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Agency Heads Meet with White House Staff: Discuss Issues of Common Concern

United Methodist Communications
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 29, 2014

Agency Heads Meet with White House Staff: Discuss Issues of Common Concern

Washington, D.C.: In a two-way exchange lasting more than an hour, staff of the Obama administration and the heads of the agencies of The United Methodist Church exchanged views and discussed how the many resources of the church support important humanitarian initiatives to improve the lives of children at risk, prevent sexual violence on campus, and address global humanitarian concerns.

Ashley Allison, who is the Faith Liaison for President Obama, said, “For decades, opportunity has lagged behind for boys and young men of color. If a child is not reading at age level by third grade, we know that child is unlikely to complete high school.”

The President’s new initiative, “My Brother’s Keeper,” has called on agency heads to help the administration engage faith communities and local leaders in meeting the challenges of at-risk children by “building on what works to help young people stay on track” and identifying new opportunities to ensure access to basic health services, adequate nutrition, and high quality early education.

She said the initiative also seeks to create partnerships between police and communities to reduce violence and help students stay in school and find good jobs.

Gil Hanke, head of United Methodist Men, called attention to the mentoring work of that agency and other organizations with whom UMM works, including Boy Scouts and Big Brothers. He said many boys who come from a home where the father is absent find a strong male leader they need and want through Scouting.

Hanke also noted that Big Brothers and Big Sisters have mentoring programs for youths whose parents are incarcerated. Without intervention, the probable outcome for these youth is to follow their parents into prison.

Harriett Olson, top executive of United Methodist Women, spoke of the many community centers operated by the church throughout the country, located in city neighborhoods and serving at-risk children and their families. More focus on learning and mentoring will be welcome, she said, but there is a critical need for resources to support that work.

Highlighting another administration initiative, Kyle Lierman said the conversation was timely, coming only days after the launch of a campaign called “It’s On Us” to call attention to sexual violence after a string of sexual attacks on young women on college campuses.

Lierman staffs the initiative in the administration. Launching the campaign, President Obama cited estimates that one in five women have experienced sexual violence in their college years and only 12 percent of those are reported. He said a fraction of offenders are punished.

Lierman said the Presidential initiative is a long-term attempt to create change in the wider culture. Because of this, the campaign is not housed within the White House, but in partnerships with organizations outside government so that it will live on after the administration changes, he said.

The Rev. Dr. Kim Cape, head of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, told the Obama staffers that the church has 119 schools, colleges and universities across the U.S. and a network of campus ministries that would readily engage in the campaign.

Olson also affirmed the initiative and spoke of a joint program to reduce domestic violence co-sponsored by United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men. She explained that the organizations view sexual assaults as part of the larger issue of domestic violence.

“Sexual assault is not about sex, it’s about violence. It’s really about gender violence and how women are viewed and treated,” she said.

Hanke agreed that only men can stop violence against women, as the Presidential Initiative, “It’s On Us,” implies.

Meeting around the Roosevelt table in the West Wing of the White House complex, the group agreed that the grassroots capacity of the church, along with its ability to mobilize community leaders nationally, can strengthen initiatives such as the two described. The agency heads also affirmed that the heightened emphasis by the White House and said this will add momentum and credibility to partnerships like those called for in the two initiatives.

The group also received a briefing on the administration’s efforts to contain the fighters known as ISIL who have seized parts of Iraq and Syria. The conversation ranged from the concern of the church leaders for the humanitarian crisis created by the conflict, to the persecution of Christians in the region and their forced displacement from traditional homelands.

The Rev. Stephen Sidorak, staff executive for ecumenical and inter-religious affairs, said the church has a longstanding history of ecumenical and inter-religious outreach and the displacement of Christians from this region of the Middle East is a matter of importance that he hopes the administration will give serious attention. He also asked about new initiatives planned for weapons of mass destruction, chemical and biological.

Matt Nosanchuk told the group the administration believes ISIL represents a threat to regional stability and U.S. security. Since the briefing, the Pentagon has reported coalition airstrikes on ISIL targets in Iraq and Syria.

Brad Jenkins, Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, who hosted the group and arranged the briefing working with Susan Henry-Crowe, who heads the General Board of Church and Society, told the agency heads he was pleased to have them at the White House. He related that he grew up in The United Methodist Church and the teachings of the church are influential in his work today. Jenkins said he attended St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Trenton, N.J. as a child.

As the meeting concluded, the groups agreed that additional conversation and interaction would be useful and pledged to follow through with more information sharing as well as searching for specific ways to partner around common concerns.

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Media contact:
Diane Degnan ddegnan@umcom.org
615.742.5406 (o) 615.483.1765 (c)