Obama Prays With Church Leaders on Cuba and Middle East

Nov 02, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

By Adelle M. Banks
Religion News Service

WASHINGTON (RNS) Twenty-one Christian leaders met and prayed with President Obama on Monday (Nov. 1), discussing joint concerns about poverty, U.S.-Cuban relations and peace in the Middle East.

Leaders from the National Council of Churches thanked the president for the passage of health care reform and voiced concern from the pews about stubborn unemployment rates.

"We weren't going there saying 'You need to do this for us, you need to do that for us,"' said the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, the NCC's general secretary, on Tuesday (Nov. 2). "We were also asking 'What can we do for you?' This is a spiritually demanding job and we are spiritual leaders."

At the close of the 40-minute meeting in the White House's Roosevelt Room, leaders said Obama asked for prayer, which was led by Bishop Thomas Hoyt of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

For a president who made faith an integral part of his 2008 campaign, Monday's meeting was decidedly low-key, with no public statements or photos released by the White House.

NCC leaders, who represent Orthodox, historic African-American and mainline Protestant denominations, raised other concerns, including the plight of the dwindling Christian population in the Middle East and limitations on travel to Cuba by U.S. religious leaders.

"On a day when you would imagine he could be quite distracted (by the midterm elections), he was very focused on the things that were being said and responded with questions and with comments of common concern," Kinnamon said.

The Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary of the Reformed Church in America, offered Bible verses that speak against "disorder and wickedness" amid concerns over the country's rancorous political climate.

"We commented that we were all elected people," said the Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA). "He reminded us that we didn't face midterms."

The meeting, brokered by NCC President Peg Chemberlin, a former adviser to the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, came after the leaders had invited Obama to their meeting next week (Nov. 9-11) in New Orleans to mark the 100th anniversary of the modern ecumenical movement. Obama is scheduled to be in Asia during the New Orleans meeting.

It marked the first time a delegation from the ecumenical organization had met with President Obama, and the first time since the Clinton White House that such a delegation had been invited to the White House.