Galen Carey, the new director of government affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals, recently spoke to The Christian Post about the impact that growing up as a missionary kid in a poor country had on his career choice and on the issues he cares about.
The following are excerpts from the interview.
CP: I think I heard somewhere that your parents were missionaries? Is that true? How has that experience impacted your professional choice as an adult?
Carey: Yes. That experience has deeply influenced me for sure. They went to the Philippines when I was seven years old. We went to a small town down in Cebu. So we were the only foreigners in the town.
Most of the people in our town were very poor. Some were extremely poor and that influenced me a lot. There was a neighbor boy who actually died from tetanus. He stepped on a nail and his parents had no money to get any medical care and he got sick and eventually died. I always wondered, why did he die. And I could see that whenever I got sick my parents brought me to the doctor. So it gave me both a cross-cultural sensitivity but also a concern for the issue of poverty.
CP: You served at NAE's humanitarian arm, World Relief, for over two decades. What skills or experiences from your role there do you think will be most useful to your new position?
Carey: Well, I had a variety of experiences with World Relief and that has given me some insight into the issues that NAE deals with. Certainly, I've lived in a number of countries and worked on a number of programs related to poverty, refugee and immigration concerns, health – maternal and child health, disaster, advocacy, and those are all experiences that give me insight. And all the things I've done through World Relief are through churches, so working with churches and speaking on behalf of the Church [now] is quite linked to the things I did before.
CP: At World Relief, you worked closely with refugees and you've been known to be a leading evangelical voice on refugee, immigration and international relief and development issues. I heard you're also fluent in Spanish. The NAE released a strong resolution favoring immigration reform recently. How large was your role in getting the NAE in saying and doing more on immigration reform?
Carey: Well, the NAE immigration resolution was something that was developed over a long period, principally before I arrived on the scene. So I can't really take credit for it. My work going forward will be to take the resolution and to advance it and make sure it is understood and known both among our constituents and legislators who will be voting on immigration reform.
CP: There are many issues to advocate for and only one of you to represent NAE on Capitol Hill. What priority or priorities do you plan to focus on for this year and maybe next year?
Carey: Well, we have in our founding document, For the Health of the Nation, there are seven areas of concern: religious liberty, protecting children and families, the sanctity of life, justice and compassion for the poor, human rights, peace and creation care. So those are the areas that we have agreed as an evangelical community to advocate on together.
Now obviously there are a number of potential focuses within each of those areas and we can't do everything at once. So this is actually part of my initial task as having just started to get to understand the current state of all those issues and through dialogue with our constituents to understand which issues is particularly important to them. So that is a work in progress.
Certainly in this meeting in this past week, we passed the immigration resolution, so that will be one of the things that I work on.
CP: Is there any issue that you would like NAE to be more active in or you yourself would like to help raise the profile of?
Carey: Well, I actually care personally about all the issues that we have to work on because they are issues that affect me and my experience.
For example, I have a son that has Down syndrome. When my wife was pregnant with him, we were encouraged to get the testing for Down syndrome because she was 35 at the time. We decided no, we would not be interested in the testing because we knew we would not be interested in getting an abortion. And as I understand it, approximately 80 to 90 percent of parents who get a diagnosis of Down syndrome decide to have an abortion.
I think that it is a tragedy that so many beautiful children, such as my son who has been a great blessing to us, don't get the chance of life. So abortion is a very personal issue to me.
Certainly, my experience living in poor countries - not only in the Philippines but also in Chicago I lived in very poor communities for about 20 years. The people were both immigrant and American poor people, and they were my neighbors and friends, not just who I read about in the newspaper. So I care quite deeply about the poverty issue.
I'm married and I value my marriage greatly and I see around me so many people suffering from divorce and children growing up in single-parent family. So marriage is also a critical issue to me that I feel deeply about.
I worked many years with refugees, including people fleeing religious persecution and other human rights issues.
And I lived in countries emerging from long years of conflict, so our peace work is close to my heart.
CP: I know that you have only taken the helm of NAE's governmental affairs arm for a few months. But have you thought about what you would like to do differently from your predecessor and what you would like to maintain?
Carey: I have great respect for my predecessor and I believe that he built a strong foundation for the work I now carry on. So I hope to continue engaging in important issues and calling attention to evangelical commitments, building partnerships outside our community, and trying to achieve some success in putting forward our agenda.