Brethren Leader Is Part of Christian Delegation Visiting with President at White House Today

Church of the Brethren Newsline
Nov. 1, 2010

“And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace” (James 3:18).

Church of the Brethren general secretary Stan Noffsinger was one of the Christian leaders who met with President Barack Obama this afternoon, Nov. 1. The White House invited the delegation of leaders of denominations connected with the National Council of Churches (NCC) and Church World Service (CWS) in celebration of 100 years of ecumenism in the United States.

“What an event! It wasn’t just a feel-good meeting, it was substantive,” commented Noffsinger in a phone interview following the meeting. “We had a very pastoral visit. There was no partisanship. We were there as people of faith.”

As the meeting opened, as a way of acknowledging a seeming lack of civility as the country deals with issues, Wesley S. Granberg-Michaelson of the Reformed Church in America read the passage from James 3:16-18. At the invitation of the President, the meeting concluded with prayer led by Bishop Thomas L. Hoyt Jr. of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

“We set the stage with scripture and closed with prayer.” Noffsinger said.

The Christian leaders thanked President Obama for robust engagement with the faith community, and for passage of health reform legislation, while also pressing him to take a strong stance on behalf of people facing poverty and hunger.

The group urged the President to prioritize a number of issues, including strengthening the country’s fraying safety net; extending unemployment benefits as the economy continues to falter; lifting people out of poverty with a focus on job creation for those in poverty, job training, and education; Middle East peace; and the US relationship with Cuba, urging the President to lift the travel ban from the US to Cuba so that American-based organizations like Church World Service can support churches and communities there.

Meeting on the eve of the mid-term election, the Christian leaders also emphasized the need to work together for the common good and spoke of the power of churches to lead and break down walls of division.

“Almost in every issue we laid on the table he (the President) was crisp in his responses, very well thought out,” Noffsinger said. “I was very impressed with his caring for and concern for the unemployed, those who need health benefits, those who face violence in their lives.”

The President spent almost a quarter of an hour longer than was scheduled with the Christian leaders, something Noffsinger noted indicated his interest in the conversation. “He stayed with us for about 42 minutes,” Noffsinger said.

Noffsinger was chosen to take part in the delegation as a member of the executive committee of the NCC, and was one of two leaders representing the peace churches along with Thomas Swain of the Religious Society of Friends, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. The group also included NCC president Peg Chemberlin, NCC general secretary Michael Kinnamon, CWS president John McCullough, and heads of communion of 14 other denominations representing a variety of Christian traditions from the NCC.

“As the economic downturn has battered the middle class, it has been even more devastating to those already living on the economic margins of society,” said Chemberlin in a release from the NCC. “Our denominations and organizations are on the front lines–providing meals, support, and assistance to those hit hard by the economic downturn–but we know that more needs to be done.”

“Regardless of the outcome of tomorrow’s election, our faithful witness is needed now more than ever,” said Kinnamon. “Today, tomorrow, and into this next Congress, our country needs to come together and reclaim our values of justice and equality.”

Noffsinger expects continued dialogue with White House staff following today’s meeting, reporting that the President told the group of church leaders there are several new initiatives that his staff want to work on with the faith community.

The President also acknowledged the divisiveness and rancor of the current political climate, Noffsinger said, but expressed his feeling of accountability to all people of the country, and talked about the continuing role of faith in his own life.

The elections were not the focus of the meeting, Noffsinger emphasized, but added that the Christian leaders “are concerned with the discourse, and will continue to be in prayer for legislators and the President.”

The delegation presented the President with a Saint John’s Bible, a framed sampler of statements commemorating 100 years of ecumenism, and a picture plaque commemorating the CWS “Feed the Future” initiative.

At a reception following the meeting, hosted by the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, members of the delegation had an opportunity to meet directors of that office’s 12 focus areas. “There was significant conversation,” Noffsinger said. He himself had a chance to speak with staff related to AmeriCorps, regarding stories of transformation brought about by volunteer involvement in local communities, and with staff of US AID and the Department of Agriculture, regarding Church of the Brethren initiatives against hunger and the work of the Brethren Service Center.

(This report includes sections of a release by the National Council of Churches. Philip E. Jenks of the NCC and Kristin Williams of Faith in Public Life contributed. Photos from the White House meeting are expected to be made available later this week.)

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