Church leaders from around the globe met in December in Washington, D.C., to discuss their hopes for the Obama administration and their wish for a new style of leadership in the Oval Office.
Leaders from U.S. churches gathered for a three-day summit convened by the Geneva-based World Council of Churches’ U.S. division.
Rev. John Thomas, president and general minister of the United Church of Christ, stressed the American president's understated role as a public theologian who shapes the way people understand their relationship to God, their outlook on the world, and their sense of morality.
Last June, Barack Obama resigned his membership in Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ after sermons by his longtime pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, became a drag on his presidential campaign.
“I do take comfort in the fact that Barack Obama has been schooled in this role by a preacher named Jeremiah,” Thomas said, in a veiled reference to the outspoken Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. Thomas said he hopes that Obama looks to Abraham Lincoln, who “refused to pander to Americans’ desire for optimistic and self-righteous interpretations of their own history even in the midst of this nation’s greatest moral ‘test.’”
Other leaders at the WCC summit brought up the recession and housing-market collapse as concerns.
“Now it’s an economic crisis that demands our attention,” said Rev. Gradye Parsons, the stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA). “Our hope is that this current crisis does not become king, consuming us entirely and overshadowing the issues of ordinary people.”
Parsons said many middle-class Americans ignored warning signs of a financial crisis. “We need to confess that it wasn’t just predatory lending, but predominately, I think, it was predatory acquisition . . . by people in my pews and in your pews.”
“Mr. President, before you save us, let us have a chance to profess our ills,” Parsons said.
Poverty, health care, and education were also discussed. “President-elect Obama has made it clear that education is a priority, but he has left the emphasis on teachers and parents . . . recent policies have tied the hands of both,” said Rev. Sharon Watkins, president and general minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
The U.S. Conference of the World Council of Churches planned to use the concerns and issues raised by the panelists to draft a letter to send to Obama after he takes office Jan. 20.