According to Joshua DuBois, a longtime spiritual adviser to Obama who led the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships during the president’s first term, the reason President Obama does not regularly attend church is that he worries that his presence detracts from other worshipers’ experience.
“When folks see the line forming outside, a lot of folks who don’t attend that congregation go in,” DuBois said. “It displaces a lot of people who are members of that church or at least interrupts them.”
Apparently what makes the President’s church attendance so distracting to others is its rarity, since previous presidents who attended services regularly did not seem to cause much of a disturbance.
During his eight-year term in office, Bill Clinton and his family regularly attended Foundry Methodist Church on 16th Street, and people seemed to get used to their presence as a normal part of Sunday worship. Jimmy Carter not only attended the First Baptist Church of DC; he also taught Sunday School there throughout his presidency. George W. Bush went to church about five times as often as the Obamas, or about a third of the Sundays of the year.
First lady Michelle Obama, on the other hand, has said: “We try to go to church as much as possible,” which, according to an analysis by Politico, has meant an average of just three Sundays a year during the Obama presidency, and only once on Christmas, in 2011.
Michelle says the reason they do not attend more is that Sundays are so busy, with practices, rehearsals, birthday parties and other activities. And though there is no time for church, Michelle says that Sundays provide “family downtime where we can kind of breathe and catch up” and “maybe take a little nap every now and then.”
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