The White ‘House Church’

House churches—congregations worshiping in members’ homes instead of in a church building—are big in the United States today, and the biggest of all is the one that meets from time to time in the East Room of the White House.

There is, of course, a longstanding tradition of separation of church and state in America, and some peevish and rash people have objected to the mere existence of White House religious services as a “violation” of that “principle.” On the other hand, it is a still older principle of common law that a man’s home is his castle, and castles usually have chaplains (and/or ghosts).

In any case, it hardly makes sense in a country that has borrowed so much of its national symbolism from the Egyptians (the pyramid on the Great Seal, the obelisk), the Romans (the Capitol, the eagle, the fasces on the old dime), and the Babylonians (the stars on the flag and elsewhere) to complain if there is some religion in the President’s residence. After all, the pharaohs were considered divine, and the Roman emperors—in addition to often claiming divinity—held the office of pontifex maximus (chief priest) as part of their government function. At least two Babylonian monarchs, when not calling astrologers to the palace, consulted with a noted Hebrew prophet and gave him high government posts. Compared with all this, the new and untested tradition of the separation of church and state dwindles in significance.

The more scholarly—including at least one “senator” (also a title borrowed from Rome)—have warned about the dangers of “civil religion,” on one occasion using the platform furnished by a “Presidential Prayer Breakfast” to do so. (The Prayer Breakfasts may have something in common with the agape, ...

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