Have the Obamas Chosen a Church?

The big story (or non-story) in religious news this morning is Amy Sullivan’s article on the Time website announcing that the Obama’s have chosen to worship at Evergreen Chapel at Camp David. Sullivan writes:

…the 150-seat Evergreen Chapel attracts a congregation of between 50 and 70 people most Sundays. The rustic stone-and-glass octagonal structure was built nearly two decades ago through private funds; President George H.W. Bush dedicated it in 1991. At the ceremony, Christian singer Sandi Patti sang and the late Cardinal James Hickey of Washington delivered a sermon calling the chapel a “witness to our common belief that we need to seek divine guidance in the conduct of our national affairs.”

Each week, regardless of whether the President is on-site, Evergreen Chapel holds nondenominational Christian services open to the nearly 400 military personnel and staff at Camp David, as well as their families. A music director from nearby Hood College coordinates adult and children’s choirs (Clinton sang occasionally with the choir when he visited). In December, the kids in the congregation put on a Christmas pageant and the chapel holds a candlelight service on Christmas Eve. The Bush family enjoyed Christmas at Evergreen Chapel so much that they celebrated the holiday there for all eight years of Bush’s Administration.

Camp David’s current chaplain, Lieut. Carey Cash, leads the services at Evergreen. If the White House had custom-ordered a pastor to be the polar opposite of Jeremiah Wright, they could not have come as close as Cash. (As it is, the White House had no hand in selecting Cash. The Navy rotates chaplains through Camp David every three years; Cash began his tour this past January.) The 38-year-old Memphis native is a graduate of the Citadel and the great-nephew of Johnny Cash. He served a tour as chaplain with a Marine battalion in Iraq and baptized nearly 60 Marines during that time. Cash earned his theology degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth – and, yes, that means Obama’s new pastor is a Southern Baptist.

What do we know about Evergreen Chapel? Not much. The fact that Christian singer Sandi Patty performed there, coupled with the fact that the Bush family worshipped there, might lead one to believe that this is an evangelical congregation. Sullivan describes it as a “non-denominational” church, but this may be misleading. In evangelical circles, “non-denominational” is actually code for a Bible-centered congregation that is not affiliated with any particular denomination (such as Assembly of God or Evangelical Free or Conservative Baptist), but is solidly evangelical in its teachings and doctrine. A classic example is Bill Hybels’s massive Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, IL (which, by the way, is now the flagship congregation in its own association of churches). But as Mark Silk reports, Evergreen is actually as “non-sectarian” chapel. It was founded by mainline Protestants, Catholics, and Jews.

But this is all probably moot. The White House denies that Obama has decided on Evergreen or any other church for that matter. The search continues.