Faith in the public sector? Young Adventist professionals speak out

'Having a strong faith shouldn’t preclude someone from the public sphere'

Paul Monteiro (left), associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, and Dwayne Leslie, legislative affairs director for the Adventist world church, at the January 21 panel discussion.

Do individual Seventh-day Adventists have a contribution to make in the public sector? The answer is a resounding “Yes,” according to a group of young Adventist professionals from the Washington DC area who are making their mark in both government and public advocacy. The panelists spoke candidly about their faith and their careers during a January 21 panel discussion at Restoration Praise Center Seventh-day Adventist Church in Lanham, Maryland, which commemorated International Religious Freedom Day.

Attorney Dwayne Leslie, who represents the Adventist world church on Capitol Hill and within Washington’s diplomatic community, said that Adventists have a long history of activism in the public sphere, noting that the passion of early church leaders for causes such as the abolition of slavery, temperance and religious liberty is well-documented.

“Today, there are a whole range of current issues that touch directly on our core values as a people of faith—human rights, religious freedom, public health, poverty and injustice. Being involved in advocacy of some kind is a ‘natural’ for Adventists,” he added.

This idea was echoed by other members of the panel, which included Paul Monteiro, associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement; Jennifer Mason, deputy chief of staff of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and former acting state director for then-Senator Barack Obama (D-IL); Michelle Chin, legislative assistant to Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), and Melissa Reid, associate editor of  Liberty Magazine, and executive director of the North American Religious Liberty Association.

The panelists cautioned, however, that when individual church members enter the world of government and politics, they do so as individuals, not as someone who carries the agenda of the church.

The panelists answered questions that covered a broad range of issues—from current federal government efforts to reach out to the faith-based community, to the unique challenges to faith that these young Adventists encounter in the course of their work-day lives.

The 90-minute event prompted lively discussion and extensive back-and-forth between panelists and the audience. The conclusion?  Having a strong faith shouldn’t preclude someone from the public sphere—but, in spite of the potential challenges, faith can help direct and fuel our advocacy efforts.