HONOLULU — Barack Obama has long stressed the importance of religion in his life.
But as his fellow Christians around the world attended Christmas services on Wednesday and Thursday, the president-elect and his family remained sequestered at their vacation compound on the windward coast of Oahu.
His lack of attendance at formal religious services was obvious and showcased a dilemma faced by Obama, who is between churches and often also expresses concern about bringing the disruption of his security detail into the lives of others.
Still, he has not attended a public church service since before being elected, a departure from the actions of his two immediate predecessors.
“The president-elect didn't want to disrupt a church community on Christmas with the burdens that come with a presidential visit,” Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said Thursday.
In a Chicago Tribune interview last month, the president-elect said he is now dependent on pastor friends for his spiritual guidance.
“Michelle and I have not found a home church since we left Trinity (United Church of Christ). And it didn't make sense for us to join one now, right before we're about to move,” he said. “So, I'm reliant on the pastors who are friends of mine and who I talk to for support and my own prayer life at home.”
Last spring, Obama severed more than two decades of ties with his longtime Chicago church, after a long-running controversy over remarks made by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr.
In making that announcement, Obama said he wanted the church to be able to return to some level of normalcy, something that seemed impossible as long as he was a member.
Throughout his national political career, Obama has made the case that God and religion are not the sole political property of Republicans, who are more closely associated than Democrats with weaving moral dictates into their political platform.
In recent days, he has sought to reach out to social conservatives — and in turn angered part of his own political base — by selecting for his inauguration invocation the Rev. Rick Warren, a prominent pastor who backed a recent ballot measure banning same-sex marriage in his home state of California.
Aides said the Obamas celebrated Christmas Day by opening presents at their vacation rental compound in Kailua. Dinner included turkey and ham. Obama also made a late-afternoon stop at Marine Corps Base Hawaii to greet troops eating their Christmas dinners.
Earlier that week, Obama did visit a church when he attended a private memorial service for his grandmother, who died less than two days before the election at the age of 86.
The service for Madelyn Dunham was held at the First Unitarian Church, which made national news in 1969 when it offered sanctuary to dissident servicemen protesting the Vietnam War.
Obama said during the Tribune interview that his family plans to find a home church in Washington, although no selection has yet been made. “We frankly haven't thought about it yet because right now we're just trying to make sure that we don't lose anything in the move, including our children,” he said.
During the campaign — especially in the early phase — Obama attended church services with some regularity. He even spoke from the pulpit on several occasions.
But as the frantic pace of the campaign advanced and the security bubble around him became even more robust, his attendance slipped.
As a president-elect, Bill Clinton frequently attended church services in Little Rock in 1992. George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, helped to serve communion during a Christmas Eve service in 2000 at their hometown church in Austin, Texas.
Once a president takes office, his church attendance can also be sometimes spotty.
Bush, for example, has only infrequently attended services in Washington, although he often worships at the chapel at Camp David.
Bill and Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, frequently attended a Washington church during their time in the White House.
Ronald Reagan, according to news accounts, did not attend church in Washington much, citing the complications of making a congregation deal with the security screening of parishioners.