Church and School

Sally Quinn of the Washington Post has a recommendation for the Obamas to choose the National Cathedral as their place of worship that is practically a parody of liberal attitudes towards religion:

Washington National Cathedral also transcends politics and even the separation of religions. Though nominally an Episcopal church, it welcomes everyone. It is at once deeply Christian and deeply interfaith. The Episcopal Church has a long history of inclusiveness. The first black bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, John Walker, presided there. Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first female presiding bishop in the Episcopal Church, was inducted there. And Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson of the Diocese of New Hampshire was the first openly gay bishop in Christendom.
“We are a place that welcomes people of all faiths and no faith,” says Lloyd, echoing Barack Obama’s words of two years ago. “Whatever we once were,” Obama said then, “we’re no longer just a Christian nation. At least not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation and a Buddhist nation and a Hindu nation and a nation of nonbelievers.”


The cathedral sponsors programs on interfaith dialogue with Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Bahais and people of other faiths. Former president Mohammad Khatami of Iran attended a Christian-Muslim-Judaic conference there in 2006. Twice a year, there is an Abrahamic roundtable with Bishop John Chane, Rabbi Bruce Lustig and professor Akbar Ahmed of American University’s School of International Service. Last spring, a “Lighting to Unite” event concluded the centennial. The theme: “One Spirit among many nations.” With a background of sound and lights, the festival drew believers and nonbelievers from all over the country. “We wanted them to experience their humanity,” says Lloyd, “to have the sense that they shared a common life with each other.”
I am drawn to the cathedral over all of the other sacred spaces in Washington because it is the most pluralistic of the places of worship I’ve been to.
On Nov. 12, Deepak Chopra, a Hindu, spoke there to a packed house. Asked about Obama in the question-and-answer session afterward, he said that the president-elect “has transcended religious identity. Just imagine when he puts his hand on the Bible to be sworn in and says, ‘I, Barack Hussein Obama’ . . . How wonderful!”
It would indeed be wonderful for the country to have a president who worshiped at a place most likely to welcome all Americans and all people of the world alike.

Now, peaceful civil relations between people of all faiths, or no faiths, is a good thing. Governmental recognition that we are a nation of people of all faiths, or no faiths, is a good thing. But this is pretty much the worst possible way to choose a church, the purpose of which is precisely the promotion of a single faith in the belief that it is the true path to God. You don’t feed the body by browsing the supermarket; you pick food and eat it. You don’t house the body by roaming the neighborhood; you pick a home to sleep in at night. Quinn’s recommendation that the Obamas settle for spiritual homelessness is bad for their souls and, ultimately, bad for the nation if we are to be led by a lost soul. And it’s even bad politics; a city as overwhelmingly African-American as Washington would be deeply offended if the nation’s first black president chose, for reasons other than denominational compulsion, to turn up his nose at the District’s many black churches. Quinn is, whether she realizes it or not, patronizing Obama by assuming that he has no particular faith, an attitude common to liberal opinions about Obama’s faith. (It’s likewise similar to the media’s bafflement, in dealing with Sarah Palin, at the idea that she would pray for divine guidance in considering whether to run for president in 2012.
Meanwhile, the Obamas have already made a significant life-in-Washington decision by choosing to send their daughters to Sidwell Friends, one of the capital’s most exclusive private schools, rather than sending them to one of the city’s crummy (and largely black) public schools. I won’t criticize this decision; it’s undoubtedly the best educational option for the girls, and the Obamas’ entry into politics doesn’t forfeit their children’s right to the best education their parents can afford to give them. But it would be nice if President Obama uses his influence to give the parents of other DC children more choices in getting their children into better schools. As I’ve said before, being a hypocrite may be bad, but making bad public policy is worse. If a little fear of the hypocrisy charge gives Obama pause in thinking about whether other DC families should have more educational choices, then his decision about where to educate his daughters will pay benefits for more than just the new First Family.

23 thoughts on “Church and School”

  1. “”We wanted them to experience their humanity,” says Lloyd, “to have the sense that they shared a common life with each other.””
    – So rather than experiencing the divine, they came to experience humanity? Is man God now? Is man to be worshiped now? Funny – I missed the memo. Christianity promotes the idea that man’s worship of self – pride – is the worst sin of all. How is this coming from an ostensibly Christian church?
    “You don’t feed the body by browsing the supermarket; you pick food and eat it. You don’t house the body by roaming the neighborhood; you pick a home to sleep in at night. Quinn’s recommendation that the Obamas settle for spiritual homelessness is bad for their souls and, ultimately, bad for the nation if we are to be led by a lost soul.”
    – Well said.

  2. Great post.
    These posturing people remind me of the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14, revised version:
    “O God, we thank You that we are not like other people: un-multicultural, unscientific, fundamentalist fools like those Republicans; we are a church of humankind, where we experience our humanity, where we worship the sense that we share a common life with each other; a Christian church whose purpose is to avoid the promotion of the Christian faith as too divisive. Lord, we pray that you will make us even more multicultural and inclusive than we already are.”

  3. “Quinn’s recommendation that the Obamas settle for spiritual homelessness is bad for their souls and, ultimately, bad for the nation if we are to be led by a lost soul”
    What are you suggesting Crank? That someone must adhere to your version of Christianity to be an effective president?

  4. Does “spiritually grounded” disqualify an atheist in your opinion from being president?

  5. I don’t know about automatically, but I’d be quite skeptical of giving that much power to someone who believes in no higher authority, no external constraint on the acts of man.

  6. I understand your position. However, it seems that if one believes the 2nd Coming will be preceded by Jews ruling Israel and an apocalyptic war centered there, then that has certain frightening implications for policy. One doesnt fear nukes if they are seen as a condition precedent to the Rapture , coupled with the belief that you’re going to heaven afterwards.

  7. Seth S
    In reality, it’s not a binary religious world with either The National Cathedral or the Rapture; with the educated, aware, open-to-knowledge on the one side vs. the uneducated, close-minded, theocratic fanatics on the other.

  8. C.S. Lewis valued the idea of the parochial church, the church where rich and poor were equal before god.
    There’s a kind of similarity in this idea to Lloyd’s “We wanted them to experience their humanity” but for Lewis, the premise for the idea is that the worshipper doesn’t go looking for the right church. They seek the divine in the local church and learn humility in the process.
    While Lewis valued the parochial church as a place where worship transcends class — Quinn advises the Obama’s to go to the church where class transcends worship.

  9. Inwood: And its not a binary secular world with nihilists and sodomites comprising the presidential athetist field.

  10. A MN senate update. Coleman is now challenging ballots clearly marked for Franken with no other pen marks where the voter also marked “McCain” in the presidential race. On grounds of “voter intent” that its impossible for them to want McCain to win and Coleman. Riiiiiight. Source…CBS news online and

  11. It sounds like the Episcopal churches in San Francisco. One of them actually had us sing “Imagine” as a church hymn for the Sunday Evening service. I spent the time trying to “imagine” a song more at odds with Christianity.

  12. So “No” to the atheist but yes to a magical underpants wearing Mormon. OK. Got it. I bet if the atheist was against abortion and for massive governmental spending on things that don’t make sense you’d be all for it.

  13. Crank,
    As I am certain you know, Article VI of the Constitution provides that” . . . no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” So, whether any choice Obama makes with respect to church affiliation or place of worship, irrespective of whether such choice would make him a “lost soul,” is really a matter that should be important only to him. The religious right ignores the “original intent” and “strict constructionist” views of those constitutional clauses that are, well, uncomfortable.
    The National Cathedral is a beautiful place and the services held there are quite moving. He could do far worse.
    As for Palin, since you brought her up, yes, it is extremely unsettling that she would feel the need to be “protected” from the devil and apparently agree with all the notions from the Middle Ages espoused in the whack job churches of Wassilla.

  14. The Supremacy Clause, in Article VI, is certainly effective to voters as, for example, federal law over-rides contrary state law on election matters. Being a textual literalist, as you surley must be, clause 3 of Article VI does not expressly exempt voters, so surely they must be covered. Right?

  15. You don’t know much about Con Law if you think I am a Hugo Black-style textual literalist. My constitutional thinking would be more closely described as originalist: the words mean what the common citizen would have understood them to mean at the time they were ratified. The Constitution, like a contract or a statute, is an agreement, and has legitimacy only to the extent that it reflects what was agreed to at the time it was made.
    And I am quite certain that Article VI was not, at the time, thought or understood to be a prohibition on the voters considering the faith of a candidate for public office.
    On the other hand, we’ve had quite a number of efforts, ranging from Doug Wilder in 1991 to the brickbats thrown at then-Judges Roberts and Alito, to take issue with having Catholics confirmed to the Supreme Court. I think something like Wilder’s comment obviously comes much closer to the heartland of Article VI, as it deals with appointments.

  16. I knew Hugo Black, Hugo Black was a friend of mine and, Crank, you are no Hugo Black. I was thinking more of a Clarence Thomas.
    By the way, I am impressed by your time traveling skills (do you have x-ray vision, too?) How else, pray tell, can you be “quite certain” what a bunch of white men thought or understood.
    As for Wilder, his comments are, of course, reprehensible. But, if you want some tears for the plight of poor Catholics, I’m afraid the only tears will be those of the croc.

  17. It’s called history, Magrooder. They write it down in books and all.
    I consulted Akhil Amar’s history of the Constitution, which is usually a good place to start, and he notes that the provision was targeted at the majority of state constitutions at the time that had explicit religious tests for public office.

  18. Oh, is that what it is called? Who knew.
    I guess it would include something like Joseph Story’s Commentaries on the U.S. Consittution:
    § 1841. The remaining part of the clause declares, that “no religious test shall ever be required, as a qualification to any office or public trust, under the United States.” This clause is not introduced merely for the purpose of satisfying the scruples of many respectable persons, who feel an invincible repugnance to any religious test, or affirmation. It had a higher object; to cut off for ever every pretence of any alliance between church and state in the national government. The framers of the constitution were fully sensible of the dangers from this source, marked out in the history of other ages and countries; and not wholly unknown to our own. They knew, that bigotry was unceasingly vigilant in its stratagems, to secure to itself an exclusive ascendancy over the human mind; and that intolerance was ever ready to arm itself with all the terrors of the civil power to exterminate those, who doubted its dogmas, or resisted its infallibility. The Catholic and the Protestant had alternately waged the most ferocious and unrelenting warfare on each other; and Protestantism itself, at the very moment, that it was proclaiming the right of private judgment, prescribed boundaries to that right, beyond which if any one dared to pass, he must seal his rashness with the blood of martyrdom. The history of the parent country, too, could not fail to instruct them in the uses, and the abuses of religious tests. They there found the pains and penalties of non-conformity written in no equivocal language, and enforced with a stern and vindictive jealousy. . . . Yet certainly our ancestors were mistaken in their plans of compulsion and intolerance. The sin of schism, as such, is by no means the object of temporal coercion and punishment. If, through weakness of intellect, through misdirected piety, through perverseness and acerbity of temper, or, (which is often the case,) through a prospect of secular advantage in herding with a party, men quarrel with the ecclesiastical establishment, the civil magistrate has nothing to do with it; unless their tenets and practice are such, as threaten ruin or disturbance to the state. He is bound, indeed, to protect the established church; and, if this can be better effected, by admitting none but its genuine members to offices of trust and emolument, he is certainly at liberty so to do; the disposal of offices being matter of favour and discretion. But, this point being once secured, all persecution for diversity of opinions, however ridiculous or absurd they may be, is contrary to every principle of sound policy and civil freedom. The names and subordination of the clergy, the posture of devotion, the materials and colour of the minister’s garment, the joining in a known, or an unknown form of prayer, and other matters of the same kind, must be left to the option of every man’s private judgment.”

  19. …which supports your position not at all.
    But at least you are getting the idea of how one goes about reading the Constitution.

  20. Seth
    Not an answer. You’re the binary one as I’ve described.
    Anyway, this post was not about the atheism spectrum.

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