Going To The Chapel

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I have a Time.com story up today about Obama’s decision to attend church services at the chapel up at Camp David for the time being, rather than join a D.C.-area church. The plan makes a lot of sense for the First Family–it was also how the Bush family chose to worship in semi-privacy for the past eight years. But given the intense lobbying by virtually every Washington church to score the Obamas as new members, this wasn’t something the White House was looking to publicize.

In response, the White House has released a statement: “The President and First Family continue to look for a church home. They have enjoyed worshipping at Camp David and several other congregations over the months, and will choose a church at the time that is best for their family.” Though nothing in the statement contradicts my reporting, David Brody over at the Christian Broadcasting Network reads it as saying that my article “IS NOT ACCURATE.” [hyperbolic all-caps his]

It probably won’t come as a surprise to hear that I stand by the story. If the White House had wanted to call into question my reporting, it certainly could have. The reason it didn’t is that the plan for the foreseeable future is for the First Family to attend services at the nondenominational Evergreen Chapel when they’re at Camp David. It’s not a membership congregation, so as Robert Gibbs carefully noted in this afternoon’s briefing, they won’t be “joining” the chapel. The Obamas have not ruled out becoming members of another church down the road–what churchgoer would?–but neither are there any plans for them to pursue that option right now.

That said, I do need to issue a belated mea culpa for my reporting on presidential church-going during the last administration. Although I continue to find it odd that there was so little press interest in whether or where Bush attended church, I was far too skeptical of the idea that the Camp David chapel could provide a robust worship community for the president.

It’s not easy to get information about the chapel, but in reporting this story I learned much more about Evergreen, which operates year-round, with a congregation of military personnel and camp staff, regardless of whether the president is on-site. More than just a rustic site for prayer, the chapel has adult and children’s choirs and is run by a Navy chaplain (the Navy rotates chaplains of different faith traditions on three-year tours; the current chaplain is Lieut. Carey Cash, a Southern Baptist from Memphis and grand-nephew of Johnny Cash). I was wrong to dismiss it five years ago and would be wrong to do so again now.