ACU professors participate in White House foreign policy briefing

Posted September 23, 2010

It's not every day that an ACU professor – much less two – travels to the Roosevelt Room of the White House for a foreign policy briefing.

Having just attended one at the invitation of The White House, Dr. Caron Gentry, ACU associate professor of political science, and Dr. Mark Hamilton, ACU associate professor of Old Testament and associate dean of the Graduate School of Theology, say they were honored to have participated in the give-and-take.

"We started a conversation and expressed our concerns, from a Christian perspective, directly to the White House," says Gentry. "For its part, the administration was able to reach an audience it hasn't necessarily reached out to before."

"We think this will be something repeated from time to time, especially as it becomes clear that the administration needs to reach out to moderates of all sorts," says Hamilton. He will be crafting a statement for various representatives of each of the participating universities to sign, one that will stress "the urgency of religious liberty and civil discourse."

About 20 leaders from a variety of Christian universities and Christian nonprofit organizations, along with a few ministers, attended the briefing. It focused on the status of U.S. involvement in Iraq and the on-going war in Afghanistan.

Gentry noted the Obama administration's concern with how recent events here in the United States will impact perception of the nation abroad. "What is said publicly here, rightly or wrongly, does impact how our foreign policy plays out abroad," says Gentry. "The administration is clearly trying to find common ground within religious communities – that we should maintain core values when it comes to human rights, the security of the U.S. – that we can build a working relationship surrounding these points."

Among the administration's representatives at the meeting: Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser; Paul Monteiro, associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement; Christina Tchen, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement; and one representative from the National Security Council. The briefing was organized by Dr. Shaun Casey ('81), professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. Casey served as an adviser on religious issues to Obama during the president's election campaign.

Presidents and their administrations, Casey says, routinely reach out to various constituencies to whom they wish to communicate a specific message. In this case, the goal was to talk about the milestone recently reached in Iraq – the draw-down of more than 90,000 troops.

"This was not a passive meeting at all," says Casey. "In fact, the bulk of our time together was spent in a free-flowing and fairly tough question-and-answer exchange."

Casey says the meeting allowed participants to express two points in particular. "Several people thanked the president for honoring his commitment to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq on time, and in a fashion that is going to allow the Iraqi people to succeed in self government."

"Concern was also expressed regarding Iraqi refugees – what will happen when and if they return – and also about the status of many Iraqis who have been internally displaced," says Casey. "There was a great concern about the humanitarian implications of America drawing down and the Iraqi government stepping up. The administration expressed a deep concern about its goal that resettlement and reconciliation be at the center of what happens in Iraq in coming years."

"I believe – I hope – this is the beginning of a larger conversation. If it stops here, I think it will be very disappointing for both sides," says Gentry. "It really felt like the administration was seeking our input and working to address our concerns. Possibly in the past, the evangelical perspective has been perceived to be very monolithic. That doesn't have to be the case. It doesn't mean the administration can't find partnership across the divide."