I go to the White House, and President Obama comes to Charlotte, N.C. Our planes must have passed in mid-air. Just my luck.
But the goal of the “White House Briefing with Baptist Clergy Leaders” was not a photo-op with the president. The goal was to listen and to learn, to share and to exchange concerns.
The meeting was facilitated by Paul Monteiro, associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. This office was put in place by the president as a nonpartisan, nonpolitical office with the goal to “connect to people about issues we care about – connecting the outside expert with the inside expert.”
Monterio said, “This is a hello and not a goodbye.”
And he has been right so far in that I have received two e-mails from him already – one as a follow-up “thank you for coming” email and the other as a weekly update highlighting events and issues that are front and center this week.
It is true that the White House set the agenda for this meeting. While I wish there had been more opportunity for us to share and to ask questions, as I thought about it, how in the world could 60 Baptist pastors do that in any kind of timely manner?
So representatives from different government departments spoke for a few minutes about their areas, we got to ask a few questions, and then we were on to the next topic.
We started with human trafficking. Did you know that in the first 48 hours roughly one-third of all runaways are trafficked?
In the next few weeks, there will be a big push from the White House on this issue to raise awareness. They see this push starting at the local level, and they see the faith-based community as important partners in this effort. I wasn’t even aware.
The next topic was environmental quality, which included issues around farm workers, immigration, fuel efficiency, high gas prices and clean water.
Then, we heard about issues facing the Latino community. Did you know that one-fourth of our public-school students is Latino, and that many Latinos do not have a private health care provider? While the face of immigration is often a Latino face, there are in fact many faces of immigration.
We heard from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau about mortgages and foreclosures, and we got a hotline number for people to call with questions or issues: (855) 411-CFPB.
We heard about disaster relief work and were told that March is American Red Cross Month. We were reminded that disasters don’t discriminate and that it takes a whole community to prepare for and respond to natural disasters.
If the church is a part of that whole community, what is our role in preparation and response?
We heard from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and its focus on foreclosure preventions, including a foreclosure prevention kit.
As I took notes and tweeted, one thing I kept thinking over and over: Every issue has a moral component.
So what is the church’s voice in these moral issues? What is our action?
It was wonderful to sit in a room and to talk about issues that have political ramifications but with no politics involved. No sound byte one-liners designed to tear down the other side.
Every issue had a face. Some of those faces are in our own church. And every pastor had that story. I got to see our government at work. And it is working and working hard.
So the question for us is: How will people of faith engage the moral issues facing our country?