President Obama delivered official messages for Passover, Ramadan and Diwali. But for Easter? Not so much. The White House came under fire this week for neglecting to issue official statements for either Easter or Good Friday, though Mr. Obama did take time Friday to address Earth Day, a celebration observed by tens of thousands of pagan worshippers of the earth goddess Gaia.
Mr. Obama clearly didn’t simply forget Easter. He and his family attended an Easter service. He presided over the annual Easter egg roll, a White House tradition dating back to the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes. Mr. Obama also hosted his second annual Easter prayer breakfast, at which he said “as busy as we are, as many tasks as pile up, during this season, we are reminded that there’s something about the resurrection - something about the resurrection of our savior, Jesus Christ, that puts everything else in perspective.” His brief breakfast address could well have served as the official Easter proclamation, if the White House had thought of it.
Mr. Obama has had a difficult official relationship with Easter. His 2010 Easter proclamation was criticized because he attempted to include other faiths in what is a uniquely Christian holiday. This was not equal-opportunity multiculturalism; his Ramadan message did not include a shout-out to American Jews, for example, even though his 2011 Passover message bizarrely related the holiday to the current Arab uprisings. Likewise, Mr. Obama’s 2009 message stated that, “while we worship in different ways, we also remember the shared spirit of humanity that inhabits us all - Jews and Christians, Muslims and Hindus, believers and nonbelievers alike.” He also quoted passages from a historic 1945 sermon delivered by a chaplain in the wake of the fierce fighting on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima but edited out any mention of Jesus.
This basket of Easter problems underscores Mr. Obama’s continuing problem with perceptions of his religious identity. Lately, the White House has gone out of its way to ramp up the Christian content on Mr. Obama’s schedule, which can in part be read as a reaction to the continuing questions in some quarters over whether Mr. Obama truly observes the faith he publicly professes. An August 2010 report from the Pew Research Center showed that the better the American people get to know Mr. Obama, the fewer think he is a Christian and the more believe he is a Muslim. Oversights like the missing Easter message definitely don’t help.
Mr. Obama faces a general crisis of confidence among churchgoers. The April 11 Gallup weekly opinion survey shows his approval rating among those who attend church weekly is 36 percent, seven points lower than his tepid 43 percent approval nationwide. It’s not surprising the faith-based community has diminished faith in Mr. Obama. Many observant Americans remember then-candidate Barack Obama’s statement campaigning before the Pennsylvania primary when he characterized those who opposed him as “bitter” and clinging to religion “as a way to explain their frustrations.” The statement seemed to confirm the belief that Mr. Obama viewed church goers as unsophisticated bumpkins who were too simple to understand the historic nature of his candidacy.
The good news for the White House is that those who seldom or never attend church give Mr. Obama a correspondingly higher approval rating of 49 percent. Maybe he should drop these attempts at outreach to believing Christians and focus on his church-spurning base who would rather limit their observance to Easter egg hunts.
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By Elaine Donnelly
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