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Apr 15, 12:48 PM EDT

Interest in where and when Trump may attend church services


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AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

WASHINGTON (AP) -- As Easter Sunday arrives, President Donald Trump has yet to attend a church service in the capital since the worship events of his inauguration weekend in January.

Trump was spending this holiday at Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach, Florida, a frequent weekend destination. The White House would not say if he would go to Easter services. A year ago, while a candidate, he attended the nearby Episcopalian church where he and Melania Trump were married.

Where a president worships is always of interest in Washington.

Bill Clinton frequented a Methodist church. Jimmy Carter taught Baptist Sunday school. and Barack Obama visited an Episcopal church near the White House.

But compared with the buzz in 2009 over whether newly elected Barack Obama would join a church, there has been less chatter this year about Trump.

Some of the more liberal churches oppose his policies. Also, he's out of town a lot of weekends. And he's not seen as a committed churchgoer anyway.

To be sure, Obama attended church only occasionally.

Perhaps the churches are better off without the hubbub, said the Rev. Darrell Scott, a pastor from Cleveland who supported Trump's candidacy and serves on a faith advisory board. Said Scott: "I believe one of the reasons he has not established a home church is it will become larger than life."

Raised a Presbyterian, Trump has called himself a "religious person." At a 2015 gathering hosted by Christian conservatives in Iowa, Trump said: "I'm Protestant, I'm Presbyterian, and I go to church, and I love God, and I love my church." He has also spoken about attending Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan.

In his weekly radio address, he called Easter Sunday "a holy day of reverence and worship" and "a sacred time that fills the spirit of our nation with the faith of our people."

Some Washington churches might be an uncomfortable fit for him.

"Churches in D.C. tend, not all, but tend to be a little more liberal. It's a hard sell," said the Rev. Roger Gench, the senior pastor at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church near the White House. He said his church has not reached out to Trump, though all are welcome.

"The policies of Trump are counter to the views of most of the people in the church," he said.

The thrice-married Trump once espoused more liberal positions but ran for president as a conservative. He did not immediately win over the Christian right in the Republican primaries, but solid support from evangelicals helped propel him to the White House. And so far, those supporters are looking at his words and deeds over his church attendance, said Bob Vander Plaats, president of the conservative Iowa group the Family Leader.

"When he announced our action as it relates to Syria and he also used the words, seeking God's wisdom, that's an encouragement to me," said Vander Plaats. He added that conservative Christians are happy with policy moves like nominating Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and signing legislation that lets states deny federal family planning money to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.

In general, Vander Plaats said, "I also think faith leaders and people of faith are not looking for him to be somebody he's not."

The White House started an office dealing with faith-based community efforts under George W. Bush, and it continued under Obama. So far Trump's administration has not announced a new director, and the White House did not answer questions about when that position might be filled.

During his inauguration weekend, Trump attended a private service at St. John's Church, near the White House, and the national prayer service at Washington National Cathedral. He has spoken about leaning on faith to serve in the Oval Office.

Speaking to the Christian Broadcasting Network this year, Trump said: "The office is so powerful that you need God even more because your decisions are no longer, gee, I'm going to build a building in New York or I'm going to do this. These are questions of massive life and death, even with regard to health care."

Even if Trump doesn't go each week, heading to church from time to time might be a good idea politically, said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University.

"No president has ever done damage to his career by showing up to a church service on Sunday," said Brinkley. "It shows people that perhaps God is on your side, that you understand the power of prayer."

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