WASHINGTON, D.C. A 20-person delegation of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) met with President Barack Obama in mid October to express to the president issues of concern to evangelicals.
According to a report of the meeting from Carl Nelson, president of Transform Minnesota who was part of the group, Leith Anderson, president of the NAE and pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minn., led the group and thanked the president and the State Department for their efforts in the case of Iranian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who has been sentenced to death because of his conversion to Christianity.
George Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God spoke about religious minorities in countries like Iran and Egypt. Wood told the president that three of the four most recent Christian martyrs in Iran were pastors of Assemblies of God congregations. The president told the group, according to Nelson, that he "frequently applies pressure" on the issue of religious persecution when meeting with foreign leaders.
In addition, the discussion focused on religious freedom, protection of religious hiring rights, immigration reform, traditional marriage definitions and how to care for the poor.
John Jenkins, pastor of First Baptist Church in Glennarden, Maryland, expressed concern on the part of the NAE that the Justice Department has not sought to uphold the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
The NAE supports marriage as between one man and one woman and believes it provides the "fundamental guarantee of societal survival and thriving" and also for the successful procreation of the next generation.
"We expressed concern about [Obama's] evolving views on marriage and that we believe changing the definition has serious consequences for our society," Nelson said. "It was pointed out that many chaplains in the military are concerned that changes to DADT ["Don't ask, don't tell"] and DOMA may require them to violate their faith."
Immigration reform was also an important issue discussed by the religious delegation and the president. According to Nelson, the president thanked the NAE for its support for comprehensive immigration reform and for its biblical and moral approach to the issue. The president also acknowledged that a majority of Americans want to enact immigration reform.
Jo Ann Lyon, general superintendent for the Wesleyan Church encouraged the president to continue to make immigration reform a top priority.
Anderson concluded the meeting by praying for the president.
Nelson said the president concluded the meeting by thanking the group for being gracious on issues of disagreement.
"It's important that we dialogue with public leaders in a civil manner," Nelson said. "There are issues that evangelicals and the president don't agree upon (i.e. marriage), but he thanked us for being gracious in our discussion of those things we don't agree upon, and I think that it is important for us as leaders to help reclaim a tone of civility in our nation."
Meeting with the president was a bit of a surreal experience for Nelson.
"It felt a bit anti-climatic," he said. "That's not to say it wasn't significant or impressive; it was, but the staff who welcomed us were personable and friendly like anyone else. Shaking the president's hand and looking at him across the table was a bit surreal. The president seems familiar to all of us because we see him on TV and in photos constantly, but looking him in the eyes and listening to him talk from across the table is a much different experience."
ACTIONPOINT: For more information about the NAE, visit www.nae.net.