By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
The White House is disputing a TIME report that the Obama family will avoid making the tricky decision about which Washington church to join by settling on the chapel at Camp David as their primary place of worship. Here's the statement the White House is circulating this morning:
The President and First Family continue to look for a church home. They have enjoyed worshipping at Camp David and several other congregations over the months, and will choose a church at the time that is best for their family.
Here's what TIME reported earlier this morning:
Now, in an unexpected move, Obama has told White House aides that instead of joining a congregation in Washington, D.C., he will follow in George W. Bush's footsteps and make his primary place of worship Evergreen Chapel, the nondenominational church at Camp David.
A number of factors drove the decision—financial, political, personal—but chief among them was the desire to worship without being on display. Obama was reportedly taken aback by the circus stirred up by his visit to 19th Street Baptist in January. Lines started forming three hours before the morning service, and many longtime members were literally left out in the cold as the church filled with outsiders eager to see the new president. Even at St. John's, which is so accustomed to presidential visitors that it is known as the "Church of the Presidents," worshippers couldn't help themselves from snapping photos of Obama on their camera phones as they walked down the aisle past him to take communion.
The Obamas' church search is at least six months old. The long wait suggests either super-thorough vetting of the churches on Obama's shortlist or a low priority accorded to the task.
But this morning's announcement locks Obama into choosing a church home.
It may speak to the Obama family's spiritual needs—a local congregation, after all, offers a much different experience from a military chapel.
But the announcement may also speak to what's politically desirable. George W. Bush, who was perceived as intensely religious, could afford to worship quietly at Camp David. Obama, who's still establishing himself as a Christian in the public eye and who continues to battle false rumors that he's a Muslim, could afford to flaunt his Sunday-morning habits a bit more.