Editor’s Note: The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
Melissa Reid, the associate director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists (SDA), visited Southern Adventist University’s campus this month to help promote an upcoming on-campus religious liberty conference. As a representative of the SDA church in the nation’s capital, Reid’s long title aligns with the extensive and unique work she performs on a daily basis.
In your own words, what does your job entail?
My primary responsibility is to advocate for the Seventh-day Adventist Church and its members on Capitol Hill. I pay attention to legislation that may impact the religious freedom of individuals or religious organizations, like the right of Southern to be able to be run in a way that is consistent with its faith tradition.
How did you end up on this unique career path?
I’ve always been very interested in things like civil liberties and social justice issues — fairness for individuals. I was an English major in college, and I was working for a publishing company and then heard about a job opening for Liberty Magazine, the magazine published by our department, which deals with religious freedom.
I actually came on in a supporting role for the magazine, and I’m still involved with the publication. It really was a God thing.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Engaging with others, whether it’s denominations or religious freedom advocacy organizations. It’s not a situation of compromising, just finding commonality.
Are politicians receptive to you, coming from an Adventist standpoint?
My experience has actually been really cool and surprising. We in the Adventist church say that we punch above our weight as far as our level of influence on Capitol Hill. I think the reason is because of our church structure. We have our education system, we have our health care system, we have Adventist community services — all of these ways that we are engaged with the community.
So, it’s easy for me to come into political offices as a representative of the church and say, “Your district has X amount of [Adventist] elementary schools. We have a hospital system. When you guys had that disaster a few years back, we were here providing aid in this way.”
What does a day in your life generally look like?
I’m either meeting with our coalition or some of our coalition partners if we’re working on a particular piece of legislation, or we are preparing content to educate people, like our pastors, our local church religious liberty leaders or college and university students. I also meet with congressional offices to share our perspective on specific pieces of legislation.
“I was really proud of our church for engaging in that way because we weren’t opposing something that was happening, but we were protecting their rights.”
Right now, my job is working on planning this conference. Our office is hosting a religious liberty conference on campus in October called “Reconstructing Religious Liberty in a Time of Secular and Religious Extremes.”
We feel like an academic environment really makes sense for this conversation because what we’re talking about is how we’re living, unfortunately, in a very polarized world right now, where there’s an intolerance towards differing opinions.
The conference is about: “Where do we, as Christians, engage in this environment, particularly when we’re dealing with religious freedom?” In these sort of polarized extremes, you see one extreme that is saying, “Oh, religious freedom, that’s just a way to be bigoted.”
The other perspective is saying, “I don’t feel comfortable in the world that exists around me anymore because it’s no longer representative of me in my faith.” You have these two extremes, and how do we navigate that? How are we, most importantly, faithful Christians in that environment? We’re also going to be looking at the role social media plays in this real divide and this antagonism we feel towards each other.
That’s what this two-day conference is going to talk about. It’s free for students.
What legislation are you currently involved in?
The area that we’re paying the most attention to is legislation’s impact on religious education at places like Southern — Christian colleges and universities. The impact that you’re seeing is a more secular government that wants to sort of enforce or require a more secular perspective on those campuses.
This last year, we worked on a piece of legislation called the Respect for Marriage Act. Several years ago, same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States by a Supreme Court decision, but it was never made a law in the United States. This last year, there was a piece of legislation that wanted to make it a federal law for same-sex marriage to be respected.
The way that we got involved as a church – and with a real diverse set of partners – was by including an amendment that said: At the same time, individuals who hold to sort of a traditional view of marriage should not be discriminated against, or their view should not be seen as bigoted. I was really proud of our church for engaging in that way because we weren’t opposing something that was happening, but we were protecting their rights. By doing that, we developed some really positive relationships with some of the congressional offices.
This summer, there was a case in the Supreme Court about the standard for accommodating religious freedom in the workplace. From a Seventh-day Adventist perspective, that would be not working Saturday and having that Friday sundown. We will be involved in drafting legislation that will codify what the Supreme Court decision just did for Sabbath work.