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A higher calling: Pastors urge W.H. to protect poor

By Abby Phillip on July 20, 2011
© Politico 44

President Obama and senior members of his staff met with eight religious leaders at the White House on Wednesday to discuss protecting programs for the poor and vulnerable in deficit reduction and debt ceiling negotiations.

The meeting occurred in the Roosevelt Room at 1:30 p.m., just before Obama met with Democratic Senate and House leaders about the debt ceiling and deficit-reduction talks. Obama stayed for 40 minutes of the hour-long session, according to Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, a progressive evangelical organization.

The pastors represent a coalition of evangelical, progressive, Catholic and other religious denominations that have launched an initiative called “Circle of Protection,” aimed at preserving social programs like food and nutrition assistance.

According to Wallis, the attendees discussed the direction of deficit negations and participated in prayer and scripture reading.

Obama, Wallis said, affirmed his support for the group’s principles, “that low income people -- the vulnerable -- need to be protected in these debates about the budget and the deficit.”

The president also specifically expressed his concern for Medicaid, Wallis said.

“The shared sacrifice that he’s talking about, he said should not be just borne ‘by the least of these,’” Wallis recounted, saying that Obama was quoting a well known text from the book of Matthew in the Bible. “Of course as a minister, it’s good to hear a president who knows the Bible.”

When Wallis quoted another Bible verse -- “woe to the legislators of unjust laws” -- the participants, Obama included, collectively acknowledged the relevance of that passage in the current debate, Wallis said.

The Wednesday meeting with Obama was not listed on the president’s schedule.

Last week the group of religious leaders launched a grassroots initiative called “Listen to your Pastors” that aims to build support for various anti-poverty programs.

With Obama at Wednesday's meeting were senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes, National Economic Council director Gene Sperling, director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Josh DuBois, and Jarrett’s senior aide, Michael Strautmanis.

In addition to Wallis, the religious leaders in attendance were Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, Las Cruces, N.M.; Galen Carey, Vice President of Government Relations for the National Association of Evangelicals; David Beckman, President of Bread for the World; Ambassador Tony Hall, former Democratic Representative and Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture; Rev. Stephen Thurston, New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago; Bishop Mark S. Hanson, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Co-facilitator of the National African American Clergy Network.

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