Irenic Thoughts

Irenic. The word means peaceful. This web log (or blog) exists to create an ongoing, and hopefully peaceful, series of comments on the life of King of Peace Episcopal Church. This is not a closed community. You are highly encouraged to comment on any post or to send your own posts.


The Nativity and The White House

I was pleased to see my friend/mentor/rabbi Jack Moline chiming in as one asked to respond to a question at the On Faith online forum run by The Washington Post and Newsweek. I was a student of Rabbi Moline's at Virginia Theological Seminary where he taught a course on Judaism and he has provided ongoing support to me as I have needed to provide pastoral support to Jews in Camden County.

Rabbi Moline was asked to write in response to a discussion on a Nativity Scene being displayed by the Obamas in the East Room of the White House. This is not in their private quarters, but in the public part of the building.

Rabbi Moline (pictured here) wrote It's about the Constitution saying
The members of the Obama family ought to be able to observe their own faith traditions as they choose in their private residence. In the public areas of the White House, however, every American ought to feel at home, not a guest. The display of a creche makes a religious statement and is as out of place as...well, as a chanukkiyah (menorah) that is kindled according to Jewish ritual requirements.

I am not a person who believes that my religious freedoms are endangered by the sight of a tree or a devotional tableau. This question is not about "what harm could it do"—the answer is, "not much." Instead, the question has to do with what is consistent with the principles of the Constitution, and a creche in the East Room of the White House isn't.
Rabbi Moline's response is clear and reasonable. However, I do not completely agree with him on the distinction between the public and private areas of the building, as the whole building does reflect the President and functions as a residence in terms of welcoming visiting dignitaries as well as closer family and friends. I therefore think naming a display in the public part of The White House a constitutional issue goes a bit too far.

White House CrècheWhen a Jewish president is elected, I would expect the official residence might reflect the seasons of the Jewish year and would expect a seder in the public area of The White House, not just in the private residence. And with the Obamas in The White House, a creche is not inappropriate. No violation of the constitution occurs when one religion is preferred over another in the President's official residence/office any more than when the first family decides which church to attend. The constitution is violated when one religion is preferred over another in the public sphere so as to make it the established religion of state. Our great nation has good cause to steer a wide berth around establishing any form of religion as the religion of state. I just don't think this crosses that line.

That said, I serve as a pastor in a Christian church and not as the rabbi of a Jewish synagogue. My own view may be skewed by being a part of the religion which enjoyes the majority of the public sphere. So, I do listen to my rabbi's words and wonder who has it right here. What we would think if we were Father Moline and Rabbi Logue? The rest of the On Faith responses are online here A Crèche in The White House?.

What do y'all think?

The Rev. Frank Logue, Rabbi Moline's secret agent in Georgia

PS: Another take on this with background information on how the creche (used in the East Wing since 1967) nearly got politically-corrected out of The White House see's Obama Dodges a 'Christmas Wars' Bullet and for a full report on The White House's Christmas theme of Reflect, Rejoice, Renew, see Washington Spaces blog's White House Decorations Unveiled: Reflect, Rejoice, Renew.



  • At 12/10/2009 11:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    With so many people continuing to believe our President is a closet (or not so secret) Muslim....I am certainly in favor of his public observance of his personal Christian faith. As a Jew it doesn't bother me a bit. Happy Hanukkah to all!


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