|United Methodists consider a word with the president
A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Jan. 13, 2009
If given 15 minutes to speak with the first African-American U.S.
president, many United Methodists would spend part of the time with
their heads bowed in prayer.
Then they would like a word with him about poverty, terrorism, the
economy, racism, torture, climate change, abortion, immigration and
genocide — just to mention a few issues on the hearts and minds of
"If I could have 15 minutes with President-elect Obama, I think I
would first ask if we could pray together and would pledge to him I
would be in daily prayer for him and his Cabinet," said Margie Briggs,
United Methodist certified lay minister at Calhoun and Drake’s Chapel
United Methodist churches in Missouri. "I would ask him to share with
me his plan of action for the poor, especially children living in
poverty, so all might be covered by health care and have the chance to
rise above poverty by earning a living wage. And then I would ask how I
The Rev. Douglas Waite, a U.S. Navy chaplain and captain stationed in
Hawaii, would try to be a pastor to him and encourage him to keep up
regular devotions and to worship with his family as often as possible.
The Rev. Douglas Waite
"Concerning important issues, I could think of nothing more
important than keeping us safe from attacks of terrorism from our
enemies," Waite said.
Keep your promises
After pastoral words of encouragement, Bishop Robert T. Hoshibata,
of the church’s Portland (Ore.) Area, would tell Obama: "Do not
"I ask that you hold to the commitments you made to us: for a
government that honors and respects the diversity of the people of this
nation and of the world; for an administration that supports and
defends the Constitution and the freedoms it guarantees; of a world
that is committed to conversation, dialogue and negotiation before
turning to war and violence; for opportunities not just for a select
few, but for the many; for leadership willing to serve the common good,
not just benefiting a few."
Erin Hawkins, top executive of the United Methodist Commission of
Religion and Race, said she would remind Obama of his historic speech
on race when he spoke of the march for a more equal, caring and
"As you take office President Obama, how do you plan to continue
that march – how will you engage this country in seeing that
establishing an African American in the White House is not proof that
we in the U.S. are living in a post-race society?"
The high numbers of persons of color in jail, of African-American
women infected by the HIV virus and of disadvantaged people of color
denied basic health care is proof the United States is not living in a
post-race society, she said.
Help for the poor
The Rev. William Abraham, a professor of Wesleyan Studies at Perkins
School of Theology in Dallas and a native of Ireland, said he would
urge the new president to find a way to give the poor a better future.
"In Ireland, I was brought up in a family where we were deeply
dependent upon the state – my father was killed in an accident when we
were small, and aside from help from the church, we got help from the
state," Abraham said. "I think it is absolutely crucial that the state
strike a balance between meeting the immediate needs of people and
doing it in a way that is going to construct a future for them whereby
they will be full, responsible citizens in the community."
The Rev. William Abraham
Jim Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church
and Society, would ask Obama to keep his doors open to United Methodist
leadership and to the National Council of Churches.
"I would assure him the people of The United Methodist Church are
praying for him as he begins what is perhaps the toughest job in the
world," he said. "I would urge him to unambiguously reject torture by
the United States, work proactively to address climate change, abolish
the practice of presidential ‘signing statements,’ place the needs of
the poor at the top of budget and tax policies, act as a fair and
impartial broker of peace between Palestinians and Israelis, and engage
in dialogue with ‘enemies’ of the United States."
Address social issues
The Rev. Robert Renfroe, pastor at The Woodlands United Methodist
Church, Woodlands, Texas, would use the time to ask Obama a question:
"Mr. President, if it’s true, as you stated when interviewed by Rick
Warren, that you do not know when human life begins, why not err on the
side of caution?"
The unborn are at great risk in this country, he said, where "there
is a one in five chance that a fetus’ existence will be terminated by
He would ask the president to "appoint Supreme Court justices who
will allow the states and the people a voice in this matter. And,
please, use your position and your charisma to speak to what’s best in
us – the desire to protect human potential and life itself."
The Rev. Maxie Dunnam, chancellor of Asbury Theological Seminary,
Wilmore, Ky., would ask Obama not to compromise on human rights, the
environment, the lives of millions of babies each year, the health and
medical care of children, the values of a Judeo-Christian culture, the
place of America in the international community and "the most positive
dynamic of our nation’s life by thinking that religion and politics
don’t go together."
The Rev. Maxie Dunnam
"We within The United Methodist Church are committed to
contributing a prophetic, healing faith that will not claim God’s
blessings for all our national policies and practices, as though God is
always on ‘our side,’" Dunnam said. "Rather, with one of your favorite
presidential mentors, Mr. Lincoln, we worry a lot and pray earnestly as
to whether we are on God’s side."
The Rev. Joy Moore, dean at Duke Divinity School, Durham, N.C.,
would want Obama to use his leadership in the world to make the case
against genocide in places such as Sudan.
"As long as the international community permits mass killing and
rape, it emboldens the Mugabes (president of Zimbabwe) of the world to
act with impunity, believing that they have nothing to lose," she said.
Both the Rev. Sandra Cabrera, pastor of Elmwood United Methodist
Church, Dallas, and Judith Siaba, with the church’s Northern Illinois
Annual (regional) Conference, would ask Obama to pass a just
"This country came to be and became what it is on the back of
immigrants," said Siaba, who works in the conference office on
congregational development. "Young children who have been brought to
this country have a right for higher education. We need to change the
law so that they can contribute to our society by getting a good
The Rev. Joy Moore
"Our immigrant people are 40 million hard-working people, brave,
strong, enterprising, intelligent and people of faith, who started a
journey of faith by fleeing poverty and the lack of resolve due to the
constant socio-economic problem of Latin America," Cabrera said.
"I would ask when and how the rights and contributions of the people
can be acknowledged and resolved while society wants them to become
invisible? What will be your strategy and your plan to work with
Mexican leaders for a just and a dignified proposal to resolve the
immigration problem in both countries?"
Obama is "the reincarnation of the American dream," Abraham said.
"The American project is a theological project from beginning to
end, and the president is a critical figure in the civil religion of
the United States," he said. "I would love to hear him reflect on that.
"It is very clear that this man comes out of a very robust wing of
Christian tradition, and he is very serious about his faith," he said.
"I think his faith makes a lot more distinctive difference to his
politics than he is letting on."
* Gilbert is a United Methodist Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
Civil Rights and Obama
Audio clips: The Rev. William Abraham
“I would love to talk to him about the relationship between his faith and his politics.”
“He is the reincarnation of the American dream.”
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