Presidential church attendance reports

PRESIDENTIAL CHURCH ATTENDANCE REPORTS…. Are we really back to presidential church attendance reports? Apparently so.

President Obama publicly attended church Sunday morning for the first time in nearly six months, and shortly after a major survey showed that only a third of Americans can correctly identify Obama’s faith as Christian.

The first family attended the 9 a.m. service at St. John’s Church Lafayette Square, an Episcopal congregation about a block from the White House.

The Obamas — the president, first lady Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha — made the trip on foot.

The family sat a few rows from the altar, among roughly 40 worshippers. Each family member received communion, led by the president.

I found these reports unnecessary when they first started popping up nearly two years ago, and they seem no more appropriate now.

Ben Smith, who seems to have an ongoing interest in the subject, wrote yesterday that the president’s Christianity “was a key part of his pitch and distinguished him from more secular Democrats, and the notion that he only went to church very occasionally — which has been true since anyone started paying attention to him — would have undercut that. He is, on the other hand, reluctant to ostentatiously fake a devotion to organized religion that he’s never had before. It’s a difficult political situation because the contradiction isn’t resolved, or really soluble.”

I look at this very differently. Indeed, I see no inherent “contradiction,” and find no reason to believe the president’s commitment to his faith is “undercut” by his irregular church attendance. Theologically, a person can be devout without regularly visiting houses of worship. This is especially true of presidents, who are all-too aware of the logistical burdens placed on churches when they visit.

What’s especially irksome about all of this coverage is what strikes me as a partisan double standard. Reagan used religiosity as part of his message to voters, but rarely, if ever, bothered to attend services during his two terms. George W. Bush incorporate faith heavily into his political life, but Bush rarely went to church and never became a formal member of a congregation during his eight years in Washington.

And yet, I think it’s fair to say neither of these Republican presidents faced the kind of scrutiny Obama is receiving. Maybe that’s because there was no unhinged campaign to convince Americans that Reagan and Bush were secretly members of some other faith, but that’s hardly an excuse for credible media outlets to care.

If Obama had pledged as a candidate to attend weekly services, I could see his Sunday schedules being of interest. But since that isn’t the case, coverage of the president’s worship routine continues to seem out of place.