Baptists entered the White House on Wednesday to join administration officials for dialogue over critical policy topics.
A delegation of 60 goodwill Baptist pastors from almost 20 states participated in the four-hour briefing with White House officials.
Baptist pastors pressed administration officials on topics ranging from the environment to immigration to predatory lending.
Although media were not allowed to attend the session to report, participants were allowed to tweet during the briefing.
Using the hashtag #BaptistsatWH, more than a dozen Baptists offered reports from what was said and offered their thoughts on the meeting.
Paul Monteiro, associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, who led the briefing, welcomed the group as part of the White House’s outreach to the faith community.
Monteiro was quoted by the Twitter account of the D.C. Baptist Convention explaining that a part “of my job is to break the churches out of the silos that they’ve been put in.”
He urged this involvement because “[w]hen you’re talking about policy issues and you leave out the Church, you’re starting in a hole.”
Parham spoke to the group before the meeting. Robert Fox, pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Georgetown quoted Parham saying, “We say let justice roll down like waters, it is the government’s task to build an irrigation system.”
Ricky Creech, executive director/minister of the D.C. Baptist Convention, also spoke to the group at the start of the meeting and echoed Parham’s hopes that the group could push the government to implement goodwill, moral policies.
Wright-Riggins, executive director of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies, noted Creech urged the assembled Baptist leaders to “‘get their hands dirty’ talking to people who can make a difference.” Wright-Riggins also praised the ethnic and gender diversity of the group.
After welcoming the group of Baptists to the White House, Monteiro spoke about combating human trafficking.
Amy Butler, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., tweeted, “we’re told by Paul Monteiro to “speak with a moral voice.”
Parham noted they were told Obama was going to launch a human trafficking initiative and “wants partnership [with] faith folk.”
Creech added that the administration hoped to work with the Baptist World Alliance on human trafficking.
Rohan Patel, associate director of the Council on Environmental Quality, spoke to the group about the administration’s environmental efforts and its connections to the faith community.
Elizabeth Hagan, senior pastor at Washington Plaza in Reston, Va., noted that Patel spoke “to the role of faith community in environment reform… votes passed because of grassroots movement.”
Patel was also quoted as saying, “This administration is not just about cleaning the environment but creating sustainable communities.”
However, Parham tweeted that administration admits “Obama has not accomplished on environment what he has wanted to achieve.” Other tweeters noted Patel’s focus on clean air and mercury regulations.
Julie Rodriguez, associate director of the Office of Public Engagement, then addressed the group about efforts focused on Latino communities.
The twitter account of DC Baptists quoted Rodriguez as explaining, “Four key issues for Latino families: education, health care, jobs and immigration.”
Several others noted key facts from Rodriguez, including that one in four public school children are Latino, that the Latino community was among the hardest hit by the housing crisis, and that the 2010 health care reform legislation provided health insurance for 9 million Latinos.
Speaking about immigration issues, Rodriquez was quoted saying, “The face of immigration has become Latino but this is not a true reflection.” She added, “It’s a narrative that we need to break down.”
Chris Vaeth, advisor for the Office of Community Affairs for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, spoke to the group about the work of this fairly new office.
DC Baptists quoted him explaining his office: “We have 4 tools: research, supervision over banks and nonbank lenders, rule-making authority and enforcement.”
Several tweeters noted Vaeth’s critique of predatory lenders like payday and car-title lenders.
Felicia Escobar, senior policy advisor for the Domestic Policy Council, brought the group’s attention again to immigration issues.
Among the issues tweeters mentioned, she talked about efforts to improve the ‘Green Card’ process and the deportation efforts.
Asked about support for the sanctuary movement, Escobar responded that “[c]hurches are sacred places” and the Department of Homeland Security is stopping to pursue people in houses of worship.
Creech reported the group would be presenting Escobar with a copy of the new Common English Bible (which uses the word “immigrant” instead of “stranger” or “alien”) and a copy of the “Gospel Without Borders” DVD, which was created by EthicsDaily.com.
Parham called the Common English Bible translation “a moral document” on the issue of immigration.
Jannah Scott, deputy director for the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnership, spoke about her office’s work.
She noted that Obama’s spiritual values help frame his policy decisions. She specifically focused on disaster relief efforts, explaining: “Disaster response is a spiritual imperative.”
She added that disasters are moments for people to work together despite differences: “Disasters don’t discriminate. We’ve got to come together.”
Three individuals from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – B.J. Douglas, Engram Lloyd and Paula Lincoln – spoke about efforts to prevent foreclosures.
In particular, tweeters noted efforts to help veterans receive foreclosure relief and efforts to help those without housing after the recent tornados.
The White House briefing was designed not only for goodwill Baptists to hear reports from White House officials but also for the Baptist delegation to ask questions and offer their input for White House officials to hear.
As Monteiro was quoted explaining, White House officials wanted to hear from the Baptists because “[w]e don’t have a monopoly on good ideas.”
True to form, the Baptists present peppered the speakers with questions, comments and concerns.
For instance, several tweeters noted David Goatley, executive-secretary/treasurer of the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention and president of the North American Baptist Fellowship, pressing the issue of Haitian family reunification concerns during a discussion about immigration.
Some tweeted that they presented letters from themselves and church members to give to administration officials in hopes of further articulating key positions.
At the close of Wednesday’s session, several Baptists tweeted their thoughts that the dialogue went well and their hopes that it would lead to moral public policies.
As Fox explained, he believed the meeting led to “awareness raised on both sides of table.”
As the delegation of goodwill Baptists left the center of the nation’s political world, many expressed hopes the meeting would lead to follow-up opportunities for discussion and cooperation.
Even White House officials suggested this might just be the beginning of the dialogue. As the group’s White House host, Monteiro, exclaimed, “This is a hello and not a goodbye.”
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.