ELCA NEWS SERVICE
July 21, 2011
Obama in unprecedented meeting with ELCA presiding bishop, faith leaders
CHICAGO (ELCA) - Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), along with other faith leaders, asked President Barack Obama to protect funding for programs that benefit people living with hunger and poverty in the ongoing budget debate and in any deal concerning the debt crisis.
Hanson was part of a gathering of national Christian leaders who attended a meeting with Obama and senior White House staff on July 20. The select but diverse group represented evangelical, mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churches and faith-based organizations that pledge to form a "Circle of Protection" around programs that meet the essential needs of people living with hunger and poverty.
Commenting on the varied backgrounds of the leaders, Hanson noted, "We make a powerful witness to our faith when theological differences do not get in the way of serving our neighbors and welcoming the stranger." He felt this unity represented a "prophetic witness" and an opportunity to urge policy makers to recognize that a commitment to protect those who are vulnerable is a moral -- not partisan -- concern.
Hanson added, "The group of leaders made a commitment to alert our far-reaching networks on this issue. We Lutherans, who live our freedom in Christ by serving our neighbor, know that serving with those in poverty is inseparable from advocating for policies and priorities that both sustain them and give them opportunity."
In his final remarks to the president, the presiding bishop shared his experience with the Women of the ELCA at their triennial conference the previous week. "I was in Spokane, Wash., with 2,000 Lutheran women from all over the country -- rural and urban communities, small towns and suburbs. Over and over again I heard people saying, 'We are tired of living in a culture where people - yes, religious people included -- are constantly drawing lines in the sand that are becoming lines set in concrete.'
"Mr. President, isn't it good that God does not join in our drawing lines in the sand, but instead draws circles of protection beginning first with those who are most vulnerable. … Jesus kept standing with those whom individuals with political and religious power wanted to exclude and judged unworthy. We are pledging to stand with those whom God embraces in God’s circle of protection. In the difficult budget decisions to be made, let our shared commitment be to those who are hungry and those who live in poverty."
The faith leaders plan to continue to talk with policy makers, as well as emphasize with their members, the issues at stake in the budget. Hanson was also part of a group that met with U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chair of the House Budget Committee, and with the office of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on July 8.
Hanson noted that the ELCA has a long history of providing care for people in need through a wide network of Lutheran, ecumenical and public sector partners, both domestically and internationally. "The ELCA believes that churches have a greater capacity to make an impact when we join together. By working together we achieve things on a scale and scope that we could never do as a single church."
While the attendees dealt with complex policy issues, Hanson felt the tone was that of a spiritual conversation among people of faith, including the president, framed with prayer and scripture.
The timing was also critical. Obama went immediately into a meeting with congressional leadership to continue the negotiations on the debt ceiling and budget reductions. "We trust that he carried with him the discussions and commitments we expressed," said Hanson.
The Christian leaders at the July 20 meeting also included representatives from the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Council of Churches, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bread for the World, Sojourners, the Alliance to End Hunger, the Salvation Army, the National African American Clergy Network, the National Baptist Convention of America and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
White House staff in the meeting included Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, Director of the Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes, Economic Adviser Gene Sperling, Deputy Assistant to the President Michael Strautmanis and Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Joshua DuBois.
- - -
About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with approximately 4.5 million members in more than 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.
For information contact:
Sr. Manager, Public Relations and Integrated Communications
(773) 380-2968 or email@example.com