April 6th, 2009
05:03 PM ET

Is the White House praying for the right church?

Program Note: Tune in tonight for Randi Kaye's full report on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/20/art.pastor.jpg]

Randi Kaye
AC360° Correspondent

You might call it Operation Obama Church Search. I’m talking about a very low-key but calculated effort to find the Obama family the right place to worship in Washington, DC. For my story airing tonight on AC360, I discovered and confirmed with a source inside the White House that a team of advisors is interviewing Pastors and attending services to see what the themes of them are and then reporting back to President Obama.

The White House source says this has nothing at all to do with the mess that Mr. Obama’s former Pastor, Jeremiah Wright, caused for him. Remember it nearly brought down then-candidate Obama’s campaign. My source says this is just about helping the Obamas find the best place for them to worship. He would not say how many churches are under serious consideration but we did some digging of our own.

We visited the 19th Street Baptist Church, where the Obamas went just 48 hours before the Inauguration. Reverend Derrick Harkins told me he was interviewed by the head of the Administration’s Faith Based Initiatives and that he “guesses he’s being vetted.” Reverend Harkins, unlike many other pastors in town, has decided not to lobby the President for his “business”, if you will. He says it would be a “blessing” if the Obamas joined his church but he has no intention of “strategizing”, he says he will leave it to “God’s providential hand.”

Not far away from the 19th Street Baptist Church is the First Baptist Church which is lobbying the President. It hopes to sell him on the church’s indoor basketball court, but if that’s not enough, experience may do the trick. This church is where President Jimmy Carter and his family worshipped; Mr. Carter even taught Sunday School here. Harry Truman was a regular here too. They know about secret service and added security, the mobs of media that follow the President around. Been there, done that, is the attitude of this church. Also, since it’s so close to the White House, just six blocks, the people at First Baptist hope that will help. The White House says the Obama’s church has to be close by, able to handle extra security, maybe even metal detectors, and of course be very active in helping the needy.

The First Baptist Church sent a letter inviting Mr. Obama to visit but it has not received a response. Another pastor in town from the Calvary Church used her blog to invite First Lady Michelle Obama to visit. No response there either. We also visited the church that Abraham Lincoln attended when he was President. That’s the Foundry Church. The Clintons belonged there too. But, we all know how President Obama feels about Mr. Lincoln. That may just seal the deal right there. We’ll keep watching how this vetting process plays out.

Filed under: 360º Follow • President Barack Obama • Randi Kaye • Religion
soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Neo

    Is it mandatory that he choose a church?

    April 7, 2009 at 8:07 am |
  2. J.V.Hodgson

    I find this article both unnecessary and distasteful and a huge invasion of privacy that you media guys when it suits you scream your heads off when your rights of freedom of the press are invaded.
    ERR, the constitution gives the inalienable right to freedom of religion as well to any individual.
    This is none of your business, or anyone else's!!
    The constitution says politics and religion ++ are separated. When all Americans get that message and exercise those individual rights, we will all be better off.
    This article then ends up where it should be in the trash can!!
    Personally, for whatever reason or whatever person, or whatever organisation, or individual asking ( even closest friends ((fiends??))
    My personal religious belief or political persuasion is for me only to know and you to guess if wish. That's my basic freedom and tough if you don't like it, whether I stand for public office or not.
    We have a democracy and whether I am President or not I cannot make the House or senate pass laws against vox populi!!
    Grow up and butt out of this nonsense.

    April 7, 2009 at 5:14 am |
  3. Julie San Diego, CA

    Noreen, thanks for educating us on life in Pakistan.

    I think it's absolutely terrible that people are politicizing a family's search to find a church that fits their belief system.

    I very much enjoyed reading the article about Richard Quest in the New York Post (online) dated April 19, 2008. Greg, since you're such a big fan of Richard, maybe you should read the article too.

    Thanks again Noreen for your perspective. It's the first news I've seen on this site.

    April 7, 2009 at 4:55 am |
  4. Miss J

    Why don’t the Obama’s consider going to services on a nearby military post? Michelle Obama wants to be supportive of the military families…maybe she, the President and their daughters could benefit from having a close proximity to the military members and their chaplains. The military community helps each other and in the current state of military deployments I would say military families are some of the neediest people of all. Our President may not be able to walk in the shoes of those fighting on the front lines but he could sure sit and worship and pray with their families.

    That's an interesting idea. I think it's a great suggestion.

    April 7, 2009 at 1:20 am |
  5. W. van Oosten

    My questions would be, why is President and Michelle Obama not personally finding a church that is Biblically and doctrinally sound? Church shopping is not "club" shopping, and should not be delegated to the "politically correct" White House watch dogs. But then again, maybe this is just a real indicator of how much importance President Obama places on his reliance on God and His Word.

    April 7, 2009 at 12:12 am |
  6. Rudy

    Hey Randy! I think the White House is not only looking for a place where the Obamas can worship but a place where the Obamas can serve. A life in public service calls for an attitude of giving back, and making a difference. Ironically a life of Christian dedication includes the same. That's why the White House isn't going to be simply looking at churches for their doctrines and beliefs that create confusion or controversy, but their looking for churches that are walking the walk, doing the work, and living the life of true servitude. REAL Christians.

    April 6, 2009 at 11:51 pm |
  7. Cervantes

    It is very important toa family to consider attending various,churches,that way one can find a complete enrichment of the spirit,(he migth find one that can teach to walk on water!)

    April 6, 2009 at 11:51 pm |
  8. Phyllis M New

    I am a senior and have searched all my life for a church. I FOUND ONE that accepts and respects all religions, races and beliefs. You surely would not offend anyone and you would be very happy if you joined the Unitarian Universalists. They constantly amaze me with their intelligence and love for all humanity. I am extrememly sincere about this and hope you will investigate this possibility.

    I love you and your family. I love this nation. Phyllis M New

    April 6, 2009 at 11:05 pm |
  9. Debbie Brown

    I agree with Sandy...going to the closest military base and worshiping with the soldiers and their families would bring them closer to what our military deals with and more able to sympathize with them and their everyday problems...

    April 6, 2009 at 10:34 pm |
  10. Desmond

    President Obama appears to be a pretty decent individual. He is certainly reaching out to the people. As to finding a church for him and his family to attend, that is a purely personal quest for him. As a point of personal interest, could you please tell me , of all the churches that dot the land, which church is the true church?

    April 6, 2009 at 10:31 pm |
  11. Cristy Kirssin

    Alright, I would really like to invite the Obamas to come to my church in Baltimore, Maryland, Trinity Assembly of God, before they make a commitment. They will find spirtual fufillment and the presence of god there and never go anywhere else. Its not far from D.C. either maybe 40 minutes...

    April 6, 2009 at 10:01 pm |
  12. Aynes

    I might add...the title to this article is:" Is the White House praying for the right church?" Maybe the question should be "Is the White House praying???"

    April 6, 2009 at 9:01 pm |
  13. Aynes

    Once again, choosing a place of worship for the Obama's is only done for political purpose. It should be a private decision. I have very serious doubts that Obama would gain anything by going to church. His stance on abortion and stem cell research makes me wonder if he even picks up the Bible let alone read it.

    April 6, 2009 at 8:58 pm |
  14. Kristen - University Park, PA

    Choosing a church should be a family decision. I understand Obama is the President but really this is such a personal choice, it's not fair to try and make it political or news worthy. The church they chose should meet their needs and fit their beliefs, its none of our business what church and why they choose.

    April 6, 2009 at 8:14 pm |
  15. Kenya

    President Obama and First Lady should seek the Lord on what church to attend. He will guide them in the right direction. Praise Jesus!

    April 6, 2009 at 8:06 pm |
  16. Mari

    All I can say is that I hope that God will guide the Obamas to the right church for them to worship and a wonderful faith community to belong to. In tough times, church can be a big comfort and support.

    April 6, 2009 at 8:03 pm |
  17. Greg

    Randi – you always do great work – would be nice to have Erica learn some from you.

    Love Richard Quest -hope he can get a regular spot on the program.

    Erica’s webcam – not working. But would love to see her do some field correspondent work The banter and flirting between Anderson and her is not working anymore. It seems forced and is old.

    Give Erica the opportunity to get out of the studio and do some field correspondent work as you promised us and freshen up the lightness with Richard Quest.

    April 6, 2009 at 7:58 pm |
  18. Isabel

    Good evening, Randi!

    The ideal is that the church was a place of peace and spiritual comfort for Obama’s family and that the tone of the sermons was not political.

    What is expected is that the Priest or Pastor knows how to attain the faithful who seek God and have expectations with the work of the President. But it is expected also that the Priest or Pastor will attain the Obama’s family (which will also be faithful), who also seek God and have expectations.

    It is important to remember that everyone prays the same thing: for a more just America and a better world.

    April 6, 2009 at 7:55 pm |
  19. Noreen Imran

    HI Mr Cooper,
    I do enjoy your programmes but I think to call them with a 360 perspective is unfair. You do present 360 degrees on what you think or your channel wants to be aired but it does not show the flip side of the coin. I am writing because I am a Pakistani and what is happening in Pakistan is not what Pakistan or Pakistanis stand for. It is hijaked by a small group of people wose bravado is fueled by too much attention world is giving them. They do not deserve it. When your programmes imply that an average Pakistani is some how intuned too these revengeful and hateful militant acts you make these confused people strong and give them psycological power that they can somehow bring some major change in the world or can impose a particular brand of Islam. They cannot stop making them pwerful. I would suggest you make a programme about educated class of Pakistanis and their educated women and the millions of professionals who are in every multinational in every renowned university , serving as doctors and lawyers. When the true Pakistani's and their aspiratins are known that will stop fueling these stupids who have no respect for human life show them that they are not mainsteam and they are not even worth any attention. They are just a occupational hazard resulting from revenge, poverty and overpopulated state managed by corrupt political leaders. Truth always sets you free show the truth and crush these pathetic psychopaths. Every Pakistani wants progress and education and security in their country. Show more of these people , let the progrssive segment be heard so Pakistan a country of almost 200 million people feels it is in world community and wants to progress instead of some country filled with terrorist. Pakistani want modesty but do not want age old customs. IT should not be portrayed as a negative or extreme Islamist regime which it is not. MY grandmother was a university graduate, all women in my family and middle class families are educated . We are a force let us be seen so these fools know they are isolated sorry cases. Educated people are leaving Pakistan because of security reason and doing meaningless jobs in western countries , instead they could be a positive force in their own country which is the right way to fight terrorism not maligning us all and showing small portion of lunatics as a face of strategically located country. Do not try to westernize us but let us reach our desire of becoming progressive successful and secure nation whose citizens can be the biggest tool against curbing these unruly stupids. I hope you can deliver a 360 show which focuses on majority. Jst do a statistic on the educated professional female population and its contributions instead of airing few examples of abbused women as representative of majority thus giving power and exposure to confused bought stoges with no clear agenda.

    April 6, 2009 at 7:47 pm |
  20. dave

    Why is President Obama doing the same thing as Bush in domestic warrantless phone and email tapping?

    April 6, 2009 at 7:30 pm |
  21. Terry, TX

    Since when does one have a "team of advisors" to pick out a church....is the same team picking out the dog.....this is one dumb subject...the man is an orator of rhetoric....but can't make a decision...do we know what toilet paper he uses?

    April 6, 2009 at 7:23 pm |
  22. Timothy Gibson

    I would image President Obama has someone research and advise him on which pair of undershorts to wear, should it be tighty whities or boxers, or maybe a sports cup. Every move this man makes is calculated on political success and power, upon building further on the mighty hand of God that was created in his campaign as a messiah sent to save deliver the people.

    I could sit and snack on popcorn all day and accomplish as much in finding faith through the eyes and ears of another. Faith is personal and cannot be caught up and delivered like a cheap take out meal.

    I am over the glory and stage show of his role. It is time to play ball, get on the court or off, but stop taking up valuable room in the mean time.

    In the meantime, perhaps they can send out scouts to find the answer to the question, who ya gonna call.

    April 6, 2009 at 6:57 pm |
  23. Brian

    Not sure I like the article heading. It's misleading. What's the right church anyway?

    April 6, 2009 at 6:54 pm |
  24. Stan

    Nuclear Weapons: Wouldn't it just be common sence to increase economy of your Country and your people, instead of trying to make weapons of mass destruction! Norht Korea, stop the wasting of money and use your financies to make live better for your people. Common sence on the part of all the leaders of the free World, will make life better for us all, we all need each other in some way or another.

    April 6, 2009 at 6:48 pm |
  25. Luis

    Look at CNN's ratings fall.

    This is why people are turning away from the T.V. and are listening to radio.

    Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Michael Savage have bigger audiences then NBC, CBS, and ABC combined!!!

    Hate as you may, but their you go. the numbers don't lie.

    April 6, 2009 at 6:30 pm |
  26. Ron Fark

    It would be a shame if the Obama's could not find an United Church of Christ to attend as they did in Chicago. Not withstanding the Rev. Wright, the UCC is one of the most liberal protestant churches in the country. It ordained gays for ministers already in the 70's. Hope they stay with an open-minded congregation.

    April 6, 2009 at 5:51 pm |
  27. Caroline, Los Angeles

    I think the Obamas should find themselves a local church. It's a good idea.

    April 6, 2009 at 5:48 pm |
  28. Sandy

    Why don't the Obama's consider going to services on a nearby military post? Michelle Obama wants to be supportive of the military families...maybe she, the President and their daughters could benefit from having a close proximity to the military members and their chaplains. The military community helps each other and in the current state of military deployments I would say military families are some of the neediest people of all. Our President may not be able to walk in the shoes of those fighting on the front lines but he could sure sit and worship and pray with their families.

    April 6, 2009 at 5:45 pm |
  29. Michelle Johnson, Lomita, CA

    I doubt if the pastor and parishioners of these churches have any say in whether they want to be vetted. The Feds probably freely do extensive random background checks on church members. It's a violation of privacy, having Secret Service eye you suspiciously every Sunday, and going through security checks. Much as I like President Obama and First Lady, if they started attending my church, I'd leave. Very interesting subject, though. If CNN has another live 2-hour 360, it would make a great panel discussion.

    April 6, 2009 at 5:40 pm |
  30. Annie Kate

    I never realized before just how many "life" decisions the new Presidents have to make – maybe because the media has never made so much of those decisions. On the church I bet he leans towards the one Lincoln attended but I think the one that other Presidents attended and know how to handle the press and the increased security is the best one. They would be more able to blend in with the other members quicker.

    April 6, 2009 at 5:35 pm |
  31. Carolyn


    Apparently Mr. Lincoln had more than one faith on his side too. He was a regular worshipper at my mom's church in Washington, DC, the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.

    I'll be interested to see if there's a 'holy war' of sorts to get the Obamas' 'business' between NYAPC and the Foundry Church.

    Should make for some good, clean fun, no???


    April 6, 2009 at 5:35 pm |