Adapted from The Gadflyer with permission of the author.

Throughout the 2004 presidential campaign, Democratic candidate John Kerry has been more responsible than anyone for getting notoriously secular political reporters through the doors of churches on Sunday mornings. Ever since a few conservative bishops raised questions about Kerry's Catholicism, given his pro-choice positions, journalists have trailed the Senator to church, breathlessly wondering if this will be the week he's denied communion. Some have even snarkily commented that his Boston congregation--the Paulist Center--is insufficiently traditional, calling it "New-Agey." What they haven't done is take up the task of following President George W. Bush to his home church. That's because of one small problem: He doesn't have one. Frankly, I don't give a hoot if Bush goes to church. Anyone who has spent much time with an assortment of religious people knows that frequent church attendance doesn't necessarily make you a good person and that plenty of highly moral people never attend church. But if reporters are going to spill plenty of ink each and every Sunday on the church activities of one candidate, then they had better do the same for his opponent. Particularly if that opponent has staked much of his domestic agenda on the argument that civil society--and particularly religious congregations--holds the key to solving social problems. I think it's perfectly relevant and fair to ask why a man with such firm convictions about the power of religious congregations doesn't belong to a congregation himself, though he may drop in on services at places like St. John's Episcopal Church (near the White House) from time to time.
Why doesn't he? Among the reasons I've been given is that the security precautions would be too onerous. This, it should be noted, is the exact same excuse Ronald Reagan proffered for not attending church at all during his time in Washington. And I'd almost buy it, if not for the fact that for several years in the late 1990s, I attended Foundry Methodist Church when the Clintons were members there and found that it took all of an extra five seconds to pass through the metal detectors and enter the church. Parishioners were not outnumbered by tourists (and, in any case, we were happy that they were in church, no matter what the reason) and the Clintons played an active role in the life of the church, with Chelsea particularly involved in the choir and youth group while she was still in town. Okay, Bush's defenders say, but even if he did go to church, it's tough for a president to be really involved with a congregation. He is, after all, running the free world. But, then again, he has spent almost 500 days on vacation over the past four years. You'd think some of that time could have been devoted to planning the next church social or sitting in on mission board meetings. Jimmy Carter found time to teach Sunday School at a local Baptist church while he was president. The last excuse, though, is my favorite. The fact that the president doesn't attend church, I was told last spring, is proof of what a good Christian he is. Unlike other certain past presidents we could name but won't--ahem, cough, BILL CLINTON--Bush doesn't feel the need to prove how religious he is by attending church. I don't mean to sound like a naif--I do realize that most presidential actions have political motivations. But it's just possible that attending church (or not) has nothing to do with trying to show the world how religious you are. It's just possible that they attend church (or not) because they want to.
And before Clinton haters work themselves into a frothing state of outrage, they should know this: I started attending Foundry after the Lewinsky scandal, when I was incredibly disappointed in Clinton and furious with him for putting his staff and other Democratic politicians in the position of lying for him. I joined the church despite, not because of, the fact that the Clintons went there as well. Yet the experience of attending church with the president led me to eventually see him not as a corrupt or immoral leader, but as a fellow child of God, a sinner like the rest of us. On the Sunday that I joined the church, I was seated in the pew just in front of Bill and Chelsea Clinton. I spent the service listening to the president sing too loudly and slightly off-key (just like my own dad) with his daughter elbowing him (just like me). I turned around at the sound of scribbling during the sermon to see him jotting notes in his Bible. And when it came time for communion, I was powerfully affected. All of us--president, senator, student, welfare mom--drank from the same cup, shared the same sacrament. "His blood, shed for you," was the sentiment offered to each of us. Shed for me, shed for the president, shed for any who would come forward. For the first time, I understood the humanizing (in every sense) and equalizing aspects of the act of communion.

Fellowship is an incredibly important part of being a Christian. It's part of the reason why, even as I moved through various denominations on my way from recovering Baptist to newly-minted Episcopalian, I could never be satisfied with a simply private faith between me and God. The implied and often explicit responsibility for each other that undergirds congregational life is at the heart of Bush's faith-based policy agenda. If reporters are going to do everything short of inspect John Kerry's molars for evidence of any unswallowed Host, the least they can do is devote one article to the church life of our most vocally religious president.

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