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Bush tells National Religious Broadcasters they can bring differing churches together

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–President George W. Bush told those gathered at the 2003 National Religious Broadcasters Convention they can play an important role in the mentoring and healing of those who hurt in America by bringing churches together.

“Christian media outlets like yours reach 141 million people every year. That’s a huge audience, and it’s a responsibility that I know you take seriously,” Bush said Feb. 10 at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn. “This nation has got a lot of wealthy and caring congregations, and we’ve got a lot of churches in low-income areas that need help, too. Your voices reach them all. You can communicate with them, rich and poor alike, suburban church and urban church alike. And you can help bring them together to serve those who hurt, so we can achieve a more just and generous society.

“It’s been said that 11 a.m. on Sunday is the most segregated hour in America. We all have a responsibility to break down the barriers that divide us. In Scripture, God commands us to reach out to those who are different, to reconcile with each other, to lay down our lives in service to others. And he promises that the fruits of faith and fellowship, service and reconciliation will far surpass the struggles we go through to achieve them.”

Bush reminded the audience that suburban churches are often just a short drive away from brothers and sisters who are facing great need while doing God’s work. There’s an opportunity to end artificial divisions and join together in fellowship and service, he said.

“There’s also an obligation. The poor and suffering are the responsibility of the whole church, even when they’re not members of any church,” he said to rousing applause.

The president went on to note an example on the outskirts of Nashville in Franklin, Tenn., where an associate pastor of Christ Community Church and the pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church began a fellowship that now includes nearly 60 pastors and church members of different races and denominations. Their churches work together to support a medical clinic for poor children, a legal office that gives free advice and a faith-based school where children from different backgrounds study together.

At first, the pastor of the First Missionary Baptist Church, Denny Denson, was a little wary about how these very different churches would work together, Bush said.

“And here’s what he says: ‘There’s some walls still there, but they’re down low enough that we can just step over them,'” Bush relayed. “And then he said this: ‘We are committed to each other to the end. And the Nashville area is better off for it.'”

In all these partnerships, Bush said, lives are lifted up to display unity and reconciliation — faith renewed by its works.

“So today I ask you to challenge your listeners to love somebody just like they’d like to be loved themselves; to remind them that one person can make a difference in somebody’s life; to encourage them to mentor; to encourage them to start a ministry which will find the children of those who are incarcerated and love them. I ask you to challenge your listeners to encourage your congregations to work together for the good of this nation, to work hard to break down the barriers that have divided the children of God for too long,” he said to the crowd of about 2,700.

Bush also spoke of the government’s need to support effective social services provided by religious people as long as they work and as long as those services go to anyone in need, regardless of their faith.

“What I’m saying is, the days of discriminating against religious groups just because they’re religious are coming to an end,” the president declared. The National Religious Broadcasters is an association representing more than 1,500 evangelical Christian radio and 350 television stations, program producers, multi-media developers and related organizations around the world. Its 30,000 members are responsible for much of the world’s Christian radio and television.

The annual convention and exposition is the world’s largest nationally and internationally recognized event dedicated solely to assist those in the field of Christian communications.

Before the president spoke, Christian music singer Michael W. Smith led in a time of worship.

“I’ll be the opening act for the president any day,” Smith, a friend of Bush’s, joked. “But what I would love to do this morning is to have some worship time.”

Smith then encouraged both types of people gathered in the room: those who were struggling and those who were prospering. For those struggling, he said to remember Psalm 139:17-18, “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I were to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.”

For those prospering, he said to live in extreme humility. “I would rather humble myself than he do it,” Smith said of God.

Bush thanked Smith and said, “It’s good to see Michael W. I like a man whose middle name is W.”

After speaking firmly about Iraq and the prospect of war, Bush concluded his speech with a reminder from his State of the Union address.

“Liberty is not America’s gift to the world. Liberty is God’s gift to every human being in the world. America has great challenges — challenges at home and challenges abroad,” he said. “We’re called to extend the promise of this country into the lives of every citizen who lives here. We’re called to defend our nation and to lead the world to peace, and we will meet both challenges with courage and with confidence.

“There’s an old saying, ‘Let us not pray for tasks equal to our strength. Let us pray for strength equal to our tasks.’ And that is our prayer today, for the strength in every task we face.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: ADDRESSING BROADCASTERS, TIME OUT TO LAUGH, STANDING FIRM, TO HEAR THE PRESIDENT and REMEMBERING BRAVE SOULS.

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  • Erin Curry