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Obama keeping public expressions of religion to a minimum

Official behind-the-scenes photos from the White House account from July 2010.

When the Obamas moved to Washington, the president said he hoped to find a church to attend. But in an interview this spring, he said he would not join a church in the Washington area. Instead, he said, he would pray privately, read spiritual devotionals on his BlackBerry in the morning and occasionally attend services with his family at the private Camp David chapel.

"What we've decided for now is not to join a single church, and the reason is because Michelle and I have realized we are very disruptive to services," Obama told NBC's Matt Lauer in March.

Joshua DuBois, the president's chief faith adviser in the White House, said Obama and his family have gone to services at several churches.

The president attended the National Prayer Breakfast this year and last, and has given several speeches in which he talked about his faith. At an Easter breakfast this year, Obama talked about his belief in Jesus's resurrection.

"We are awed by the grace he showed even to those who would have killed him," the president told the crowd of Christian leaders. "We are thankful for the sacrifice he gave for the sins of humanity. And we glory in the promise of redemption in the resurrection."

But outside of those formal events, Obama tends to reserve religious expression for private moments.

Hunter recalled one such moment this year, when the president called to ask about Hunter's sick granddaughter. "He said he and Michelle were praying for us," Hunter said. " 'Remember, the Lord is with you on this,' he said. Those things never get publicized."

Dubois said the president does not intend to suddenly practice his faith in public in an effort to counter misperceptions.

"The president's spiritual life, his Christian walk, is something that is important to him not for communications reasons or political reasons," DuBois said. "We're not going to shift course in any way on the basis of a short-term event."

Hunter said the White House is wise to avoid being dragged into an artificial religiosity that would not suit the president.

"The worst thing you can do is overreact to this and get all religious publicly," he said.

But he added that the president should think about ways in which he can appropriately convey the depth of his faith to the portion of the public that wants to hear it.

"He needs to, in the course of normal conversation, and when it's relevant to the conversation, be a little more transparent about his very active engagement in his own spiritual formation," Hunter said. "You don't publicize them artificially. But he can be more transparent about what really is his spiritual life."

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