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Obama Hosts First Evangelical
Summit at White House
BY SARAH PULLIAM BAILEY ©2011 Religion News Service
resident Obama formally extended his ear to evangelicals ahead of the 2012 election, meeting with top leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals in the White House for about 30 minutes on Wednesday (Oct. 12).
International religious freedom was a top priority for the group as they thanked Obama for condemning the charges against Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian pastor facing execution for his conversion to Christianity.
George Wood, the general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, cited other cases of people who been persecuted in cases around the world.
"Someone commented that all these things relate to issues of religious freedom," NAE President Leith Anderson said in an interview after the meeting. "He (Obama) did a lot of listening."
The group also discussed immigration reform and tricky legal questions surrounding whether religious organizations can hire based on religious beliefs while receiving federal funds, he said.
Discussions included the concern for budget cuts, including proposed reductions in funding for overseas development, and Obama referred to his desire for further job creation.
One issue that did not come up was abortion, which has been a sensitive point of divergence for both sides.
"Issues that relate to the poor we would address as pro-life issues, but it was not specifically a discussion on abortion," Anderson said. "It was not intentionally omitted. We had a limited amount of time."
One participant in the meeting said Obama and NAE leaders acknowledged a "respectful disagreement" over same-sex marriage, and NAE officials advocated for the right of military chaplains to voice their opposition to homosexuality following the repeal of the Don't Ask/Don't Tell policy.
The NAE, which represents 40 denominations across some 45,000 local churches, extends a request to meet with the president each year, Anderson said. This is the first time Obama has accepted.
"Evangelicals have had good access to the Obama White House, at least that's my experience. He clearly knows where we disagree on issues like marriage and abortion and he acknowledged that we have significant differences," Anderson said.
"We also talked about similar concerns and that he can be helpful to us in protecting the lives of Christians persecuted in other countries. He indicated that's a priority."