National Edition

4 in 10 Americans say they attend church, Obama not among them

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 1 2014 4:00 a.m. MST

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama walk from the White House with their daughters Sasha Obama, second from left, and Malia Obama, right, on their way through Lafayette Park to St. John's Episcopal Church for Easter services, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Washington.

Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press

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A new Gallup polls says four in 10 Americans attend worship services, but recent news reports suggested that President Obama is among the majority who don't go to church regularly.

A New York Times story over the weekend highlighted what the president and his family didn't do on Christmas Day — attend a church service.

The report quoted historians saying Obama rarely goes to church, and one White House watcher was quoted as saying the president has attended church just 18 times since taking office in 2008.

"Historically, watching the nation’s first family head to church dressed in their Sunday best, especially around the holiday season, was something of a ritual," the Times reported. "Yet Mr. Obama’s faith is a more complicated, more private, and perhaps — religious and presidential historians say — a more inclusive affair."

Joshua DuBois, the former head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, defended Obama, telling the Times that the president is a committed Christian who "has a serious practice of faith even though he doesn’t necessarily wear it on his sleeve.”

The Times' story outlines the problematic public profile of Obama's faith — from his having to denounce his former pastor during his first election year to the common misperception that he is Muslim — and how he has expressed his faith as president.

Bloggers at the Blaze and Breitbart jumped on the Times report suggesting that Obama skipping church on Christmas for time with his family and visiting troops at a nearby Marine base on the Hawaiian island of Oahu conflicted with a Christmas message he gave earlier in the month.

"Every year, we mark the holiday season with celebrations and good cheer. And I should remind my girls that I like getting Christmas presents as much as anybody," Obama said, according to a report in the Daily Mail. "But this is also a time to remember the story of a child born to two faithful travelers on a holy night, long ago."

However, Obama's rare appearances at church during his past five years in office aren't out of step with the rest of country, according to a Gallup poll.

According to surveys taken in May and December of more than 2,500 Americans, just 39 percent said they attended their church, synagogue or mosque in the past seven days.

That's about the same rate of church attendance among Americans in the 1940s, wrote Gallup's Frank Newport, while self-reported attendance hit its highest levels (46-49 percent) in the late 1950s.

"Since the early 1960s, weekly church attendance has settled down, generally to a range between 40 percent and 45 percent. But self-reported church attendance has been marked by year-to-year fluctuations," Newport wrote. "For example, less than 40 percent of Americans reported attending church in 1996 and in 2008. But church attendance was as high as 44 percent in 2000 and 2004. Americans' self-reported church attendance since 2008 has averaged 39 percent, down slightly from the overall average of 42 percent since 1939."

Email: mbrown@deseretnews.com

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