A delegation of goodwill Baptists will meet with White House officials in early March to discuss faith and social issues.
Plans for the White House visit began percolating roughly nine months ago, after a pre-release screening of the immigration documentary "Gospel Without Borders" was held in the nation's capital.
Roughly 60 Baptists from across the country will gather in Washington, D.C., March 7 at the White House complex for half a day.
"We are expecting a candid exchange," wrote Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, and Ricky Creech, executive director/minister of the District of Columbia Baptist Convention, in a Feb. 14 letter to participants. Parham and Creech are co-organizers of the gathering.
"We will get to express concerns, ask questions, speak morally about the budget, taxation, immigration, health care, war, criminal justice, the environment and other issues," they continued in the letter.
"We will get to share what concerns us as congregational leaders, what's on our hearts as moral leaders, what community needs are pressing, what our churches do that works to advance the common good. We will also get to hear how administration officials see issues, how they explain their purposes and goals of policies."
Plans for the visit began percolating roughly nine months ago, after a pre-release screening of the immigration documentary "Gospel Without Borders" was held in the nation's capital.
The documentary was produced by EthicsDaily.com, a division of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
The list of Baptist leaders has not been made public, and the letter spoke only in generalities, not specifics, about the attendees.
"We sought to invite goodwill Baptist pastors from a variety of locations," wrote Parham and Creech. "We also invited a few organizational leaders who have a record of commitment to addressing social justice issues – immigration, payday lending, global poverty, tax justice, racism and other topics."
Parham and Creech made clear that – in keeping with Baptist polity – no one person will represent the Baptist group at the White House.
"As Baptists, we know that no Baptist speaks for another Baptist," said Parham and Creech in the letter. "No one will speak for this delegation. All, we hope, will speak about their experience."
Some participants have already begun preparing for the visit.
Amy Jacks Dean, co-pastor of Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., asked for her congregation's help in determining which issues should be placed on the administration's radar.
"I want to hold a few 'town hall' meetings with you to hear what you would say if you got a chance to take your concerns and your questions and your issues straight to the White House," she wrote in her church's Feb. 8 newsletter. "I'm not interested in partisan politics. I'm not interested in loud talking points that dominate our airwaves in this election year. I am interested in hearing what you would talk to the President about if you had a chance."
Press will not be allowed to cover the meeting, though participants "will be free after the meeting to speak openly about what they heard and what was said," according to the letter.
The letter did not indicate who will represent the White House at the meeting, saying only that "top officials in the executive offices will be present."
"We think this is an important opportunity for goodwill Baptist leaders to frame issues from a moral perspective and to give a moral witness to the best of our Christian tradition," read the letter, which also included a paragraph emphasizing religion's relationship to government.
"As goodwill Baptists, we come from a tradition that favors a high wall of church-state separation and knows that the prophetic witness to power necessitates autonomy," read the letter. "Real prophets are never court prophets or partisan priests or representatives of a political party at prayer."
"We hope you will pray about this opportunity," the Feb. 14 letter concluded, "and plan to be good stewards of the gift of witness at the White House."