By Bob Allen
A top Southern Baptist Convention official says President Obama owes evangelical Christians an apology for suggesting at a recent anti-poverty summit that they care for the unborn more than the poor.
Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, accused the president of both “arrogance” and “ignorance” in remarks May 12 at the Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty at Georgetown University.
Sharing the platform in a panel discussion, Obama said he believes policy debate on how best to fight poverty often “creates a couple of straw men.”
The president said he believes the “truth is more complicated” than an argument between liberals who want to pour more money into social programs while not caring about family structures and “free-market capitalist types who are reading Ayn Rand and think everybody are moochers.”
“I think that there are those on the conservative spectrum who deeply care about the least of these, deeply care about the poor; exhibit that through their churches, through community groups, through philanthropic efforts, but are suspicious of what government can do,” Obama said. “And then there are those on the left who I think are in the trenches every day and see how important parenting is and how important family structures are, and the connective tissue that holds communities together and recognize that that contributes to poverty when those structures fray, but also believe that government and resources can make a difference in creating an environment in which young people can succeed despite great odds.”
Later on, the president added that while there is great care and concern for the poor, the issue often takes a back seat to hot-button issues like abortion “when it comes to what are you really going to the mat for, what’s the defining issue, when you’re talking in your congregations, what’s the thing that is really going to capture the essence of who we are as Christians.”
“That’s not across the board, but there sometimes has been that view, and certainly that’s how it’s perceived in our political circles,” Obama said.
Page, a former member of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said May 16 on the Washington Watch radio program with Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, that he was “deeply saddened” by the president’s remarks.
“To be honest with you, President Obama owes evangelical Christians an apology,” Page said, “first because of his ignorance and second because of his arrogance.”
“The arrogance is because he dared tell us what we should focus upon,” Page said. “If he had visited a church in years, which he hasn’t, and if he had ever visited an evangelical church, he might be aware, and that would help the second issue, and that’s his ignorance. He doesn’t’ even have a clue what’s going on. We have 46,000 churches, Tony. I’m sure there are some churches that are not involved, but I would guess to say that at least 40,000 of our churches all have some community based ministry to help hurting people.”
Page, a past president of the SBC, said the last church where he was pastor, for example, “had a six-day-a-week free medical clinic among dozens of after-school care and tutoring ministries.”
“Every Baptist church I know — any evangelical church — is involved in those kind of ministries,” Page said.
“I could go on and on, but my point is we are involved, and so there was both arrogance and ignorance involved in his comments,” Page said. “It bothered me deeply. We care about people. We care about the unborn, and we care about the born. And he seems to be arrogant about and ignorant about what we’re doing.”
“We have the third largest disaster relief ministry in the world,” Page said. “Who do you think is involved right now in Nepal? Well, we are. We were there before the government was and when the government leaves, we’ll be there. We were involved in Hurricane Sandy. You name it. President Bush said, ‘Frank, I was flying over New Orleans and I said “Who are all those people with yellow hats and yellow shirts?” And someone said, “Well, Mr. President, those are Southern Baptist volunteers.”’
“We do all the feeding for the Red Cross, for example,” Page said. “We are there in Nepal. We are there when there’s an earthquake in Chile, wherever it is, but he seems to be ignorant of those facts.”
Page said the budget of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission — the agency assigned religious liberty and public-policy concerns — is 1/20th the size of the World Hunger Offering. Combined with ministries in some 46,000 churches, he said, the amount of resources dedicated to the poor adds up into billions of dollars.
Page said Obama’s comments are “part of a bigger issue.”
“It’s a part of trying to silence Christians who are strongly pro-life,” he said. “It is part of a bigger issue to keep us quiet, to put us in a corner, to ostracize us, to alienate us and to make us seem like uncaring, hurtful people. And I heard his comments along that line also. I heard him talk about what he hears, how unloving it is. Well it’s very unloving to state things where you don’t know what you’re talking about and to attack where we put our emphasis.”
“We do believe in pro-life,” Page said. “We do believe in protecting the unborn. We’re not ashamed of that, but we also know that we’ve got to take care of the born, and the vast majority of our resources in that area go to protecting the born and helping the born, helping those who are hurting, helping those of every race, creed and culture in our world.”
Word searches on Baptist Press — the SBC’s official news service, which is managed by the Executive Committee — showed 8,990 results for “abortion” and 1,600 for “poverty.” Related terms such as “hunger” and “poor” combined for another 4,460 hits, compared to 4,150 for “pro-life” and 15,900 for “gay.”