Barack Obama’s White House meeting with members of the Christian organization Circle of Protection on Wednesday has been portrayed as a moment of spiritual solace in the midst of polemical upheaval, or the president’s attempt to seek divine guidance on the stalled debt ceiling negotiations. The media describe the 12 attendees as selfless advocates for the poor and downtrodden. In reality, its organizers admit their goal is “to link our pulpits with the bully pulpit” and “produce the grassroots response” to preserve big government spending. The undertaking is consciously designed to see thousands of pastors repeat the president’s talking points in their churches and have their faithful “contact their congressmen.” Its attendees include George Soros grant recipients, a former left-wing congresswoman who has worked with the Nation of Islam, and a pastor accused of lying to a poor parishioner to get his hands on her last $7,000 before his church declared bankruptcy.
Protection for Programs, Not the Poor
Although the Circle of Protection’s leaders call themselves defenders of poverty-stricken Americans, their pledge clearly states their goal is “to form a Circle of Protection around programs that meet the essential needs of hungry and poor people at home and abroad.” (Emphasis added.) They extend their hedge of protection, not over the poor, but around government redistribution of wealth.
The Circle’s website offers a “summary” of national and international programs that the Christian Left wants to place off-limits to any budget cut. In addition to domestic programs like food stamps, Medicaid, Head Start, the school lunch program, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Low-Income Education and Training, and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) are “Peacekeeping” (UN interventions abroad), “Sustainable International Development Programs” (to assure the global poor comply with environmentalist diktats), and “Global Health” (which often subsidizes abortion under the guise of “reproductive health”).
The group received tremendous attention when they printed a letter entitled, “Listen to Your Pastors,” signed by more than 4,000 clergy nationwide in Wednesday’s edition of Politico. Coincidentally, the letter came the same day 37 Catholic theologians released a similar letter endorsing the Circle of Protection and decrying “reckless calls from Republicans to dismantle our nation’s safety net.”
According to the participants, the White House hastily invited them to the meeting on less than 36-hours notice. The short notice may also explain why the meeting was not listed on the president’s official schedule.
A Very Secret Open Meeting
Exactly what transpired at the meeting is not known because, as John Carr of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops said, “We’re not supposed to quote exactly what the president said.” However, on Wednesday morning, a dozen leaders of the Circle of Protection met with Obama for approximately 40 minutes in the White House’s Roosevelt Room. Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, of the National African American Clergy Network, held the president’s hand as the group prayed for him. The president expressed concern that budget cuts would affect, in his words, “the least of these,” and told the attendees to beware of Medicaid cuts at the national or state level. Quoting Abraham Lincoln, Obama said the job of the presidency drives even irreligious people to prayer.
The day after their encounter, the group held a 56-minute teleconference about the 40-minute meeting. The members’ accounts of the meeting made its purpose clearer.
A Pledge of Pastoral Propaganda
At the press teleconference late Thursday morning, the group reiterated that they opposed any cut whatever to national or international social programs, claiming greater “efficiency” could be achieved without cuts. Jim Wallis of Sojourners said, “We are saying everything should be on the table here, but the most vulnerable should not be on the table here.” Yet they favor some budget cuts. John Carr said the Circle’s “criteria” include “appropriate cuts in military spending” as well as hiking “tax revenues.”
One of the teleconference attendees asked how the Circle hoped to enact its program of cutting military spending and raising taxes following the great public backlash of the 2010 midterm elections. Cynthia Astle of The Progressive Christian said, “I want to put you on the spot a little bit.” Noting “many of these decisions will be made by Congress,” she stated, “Every movement needs a tipping point. How do you expect you’re going to generate sufficient momentum to…get activated of [sic.] what you said is the bottom-up strategy?” (Presumably Barack Obama and the Democrats’ actions represent the top-down strategy.)
The representatives responded they hoped clergy would fall in line behind Obama and stump for his policies from the pulpit.
Wallis said the group told President Obama:
that almost every pulpit in America is linked to the Circle of Protection…so it would be a powerful thing if our pulpits could be linked to the bully pulpit here, and together we could say – however else we do this, however we put our fiscal house in order – we can’t do it with more sacrifice from those who are already sacrificing and hurting so much. So, we’d like to link our pulpits with the bully pulpit here and help the American people understand what’s at stake and who’s really going to be impacted by all of this.
Wallis happily noted “we think our pulpits are ready” for this task.
David Beckmann of Bread for the World replied, “Changing Congress depends on us, so Bread for the World, Sojourners…all of us are reaching out to parishes and congregations and Christian people” as well as interfaith partners in the Jewish and Muslim communities. (The group originally prepared a press conference with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Islamic Society of North America.) Beckmann believes “of the people in religious services, if we could get 10 percent of those people to contact their congressmen every week, there would be no risk.” He concluded, “We have got to translate our love for God into a very specific push” for social justice.
The Rev. Dr. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), said he hopes the Circle’s efforts will “continue to produce the grassroots response to elected leaders” necessary to fend off “automatic triggers of reductions.”
When a reporter from the National Catholic Reporter stated that he had seen “no bulletin inserts” on this supposedly grave matter, Carr replied that there is no “inertia.” Many leaders of the USCCB are “actually saying these are matters of life and death. Our hope is that our diocesan counterparts will share” these rather alarmist assertions “at the parish level.”
On the other hand, some hoped the president would ratchet up the rhetoric. Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, the first bishop of the Diocese of Las Cruces, told Obama: “You are at your best when you echo the Scriptures and remind us we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. We need more of that from you.”
Who Pays the Protectors?
The delegation is united by more than the belief that trimming wealth transfers is tantamount to murder and a commitment to lobby their congregations on behalf of the president. Many of them have financial or ideological ties to George Soros, Barack Obama, or the left-wing base of the Democratic Party.
Jim Wallis, by far the most prominent member of the coalition, is the foremost spokesman of the Religious Left today. The Sojourners leader finally admitted to receiving funding from George Soros’ Open Society Institute (OSI) after twice insisting to Patheos magazine, “No, we don’t receive money from Soros.” In fact, World magazine’s Marvin Olasky discovered Sojourners received more than $300,000 in three separate OSI grants over a few years. (Wallis declined to apologize for his lies and slander of Olasky and Glenn Beck.)
Rev. Michael Livingston, director of the National Council of Churches (NCC) poverty initiative, represented another Soros grantee. Beginning in 2005, the NCC has raised more money from left-wing foundations than from its 37 member churches. The tax-exempt foundations that fund NCC include the Open Society Institute, the Tides Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Ted Turner’s Better World Fund, and the United Nations Foundation. Livingston credits the Divine rather than donations for the NCC’s partisan stances. Livingston once responded to criticism of the NCC’s liberal Democratic political advocacy by saying, “Well, it is what it is, and it’s that way in the Bible!”
John Carr is executive director of the Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and acted as the teleconference’s moderator. He also has deep ties to the Alinskyite Left. In his current capacity at the USCCB, Carr oversees the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). The American Life League exposed the fact that more than 50 CCHD grant recipients promote abortion or homosexuality, stances contrary to the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. Expert researcher Richard Poe has stated none other than “Saul Alinsky actually was behind the creation of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.” Poe said CCHD’s purpose was “to establish an institutional mechanism for siphoning Catholic money…directly into Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation and related groups.” ACORN is a former CCHD grant recipient.
Many of CCHD’s favored organizations also have ties to the Center for Community Change (CCC), an organization dedicated to Saul Alinsky-style community organizing. Carr pulled two stints at CCC, first at the end of the Carter administration. He then served on CCC’s board of directors 1999-2005, being named a member of its executive committee 1999-2001. Carr says he left CCC in February 2005.
The CCC’s Linchpin campaign, which is funded by the Open Society Institute, teaches, “Community organizing is essential to a functioning democracy.” CCC is also funded by the Tides Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-facilitator of the National African American Clergy Network, is well versed in wrapping big government spending in pretences of concern. She theorized how to do precisely that during an earlier episode in her long history as a spokeswoman for the Left.
No squishy moderate, she has named Black Panther and Communist Party USA vice presidential candidate Angela Davis as “one of my heroines.” She began her career as an administrative aide to former Congressman Ron Dellums. (A letter from one of Dellums’ staff members, found during the invasion of Grenada, expressed the congressman’s “admiration” for Fidel Castro.) Soon, Williams-Skinner was elected to Congress in her own right, becoming the executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus.
In 1981, the first year of the Reagan administration, the CBC offered a “constructive alternative budget” allegedly designed “to lower federal deficits and taxes without making cutbacks in major social programs.” When it garnered only 69 votes, Williams blamed the “inability of white leadership to be led by black politicians.”At the time, Williams-Skinner told the press how the CBC would have to sell politically unpopular programs to a population not dependent on government in the future:
We’ve got to develop better research on the impact of the Reagan budget on non-black, non-poor small business people, which is the majority of what Nixon used to term the “Silent Majority” voter…[T]he Caucus has got to come across as representing the interests of black Americans by showing white Americans how their interests coincide with those of black Americans, instead of winning over white Americans based on the concerns of black Americans. You’ve got to win people based on their interests, based on a common struggle.
She has kept busy since her departure from Congress. She has served on the board of Jesse Jackson’s Operation Rainbow/PUSH. In 2005 The Final Call newspaper listed Williams-Skinner as part of the “national leadership team” for the Nation of Islam’s Millions More Movement. Formed on the 10th anniversary of Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man March, Millions More demands “full and complete Reparations [sic.] for the descendants of slaves,” “freedom for all political prisoners held in U.S. prisons and detention facilities, both foreign and domestic,” and an end to “the biological and chemical warfare perpetrated against our people.” Thanks in part to her involvement, MMM won the endorsement of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Since the last presidential election, Skinner asked young people to ponder the question “How Would Jesus Vote?” and told the leadership of the nation’s historically black Christian denominations, “We could take 2012.”
Rev. Stephen Thurston, president of the National Baptist Convention of America and pastor of New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, is also a member of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. When accusations of perjury and potential bribery threatened to force Sen. Roland Burris to resign, Thurston bellowed, “We will not let the devil rob us of his ability.”
For his professed love of the poor, Rev. Thurston could stand to improve his personal dealings with them. The Chicago Tribune reported last March that one of his parishioners accused Thurston of lying to her in order to secure collateral for a loan. The Tribune recorded that New Covenant church had already borrowed $10 million from the now-defunct ShoreBank for renovations. (The well-connected bank, which the Obama administration attempted to bail out, extended an “unusual” $10 million line of credit to Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ and boasted of its connections to Van Jones.) In late 2008, Thurston asked church members to take out $10,000 CDs with the bank as collateral for a new $550,000 loan. One of those who heeded the call was 56-year-old Denise Davis, who told Thurston that she and her octogenarian mother had only $7,000 in the bank.
“I pulled him to the side and I told him me and my mom wanted to help him, but this was all the money we had, and we’re on a fixed income, so if something went wrong, we’d need to take our money out,” Davis said. “He said, ‘No problem.’ That’s a quote.”
In May 2010, when her mother went into hospice and Davis could no longer afford her rent, she attempted to contact Thurston. She says he ducked her calls. This intensified in August, when her mother died. The church filed Chapter 11 in February 2011. The next month, Davis lost all hope and contacted The Chicago Tribune. A month after the story ran, “members of the church” paid off the bank, returned her money, and ended her yearlong ordeal.
Rev. Dr. Mark S. Hanson is presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which allocates its denomination’s scarce resources to funding abortion. The ELCA has lost numerous congregations over the last few years and experienced what some have called a “brain drain” as Lutheran theologians have deserted the ELCA for Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism due to Hanson’s transformation of the church into “just another liberal Protestant denomination.” The ELCA endorses at least limited public funding of abortion and has become increasingly gay-friendly. Hanson recently lent his voice to the “It Gets Better” project, affirming LGBT teens in the face of alleged bullying. After the 2008 election, he called for Obama to lift the Cuban travel ban for all Americans.
Galen Carey, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals, has presided over the NAE’s march to the Left. The NAE issued a press release last December entitled, “Evangelicals Concur with Obama on Multiple Issues,” which has mysteriously vanished from its website. NAE endorsed the DREAM Act, which Carey called “one step in the immigration reform of our broken system.”
Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, the bishop of Las Cruces, New Mexico, is a longstanding advocate of amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, beginning with the DREAM Act. He celebrates an annual All Souls Day Mass at a chain link fence on the U.S.-Mexico border to illustrate the perceived injustice of border enforcement.
Everything about this conference suggests it is another example of political coordination between the Obama White House and a Soros-funded, pro-Obama Astroturf operation, from its off-the-record secrecy, to the presence of members of the Office of Public Engagement – including Valerie Jarrett and Obama’s “de facto little brother” Michael Strautmanis – to the, well, the Soros-funded pro-Obama Astroturf. Last summer, Congressman Darrell Issa revealed the administration has engaged in covert government propaganda that is “inappropriate and sometimes unlawful,” including secretly promoting its message through left-wing advocacy groups. Liberal activist Sally Kohn confirmed that the White House hosted weekly “Common Purpose” meetings with radical Left organizations, in which “the White House dictated its agenda and appealed to the professional left for back-up.”
It appears this is the Christian equivalent.
Left-wing hysterics spent the entire Bush administration shrieking about impending religious fascism and Dominionism. Now, they sit in silence as the Religious Left tells Congress to “Listen to Your Pastors” and offers to broadcast political propaganda from 4,000 pulpits. All those concerned about the dignity of the Gospel must question this brazen attempt to exploit Christian compassion for polemical ends.
This article was written on July 23, 2011, for the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD).