But first, just in case it's been too long, here's a reminder about Barack's good friend and strong political ally, Rev. James Meeks, both a powerful Chicago pastor and a state senator, who can win elections solely through his church's 22,000 members voting for him. Larry Johnson exposed who Meeks really is in April 2008's "What Would Tip O’Neill Do About Barack’s Pastors? [Updated]", an excellent expose of the ministers with whom Obama has surrounded himself.
But Meeks is special. He has been Obama's friend, ally, and spiritual adviser for years now. Here's a little reminder of who he is:
You can read more in SusanUnPC's late April 2008 story, "Father Pfleger & Rev. James Meeks: Who They Really Are" and at least a dozen more NoQuarter articles exposing James Meeks. Not for the faint of heart, these two men, in their language or theology, as SusanUnPC demonstrates in her fine post.
Oh, and The Rev. Meeks is also connected with The Rev. James Dobson - yes, THAT James Dobson, from "Focus on the Family." They are working together to abolish the separation of church and state. But don't take my word for it. Check out this little blurb about James Meeks from the Southern Poverty Law Center highlights:
The Rev. James Meeks is a key member of Chicago's "Gatekeepers" network, an interracial group of evangelical ministers who strive to erase the division between church and state. A stalwart anti-gay activist, Meeks has used his House of Hope mega-church to launch petition drives for the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), a major state-level "family values" pressure group that lauded him last year for leading African Americans in "clearly understanding the threat of gay marriage."
With over 22,000 members, Meeks' congregation was large enough to buoy his successful 2002 campaign for state senator. Last year, he ran for governor as a virtual single-issue candidate, drawing national support from Christian fundamentalists by boldly vowing to fight marriage equality at every turn. Meeks eventually dropped out of the race.
Meeks and the IFI are partnered with Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council and the Alliance Defense Fund, major anti-gay organizations of the Christian Right. They also are tightly allied with Americans for Truth, an Illinois group that said in a press release last year that "fighting AIDS without talking against homosexuality is like fighting lung cancer without talking against smoking."
Wow, right? Yeah. Funny, I sure don't recall ANYONE in the MSM highlighting THIS little tidbit, or the connection between James Meeks and James Dobson. Such stellar journalism we have had the past 18 months. Hahahaha!
Anywho - it would seem that Meeks' influence on Obama is coming out as this US News article, Crafting Policy Agenda, Obama Team Brings in Faith Groups, The president-elect and his staff have held about 15 meetings so far with religious groups would indicate:
In the eight weeks since Barack Obama was elected president, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism Director David Saperstein or members of his Washington, D.C.-based staff have attended roughly a dozen meetings with Obama's transition team, on topics ranging from domestic poverty and the plight of White House faith-based initiatives to foreign policy challenges like bringing peace to the Middle East.
"This is the most extensive outreach and listening tour that I've ever seen a new administration take, and that is certainly true of their outreach to the faith community," says Saperstein, who has worked with presidential transition teams going back to Jimmy Carter's. "It's quite remarkable."
The effort is noteworthy not only for the number of Obama transition team meetings with religious groups—about 15 so far—but also because top Obama policy aides have joined the powwows. Melody Barnes, who will be director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, and Heather Higginbottom, who will be the council's deputy director, have participated in some of the meetings.
"There is the feeling that these are not perfunctory meetings but serious meetings with people in policymaking roles who know the process well," says James Winkler, general secretary of the public policy arm of the United Methodist Church, who says that he or his staff have attended nearly a dozen meetings with the Obama transition team so far. "This is not something meant to bring in the faith community to keep them happy but to solicit our views and ideas."
I don't know about you, but it makes me wonder why religious groups opinions are being sought in policy-making. Even Bush, whom I think most people would expect to operate this way did not, at least not on every issue:
Winkler said that during George W. Bush's tenure, "we were never contacted by the administration" after an initial meeting with the White House Office of Public Liaison, which traditionally handles outreach to religious groups and other constituencies. Though Bush is a Methodist, a group of Methodist bishops was unsuccessful in repeated attempts to meet with the president in the run-up to the Iraq war, which the United Methodist Church opposed.
Yeah, so not as much of a surprise since they didn't agree with his position.
But I wonder if the following IS a surprise to Obama's followers (again, not to those of us who have been paying attention):
Heading up religious outreach for Obama's transition team is Joshua DuBois, a Pentecostal and onetime associate pastor who directed religious outreach for the Obama campaign. Mark Linton, the Obama campaign's Catholic outreach director, is leading the effort to design an Obama administration version of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and Mara Vanderslice, an evangelical Democratic operative who has helped spearhead the party's post-2004 religious outreach offensive, is now Obama's outreach liaison to religious communities.
Don't let this description of DuBois fool you. He, like Favreau, is young - in his mid-20's. And while he may have been an associate pastor at his small Cambridge, MA evangelical/pentecostal church (gasp! Had he been anyone else - like a female VP candidate, this might have gotten some scrutiny.), he was not seminary trained. You can read more about him, if you wish, HERE. It is just amazing to me that he is the one heading up Obama's religious outreach team. Out of all of the people available in this country to Obama for positions like this, he picks this young guy who has no real-world work experience (he went from college to a master's program to a part-time law school program, according to the article). It is a bit mind boggling, actually.
But I digress. Back to the religious influence on policy:
Representatives from a handful of outside religious groups meeting with the Obama transition team expect these aides to stay on in the new administration.
The Obama transition team would not comment about its meetings with religious groups apart from issuing a brief statement from DuBois, the religious outreach director. "The Obama-Biden transition team is working with a range of religious and secular community groups to solicit their views on the transition process and our agenda going forward," the statement read in part.
Interviews with 10 participants in the Obama transition team's faith-based meetings paint a portrait of Obama aides recording priorities and concerns of representatives from religious denominations and advocacy groups, mostly of the left-leaning variety. Their policy priorities include economic relief for the poor, new protections for organized labor, a stepped-up campaign to combat global warming, improved access to healthcare, and guarantees that the United States will forgo torture in its war on terror.
Well, yeah, those sound like some pretty good issues - I think most of us would be fine with this list. But you know it doesn't stop with helping the poor:
Some of the faith-based groups have also pressured the transition team to make a serious attempt to reduce demand for abortion by improving sex education and expanding government services for pregnant women.
There ya go. But wait - there's even more:
Spokespeople for the social conservative advocacy group Family Research Council and for the Southern Baptist Convention—a huge, mostly conservative evangelical denomination—meanwhile, said that their organizations have not received invitations to meet with Obama's transition team. Southern Baptist Convention public policy chief Richard Land says that DuBois called him to report that Obama had personally read a letter from Land urging the president-elect to push legislation aimed at reducing the demand for abortion. "Mr. DuBois told me that he wanted to keep the bridges of communication open and that the door was always open for us to voice concerns," Land says. "I congratulated him on having picked Rick Warren to do the invocation at the inauguration."
Of course he did. And there was much rejoicing throughout the land that Obama picked Rick Warren to participate in his "historic" inauguration. What? That wasn't rejoicing? Whatever - it was Obama's choice, ergo, it must be sanctified, according to the Obama faithful. Ahem.
And now, we get to Obama's take on Bush's Faith-based Initiatives, a program previously abhorred by liberals, but now that Obama is pushing it, it is a fabulous use of your tax-paying dollars:
Transition team meetings with faith groups focused on planning for a Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Obama's version of the faith-based initiatives office that President Bush launched during his first term. The meetings have included advocates of strict church-state separation, who have traditionally criticized such programs.
"It doesn't bother me," Americans United for Separation of Church and State Executive Director Barry W. Lynn says of the Obama policy of having aides sit down frequently with religious groups. "It would only bother me if [Obama] starts implementing the policies of religious groups that are inconsistent with guarantees of the Constitution, and I haven't seen that yet."
Still, creating consensus around the Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is emerging as an early challenge in Obama's efforts to satisfy both secular liberal and religious groups. For instance, proponents of church-state separation want Obama to peel back Bush-era exemptions on employment nondiscrimination laws for religious organizations receiving federal funds—allowing Christian groups to hire only Christians—while some religious groups say they need such hiring discretion to maintain the religious component of their programs.
For now, though, those groups are happy just to have the incoming administration's ear. "We're glad to have a good seat at the table and that [the Obama transition team] is listening to all sides," says Tanya Clay House, director of public policy for People for the American Way, which has expressed concerns about the propriety of federal faith-based initiatives. "The old administration listened to just one side of the argument."
Wow - I guess Rev. Lynn forgets that his organization, Americans United, spear-headed major opposition to Bush's faith-based initiative in a major position paper. Want to guess who signed on to that opposition? That's right - People for the American Way (PFAW). I guess now that it is OBAMA who wants to do it, no, EXPAND the Initiatives, it is magically and miraculously a great plan - because they have "good seats at the table," see.
And it looks like the two Jameses might just get their way with this whole abolishing of that pesky Church and State thing when this is what the opposition looks like. Nice job at "gate-keeping" there, AU and PFAW - way to stick to the courage of your convictions! And way to protect the Constitution. I mean, hey - why bother with that pesky little document as long as Obama lets you have a good seat at the table? You're in the "In" crowd now, and that is all that apparently counts anymore to these groups.
The hypocrisy knows no bounds. It simply knows no bounds.