- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 12, 2009

President Obama and his family are looking for a new church, but his decision represents more than merely settling on a pew.

The Obamas planned to attend Easter services Sunday, which would mark the president's first visit to a Washington church since taking office in January. Aides have been secretive about which church the first family would attend, citing security and the desire not to disrupt services for other worshippers. They also caution that the church Mr. Obama visits on Easter might not signal a decision on a permanent place of worship.

Mr. Obama's choice of a permanent pastor is sure to draw scrutiny, given his history with a pastor in Chicago whose bombastic sermons almost destroyed Mr. Obama's presidential bid.

“On one level, I think he's just getting acclimated to D.C. He's still feeling things out. Easter is a very important day in the Christian calendar; he's a Christian,” said J. Kameron Carter, who teaches theology and black-church studies at Duke University. “But you are the president. Whatever decision he makes is going to be analyzed with a fine-tooth comb against the backdrop of the Rev. [Jeremiah] Wright.”

Mr. Obama's presidential campaign was blindsided last year when video surfaced of his friend and pastor, Mr. Wright, condemning the United States and suggesting the government was to blame for the HIV/AIDS scourge on black communities. Mr. Wright's sermons forced the then-senator to deliver two speeches: the first, a tempered defense of the pastor whose rhetoric inspired the title of Mr. Obama's memoir; later, a speech about Mr. Obama's views on race that has been viewed almost 6 million times online.

Mr. Wright followed up with a media tour that personally frustrated Mr. Obama and enraged his aides. Mr. Obama left Trinity United Church of Christ and has been without an official house of worship since then, instead relying on a close circle of advisers and pastors to help him in private.

“What the president should do - and I believe would do - is find a church home that's good for his family,” said Jim Wallis, a progressive evangelical who speaks with White House aides several times each day and Mr. Obama frequently.

“In the post-Jeremiah world, he can't just do that,” Mr. Wallis said.

Analysts caution about reading too much into what Mr. Obama does on Sunday and beyond to address his personal faith.

“At the end of the day, whatever way he finally goes is going to be dissected,” said Mr. Carter of Duke's divinity school. “I think it gets in the way on some level.”

Mr. Obama's presidential campaign actively sought support from evangelicals, traditionally a bloc that supports Republicans. But Mr. Obama carved out a share of that group as part of his winning coalition.

During the hard-fought campaign, Mr. Obama often spoke of his own faith and fought back rumors that he was a secret Muslim.

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