Navy Chaplain Carey Cash Takes Message From Iraq to Obama

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright is long gone; Rick Warren, just an Inauguration Day memory. The hordes of ministers around town who were hoping they'd somehow wind up with the first family in their pews have (mostly) given up.

The president has been pastorless for quite a while now. Well, sort of.

Seventy miles from Washington's prying eyes, Barack Obama has been attending church from time to time at Camp David, where services are led by a 39-year-old Navy chaplain with a famous last name, a compelling life story and a fervent belief in a God who works miracles.

Carey Cash, the great-nephew of singer Johnny Cash and the younger brother of a former Miss America, sees the hand of God in every part of his journey: from the football fields where he once aspired to the NFL to the medical facilities where he learned he'd never play again; from the battered Humvee where he came under fire on the streets of Baghdad to the tiny chapel where he preaches to the country's commander in chief in the Western Maryland mountains.

Although Cash was assigned to Camp David by the Navy, the president really likes the guy. Cash, Obama told religion reporters this summer, "delivers as powerful a sermon as I've heard in a while. I really think he's excellent."

But don't make the mistake of referring to the imposing 6-foot-4 Southern Baptist chaplain as the president's pastor. The White House has said that's not the case.

None of the president's advisers have forgotten the firestorm that engulfed Obama during the campaign when inflammatory sermons by Wright, Obama's longtime spiritual mentor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, were made public.

The president himself cites it as part of the reason that he and his wife have been hesitant to pick a permanent church in Washington.

"Let's be blunt," said Obama, who has attended worship services once at Nineteenth Street Baptist Church and three times at St. John's Episcopal Church, most recently Sunday. "We were pretty affected by what happened at Trinity and the controversy surrounding Reverend Wright. That was deeply disturbing to us, and it was disappointing for us personally. It made us very sensitive to the fact that as president, the church we attend can end up being interpreted as speaking for us at all times."

At Camp David's tiny Evergreen Chapel, which is off limits to the public and the media, the Obamas don't have to worry about that kind of scrutiny. The family shares the pews with a small number of military families stationed at the 143-acre retreat -- an experience that the president has mentioned more than once, along with his high regard for Cash.

But that doesn't mean Obama endorses Cash's controversial views on Christian proselytizing in the military and on Islam, which the chaplain describes in a 2004 book as a violent faith that "from its very birth has used the edge of the sword as a means to convert or conquer those with different religious convictions."

The White House declined to make Cash available for interviews, saying it wished to keep the president's religious worship at Camp David private. Cash's family also declined to speak on instructions, they said, from the White House.

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