MIT Chaplain to the Institute Robert Randolph was one of 20 religious leaders from across the country who met last week at the White House with Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes to discuss the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“The goal was to engage religious leaders in understanding what the effort is and what they are trying to do,” Randolph said of the 90-minute meeting in the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing. Other members of the group included deans from universities and leaders of non-governmental organizations.
Randolph said that Rhodes led an engaging discussion of the administration’s plans, describing the president’s policies and explaining what is being done to protect the well-being of refugees and women. The attendees listened respectfully, according to Randolph, but also asked some hard, political questions. Discussions also centered on a Florida minister’s much-publicized threats to burn copies of the Islamic holy book on Sept. 11.
“The emphasis was on paying attention to religious sentiments in the country,” Randolph said. “Religion is not something to be feared. It’s an important part of the issue, but it’s not the problem.”
Randolph traveled to Israel this summer. When he returned, he sent a note to friends with Washington connections urging the White House to engage religious leaders. His motivation for the note, he said, was a concern that the president's staff seemed not to realize that many current issues have religious dimensions. Although he does not know if his note led to the invitation, Randolph said he is very pleased by the White House’s outreach.
“The president draws on his Christian faith often, for example the Oslo speech about war and peace, and it would be good if he was talking regularly with opinion shapers in the religious communities across the nation,” Randolph said. “I think he would learn some things and the country might move away from some of the polarizing issues about Islam.”
The group did not get to meet the president in person, but Randolph said he is confident that the substance of their discussions would make it back to him. And, according to Randolph, Rhodes told the group that he would like to invite them back for future conversations.
Follow the Chaplain's blog, “The Spire,” at http://mitchaplain.blogspot.com/