cathedral over all of the other sacred spaces in Washington because it is the most pluralistic of the places of worship I’ve been to.
On Nov. 12, Deepak Chopra, a Hindu, spoke there to a packed house. Asked about Obama in the question-and-answer session afterward, he said that the president-elect “has transcended religious identity. Just imagine when he puts his hand on the Bible to be sworn in and says, ‘I, Barack Hussein Obama’ . . . How wonderful!”
It would indeed be wonderful for the country to have a president who worshiped at a place most likely to welcome all Americans and all people of the world alike.
Now, peaceful civil relations between people of all faiths, or no faiths, is a good thing. Governmental recognition that we are a nation of people of all faiths, or no faiths, is a good thing. But this is pretty much the worst possible way to choose a church, the purpose of which is precisely the promotion of a single faith in the belief that it is the true path to God. You don’t feed the body by browsing the supermarket; you pick food and eat it. You don’t house the body by roaming the neighborhood; you pick a home to sleep in at night. Quinn’s recommendation that the Obamas settle for spiritual homelessness is bad for their souls and, ultimately, bad for the nation if we are to be led by a lost soul. And it’s even bad politics; a city as overwhelmingly African-American as Washington would be deeply offended if the nation’s first black president chose, for reasons other than denominational compulsion, to turn up his nose at the District’s many black churches. Quinn is, whether she realizes it or not, patronizing Obama by assuming that he has no particular faith, an attitude common to liberal opinions about Obama’s faith. (It’s likewise similar to the media’s bafflement, in dealing with Sarah Palin, at the idea that she would pray for divine guidance in considering whether to run for president in 2012.
Meanwhile, the Obamas have already made a significant life-in-Washington decision by choosing to send their daughters to Sidwell Friends, one of the capital’s most exclusive private schools, rather than sending them to one of the city’s crummy (and largely black) public schools. I won’t criticize this decision; it’s undoubtedly the best educational option for the girls, and the Obamas’ entry into politics doesn’t forfeit their children’s right to the best education their parents can afford to give them. But it would be nice if President Obama uses his influence to give the parents of other DC children more choices in getting their children into better schools. As I’ve said before, being a hypocrite may be bad, but making bad public policy is worse. If a little fear of the hypocrisy charge gives Obama pause in thinking about whether other DC families should have more educational choices, then his decision about where to educate his daughters will pay benefits for more than just the new First Family.