Obama attends Easter service; minister criticizes ‘captains of the religious right’

President Obama and the first family walked from the White House across Lafayette Square to attend Easter worship at St. John’s Church, their most frequent religious venue while in Washington.

The Obamas worshipped at St. John’s on Easter 2009, and they have visited the Episcopal congregation, which is led by the Rev. Luis Leon, numerous times, including last year.

With Obama in the pews, Leon took a shot at political conservatives, arguing from the pulpit that some conservative positions are holding people back.

Quoting from John 20:1-18, Leon said in the same way that Jesus told Mary Magdalene not to hold on to him, it is time for conservatives to stop holding on to what he considers outdated stances in matters of race, gender equality, homosexuals and immigrants.

“It drives me crazy when the captains of the religious right are always calling us back . . . for blacks to be back in the back of the bus . . . for women to be back in the kitchen . . . for immigrants to be back on their side of the border,” Leon said.

Leon said that people instead should use “Easter vision” to allow them to see the world in a different, more “wonderful” way.

After the sermon, Leon told The Washington Post that he was speaking about Mary realizing that she shouldn’t hold on, accepting it and changing from that point on.

“That is the invitation for all of us,” Leon said. When asked to discuss his criticism of political conservatives, he said: “I will keep my thoughts there.”

The Obamas walked back to the White House after the service.

Obama has visited the church, near the White House, several times during his presidency. Like most of his previous visits to churches in the District, Obama did not make a speech. He sat on the end of a pew near the middle of the sanctuary, smiling and greeting members of the congregation with “Happy Easter.”

Since taking office, Obama also has visited a number of African American churches, where he has almost always chosen to worship quietly, speaking only once.

The Obamas have not become members of a congregation in the District, but they have started to develop a spiritual tradition, largely visiting churches close to the White House.

Hamil Harris is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of The Washington Post.
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