Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the President, speaks during the Family Leadership Summit in Des Moines on Saturday, July 15, 2017. The sixth-annual summit featured speakers Conway, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, as well as The Benham Brothers. (Joseph Cress/The Daily Iowan)

Christians seek ‘welcome sign’

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Christians discuss politics and their faith at a Des Moines leadership summit.

By Molly Hunter

molly-hunter@uiowa.edu

DES MOINES — Many Christians said they feel increasingly unwelcome in today’s political climate during the sixth-annual Family Leadership Summit on July 15.

Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway was the keynote speaker at the summit. She touched on that idea when she took the stage, pointing to a picture taken of President Trump as he met with religious leaders last week, which drew attention online.

“Look what happened this week … when the faith leaders came in,” she said. “They laid hands on the president and prayed with him, and it was mocked. People had to mock it. I find that to be so unfortunate.”

The event focused on the intersection between faith and politics, with the tagline “principle over politics.”

Jeff Myers, the president of Summit Ministries, directed a breakout session on how to discuss religion in politics with young people.

“The leftist program today casts anybody who is conservative or Christian as an uncaring person,” he said. “If you come across as being cold, or argumentative, or sarcastic, it will just confirm for millennial that this characterization is accurate.”

Myers focused on techniques to keep conversations respectful and positive.

“Our goal is not to shut down the conversation, our goal is to open it up,” he said. “If you want conversations shut down, go to a university and take a class from a politically correct professor.”

The idea that college campuses are unwelcoming places for young Christians came up repeatedly throughout the day.

“I got a new appreciation for young people today,” said attendee Donna Steiner from Ankeny. “We see on the news where they throw paint at them. If you have anything, even a sign that says that you’re a Christian, people are offended.”

Craig Dooley, a Des Moines resident who has attended the summit for the past four or five years, said he has seen evidence of similar treatment.

“It used to be the Bible was a very primary text in the education system,” Dooley said. “Now, you are shunned if you even wear a cross, if you wear a shirt with a cross on it, if you mention God, even in the workplace.”

However, Steiner said it’s important for people to speak up.

“If we as Christians are not silenced … we’re the only ones that can make a difference. That’s so crucial to remember,” she said. “I need to pray so much harder for people to stand for they believe in, for what God believes.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who spoke at the summit in the morning, had a similar message.

“We face threats to our way of life, culture, and civilization,” he said. “We must stand strong and stand up for … the rule of law, free speech, and free expression, religious liberty, and freedom from oppression.”

Myers stressed the importance of the ability to articulate political views through a lens of faith.

“You can understand the Christian worldview, you can understand the competing worldviews, and then know what’s true about a Christian worldview,” he said.

Grassley pointed to the conservative political successes of 2016 as proof that conviction pays off.

“And it doesn’t hurt to have thick skin,” he said. “It comes in handy when you open up the newspaper and read the Op-Ed pages refer to you as ‘un-American.’ ”