Religious liberty and humanitarian concerns were the highlights of an April 4 meeting between leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and President George W. Bush of the United States.
At the invitation of the president, the 45-minute Oval Office session included Pastors Jan Paulsen, Adventist Church world president; Matthew Bediako, secretary of the world church; Don Schneider, who is both president of the Adventist Church in North America and a vice president of the world church; and with James D. Standish, director of legislative affairs for the Adventist Church.
President Bush was particularly interested in religious liberty issues. Paulsen, who also informed Bush of his recent visit to Russia, said Bush “disclosed how passionately he feels about religious liberty; freedom of conscience, freedom to worship, freedom to think, and against that background asked us some questions about how we found it to be in some countries of the world which do not have a good track record.”
The president was highly engaged and very interested in talking about HIV and AIDS, education and the reduction of poverty worldwide, particularly in Africa, the church leaders said. The pastors shared the scope of the Adventist Church’s involvement in the fight against the HIV and AIDS pandemic. Paulsen said the president “wanted to know what we were doing in areas having to do with HIV and AIDS in Africa. We told him about that, and about the breadth of our initiative, although our resources are very limited.”
Paulsen also told President Bush that Adventists are “using ... the hospitals [to deal] with the virus being transmitted from mother to child,” and he spoke about what the church is doing “quite comprehensively in so many of our churches throughout Africa, namely making the church sensitive as to how they must function as a caring center for people who carry the virus, [and] that they treat them as human beings of full worth in the eyes of God, and that they extend that sort of acceptance to them in spite of the fact that they carry a virus.”
In greeting his visitors, President Bush mentioned that as governor of Texas he knew a Seventh-day Adventist church member on his staff who had explained some of the church’s beliefs, and that he was also familiar with Southwestern Adventist University, which is in Keene, Texas.
President Bush was also informed of a legislative initiative in the United States aimed at helping employees to be faithful to their beliefs while meeting the needs of employers. Called the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, the bill is under consideration by committees of the U.S. Congress.
Adventist leaders told the president they appreciated the involvement of the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, in projects organized by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, ADRA, as well as Loma Linda University, which undertakes many global medical projects, including efforts in China and Afghanistan.
Speaking with Adventist News Network after the visit, Paulsen said he hopes for continued cooperation between the church and the nation in which it was founded.
Paulsen said it is his hope “that both the president and those with whom he works and influences remember that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is a good partner in matters of religious liberty, in matters of combating HIV and AIDS, and in creating, frankly, a better future for all people.”
He added that Adventists are “a people who can be partners with government in good programs which are related to better health and related to more freedom. ... Obviously, no government, including this one, can step in and do what we have to do as a church. But we have never, as a church, in respect ... to community life, we have never seen ourselves as solitary agents.”
The meeting ended with prayer, Paulsen noted.
Established in Battle Creek, Michigan in 1863 and with headquarters near the capital city of Washington, D.C. for more than 100 years, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is active in more than 200 nations around the world, with an extensive network of medical and educational institutions. Each week, an estimated 30 million adults and children attend Adventist worship services worldwide.