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Religious leaders meet with Obama

My colleague Zoe Ryan already has a post up about the meeting between President Obama and a group of faith leaders on Wednesday. The religious leaders pleaded with the President to remember the needs of the poor as he negotiates a budget agreement. I was on the press call with the religious leaders after their meeting as well.

A couple of things struck me.

First, several speakers, including Bishop Ricardo Ramirez who represented the USCCB at the forty minute long meeting in the Roosevelt Room with Obama, employed a rhetorical device I had not heard before - and hope not to hear again. They said that Matthew 25 did not talk about the "middle class." Maybe I missed what they were trying to say, and I understand that the poor have a prior moral claim on us all, but I don't think it helps to advance the cause of the common good by somehow pitting the poor against the middle class. Certainly not when the Tea Party-controlled GOP is refusing to allow the super-rich to contribute anything in the way of shared sacrifice to solve the nation's fiscal woes.

Second, Dr. Barbara Skinner-Williams, a civil rights icon as well as a religious figure, recounted how moving the experience was. She said she had been to the White House many times but "I don't ever remember being part of such a diverse group of religious leaders." She noted that no one in the room asked for anything for themselves, which is certainly a rarity in Washington. She led the opening prayer and, having led prayer many times, Skinner-Williams said she knows when someone is really praying, and the President was really praying.

Thirdly, John Carr gave a forceful account of the USCCB's activities on behalf of the poor in the current Congress. Carr said he has been in Washington a long time and he has "never seen a more concentrated effort to address budget issues" than the effort led by Bishops Stephen Blaire and Howard Hubbard on behalf of the USCCB. Carr also said the USCCB met previously with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. I had to bite my lip from asking Carr if he had read "The Fountainhead" in preparation for that meeting. Carr characterized the meeting with Ryan as "substantive."
Let's hope the President was moved more by the pleas of the faith leaders than by the voodoo economics arguments of the GOP.

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