Spurred by an informative U.S. News and World Report piece on how the Obama-ites are meeting with faith groups before the inauguration, I began checking around to see who else in town the transition team is noshing with.
The person setting up the meetings is Mara Vanderslice, who first surfaced in 2004 to head up John Kerry’s religious outreach. Things didn’t go too well with that but she persevered and is now Obama’s outreach liaison to religious communities.
Maureen O’Shea, who heads up governmental affairs for the Episcopalians, told me the team was looking for input on “priorities.” She attended a meeting on “domestic and human needs,” as she put it. Am not sure what that involves. Sr. Mary Ann Walsh at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said there have been several meetings between transition leaders and USCCB policy staff on issues “of concern to the bishops.”
The Family Research Council, earlier reported to have been snubbed by Obama’s folks, apparently has not been. J.P. Duffy, FRC’s spokesman, told me there had been a call put into FRC over the holidays that somehow got missed. So they’re trying to reestablish contact.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says they’ve heard nothing from the transition team which seems a tad strange in that Michelle Obama met with the top three heads of the church - known as the First Presidency - during a campaign visit to Salt Lake City.
I called Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention, and he said there’s been no calls to America’s largest Protestant denomination. All he’s had is one phone call from Josh Dubois, the transition team’s religious outreach director, thanking him for a letter Mr. Land wrote to the president-elect soon after the election.
“I don’t call candidates,” he told me, “but I do respond when they call me.”
Apparently it’s not all that hard to meet with the transition team. On Jan. 14, a delegation from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture met with Intergovernmental Relations and Public Liaison Michael Strautmanis to request the new president issue an executive border banning torture as one of his first official acts.
Other groups that have met with transition team members include the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the United Methdosts and representatives of 15 left-of-center Catholic groups. The latter meeting, described in this article in the National Catholic Reporter, listed their concerns as international development and trade, health care reform, immigration, domestic policy, the environment and poverty reduction. But not abortion. Hmmmm.
- Julia Duin, religion reporter