President Barack Obama sat down briefly with evangelical leaders Wednesday to discuss topics important to the Christian community in the first ever Evangelical Summit at the White House since he took office.
Religious freedom and, specifically, the persecution of Christians was the first order of concern by the assembled members of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).
Members addressed the issue of Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian Christian pastor held by the Iranian government on the charge of apostasy. They thanked the president for his condemnation of the charges against Nadarkhani, who has refused to recant his conversion to Christianity.
NAE members also discussed the issue of immigration reform and questions of legality concerning religious organizations hiring based on religious beliefs, while being recipients of federal funds.
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and a member of the contingent, told Charisma News that the meeting was "Very much a conversation among friends. We had about 19 evangelical leaders - all an integral part and members of the NAE - and we had a great conversation with the president."
According to Rodriguez, "Although we may disagree with the president on certain issues, we did it with great deference and civility. Not only was the meeting cordial, it sounded like a conversation amongst believers. The meeting was edifying, to say the least."
A point of friction between Obama and many evangelicals is the issue of same-sex marriage. NAE leaders articulated a desire for military chaplains to be able to express opposition to homosexuality, coming on the heels of the repeal of Don't Ask/Don't Tell.
The extent to which the issue of abortion was addressed was done primarily within an overall discussion of issues related to the poor. Leith Anderson, the president of NAE told the Religious News Service (RNS) that his group did not intentionally avoid the controversial issue but they had limited time.
Discussions also centered on budget cuts, specifically as it relates to overseas development and aid for the poor. Christian relief groups are sensitive to legislation in Congress that would cut foreign aid; such a trend could impact many international organizations.
This is the first time Obama has given an audience to the NAE. Still, Anderson believes that access to the Obama White House has been good, despite acknowledged disagreement on certain issues.