General Minister and President Sharon Watkins and other Christian leaders met with President Barack Obama on Monday, Nov. 1, where the group urged the president to help implement domestic and international policies that strengthen families and fight poverty.
The meeting at the White House brought together nearly 20 religious leaders from both the National Council of Churches and Church World Service. The group thanked the president for his work with the faith community, while also pressing him to take a strong stance on behalf of families facing poverty and hunger. The delegation also discussed with the president their concerns about hazards faced by Christian minorities in the Middle East.
"We visited the White House at the President’s invitation to acknowledge together the 100-year history of the modern ecumenical movement, especially through the National Council of Churches and its predecessor organizations," said GMP Watkins. "We also took the opportunity to remind the President of our common faith and values related to extending God’s love to all our neighbors, and to work toward improving the lives of those in need."
During the meeting, Church World Service, which annually sponsors fundraising CROP Hunger Walks in 2,000 communities across the nation to assist local and global hunger programs, highlighted the repercussions of the severe economic crisis which extend beyond the borders of our country.
"As families in the U.S. find their household budgets more and more strained, families in the developing world are hurting too, said John McCullough, president and CEO of Church World Service. "We asked for the President’s leadership in crafting policies that ensure men, women, and children have access to nutritious food and that we invest in diversified agriculture and ongoing community-based nutrition education."
The delegation also asked the President to prioritize a number of issues, including strengthening the ‘safety net’ of services, extending unemployment benefits as the economy continues to falter, and lifting people out of poverty with a focus on job creation, for those in poverty, job training and education.
The Primate of the Armenian Church of North America, Eastern Diocese, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, told the President of the group’s concerns about hazards faced by Christian minorities in the Middle East. An attack on the Syrian Catholic cathedral in Baghdad on Oct. 31 left 58 people dead and 75 injured. The attack came during Sunday worship when people were praying.
Michael Kinnamon, an ordained Disciples pastor and general secretary of the National Council of Churches, noted the Church’s faithful witness is needed now more than ever. "We cannot stand by while people of goodwill are baselessly attacked for their faith, their political beliefs, or their identity. We have no reason to fear or demonize those who are different from ourselves. Today, tomorrow, and into this next Congress, our country needs to come together and reclaim our values of justice and equality," he stressed.
Watkins stressed that Disciples have played a major role within the NCC since its founding. Disciples have been instrumental in helping the NCC live out its mission of being a leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. The NCC’s member faith groups – from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches – include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.
"We went as Christians to celebrate 100 years of ecumenical cooperation, to talk together about how to partner in reaching out with God’s love to our neighbors in need, and to pray with and for the president as he continues to lead our nation," said Watkins.
The NCC/CWS delegation that met with the President also included Rev. Peg Chemberlin, president of the National Council of Churches; Bishop Johncy Itty of Church World Service, Bishop Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Bishop John R. Bryant of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, Bishop Thomas L. Hoyt, Jr. of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Mr. Stanley J. Noffsinger of the Church of the Brethren, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of The Episcopal Church, Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Church of America, Rev. Gradye Parsons of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Rev. Dr. Betsy Miller of the Moravian Church, Thomas Swain of the Religious Society of Friends, Rev. Wesley S. Granberg-Michaelson of the Reformed Church in America, Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader of the United Methodist Church, Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America, Rev. Geoffrey Black of the United Church of Christ, and Dr. Walter L. Parrish III of the Progressive National Baptist Convention.
The delegation presented the President with a Saint John’s Bible, a framed sampler of statements commemorating 100 years of ecumenism, and a plaque commemorating President Obama’s and the government’s new "Feed the Future" initiative.
Compiled from reports from the National Council of Churches, Church World Service and Faith in Public Life.