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“If you’re in a high office, there’s always a question who can you trust to be really honest with you,” he said. “If a pastor is a pastor of integrity, it’s possible for the public servant to trust that interaction without feeling that the pastor is out for something personal.”

Obama, who got burned during his campaign by the inflammatory comments of his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, has been taking his time finding a new minister. Since becoming president, he has attended chaplain Carry Cash’s sermons at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.

While many politicians’ religious discussions are conducted in private, sometimes matters of faith and politics spill into the headlines.

Many prominent Catholic politicians, for example, have been criticized by church leaders for supporting legal abortion, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. During the 2004 presidential campaign, St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke said he would deny communion to Democratic candidate John Kerry because of the senator’s support for abortion rights.

Catholics make up about 30 percent of Congress, according to information gathered by Congressional Quarterly and the Pew Forum in 2008. Protestants account for more than half the members of Congress, and about 8 percent are Jewish.

Not everyone who lists a religion is devout, by any means.

In Washington, “there are people who simply use their faith or their appearance of faith” for political gain, said Rev. Wogaman.

Making a show of faith can open a politician up to charges of hypocrisy when personal conduct doesn’t measure up.

Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, for example, stepped down from the Senate Republican leadership last summer after admitting he had an affair for much of the previous year with a married woman on his campaign staff. Ensign was among several Christian lawmakers who lived in a house on C Street SE owned by a Christian prayer group.

Faith leaders say members of Congress sometimes approach them simply because they need some reflection time.

Rev. Cletus Kiley, former president of the Faith & Politics Institute, said lawmakers have compared their life to a TV set — with somebody else controlling the remote and surfing channels.

“Every 15 minutes, it seems like they’re in a different meeting. … How do you hold it all together? For many of them, it’s faith,” said Rev. Kiley, who used to lead weekly reflection groups for lawmakers.

“When they’re under political pressure, they particularly show up because they’re looking for a place that reminds them they had a life before they came here, they’ll have a life after they leave here.”

Still, some faith leaders said lawmakers sometimes lapse back into politics during pastoral discussions. Political tensions did enter some of Rev. Ogilvie’s Bible studies and other conversations with senators.

“Oh, yes, I would try and administer both sides of the conflict,” Rev. Ogilvie said, and “encourage them to come to the best solution for the nation and to work together.”

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