PC(USA)’s Washington office meets with Biden advisers

The director of the Office of Public Witness, the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, says he’s optimistic about the incoming administration

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness, is excited that Biden advisers are meeting with the interfaith community. (Photo by Rich Copley)

LOUISVILLE — The Office of Public Witness is keeping a watchful eye on the presidential transition and joining in meetings between representatives of president-elect Joe Biden and interfaith groups as many Americans eagerly await new leadership in the White House.

OPW, which is based in Washington, D.C., has been part of two meetings between Biden representatives and members of the ecumenical community, first in partnership with the Washington Interfaith Staff Community and then the Jubilee USA Network.

The meetings are significant because they represent a departure from the style of President Donald Trump, said OPW’s director, the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins. The outgoing administration has tended to focus more on the evangelical perspective and individual personalities, such as Paula White-Cain, than collaborating with progressive interfaith groups, Hawkins said.

“Everyone is very excited about it,” he said. The Biden administration “will be more in touch with the suffering of the American people.”

The Washington Interfaith Staff Community (WISC) is a network of more than 70 Washington offices of national religious bodies and faith-based organizations, encompassing Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Humanist faiths.

In a meeting last month attended by Biden’s faith engagement coordinator, Josh Dickson, and WISC, there was a far-ranging discussion covering everything from trade agreements and debt relief to anti-corruption work and the future of Puerto Rico. “He basically listened,” Hawkins said of Dickson.

Josh Dickson

Dickson also talked about key appointments and informed participants how to learn about open positions and request meetings, Hawkins said.

“I’ve already requested a meeting with the president-elect,” Hawkins said.

Later in the month, OPW attended a meeting that involved multiple Biden advisers, the Jubilee USA Network and others, such as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Jubilee USA Network is an interfaith nonprofit alliance of religious, development and advocacy organizations. It has recommended that one of Biden’s first actions in office be to call for an emergency G20 Leaders’ Summit on global coronavirus response. The Network also has recommended extending a common framework on debt relief to developing middle-income countries.

During the meeting, there also was discussion about Puerto Rico and trying to make sure there’s a plan to prop up the economy and alleviate debt, Hawkins said.

In other business, Hawkins said he expressed a desire for the new administration to bring more vocational training to cities like Baltimore, where urban blight is a problem.

He said the new administration seems to have strong interest in tackling COVID-19 as well as other issues, such as the economy, job losses and the need for a good stimulus package.

Hawkins said he would like for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to meet with Biden in the future to discuss similar topics as well some foreign policy issues and the need to repair the political and racial divides in this country.

“I think he can be a healing force,” Hawkins said.

OPW published a statement Nov. 16 calling for a peaceful transition from the Trump administration to the Biden administration. It followed Trump’s reluctance to concede the election and his spreading of unproven claims of widespread voter fraud.

Hawkins said he is glad to see Biden lining up capable leaders to be part of the new administration and to help move the country forward.

“All of them are coming in with expertise in the position that they are being appointed to or are nominated for,” and there seems to be more diversity so far, Hawkins said.

Biden also seems to understand that people want a more tolerant society and an administration that will look out for the well-being of the American people, Hawkins said.

The Office of Public Witness is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

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