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.
"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."
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.
Why include religious organizations in policy decisions? What special insight into running the government do these organizations have? What could they possibly provide for Obama that a secular advisor could not, except perhaps unaccountable monies and obedient, lock-step bodies?
Are we saying that one must believe in a god or gods to design government programs? That a belief in an ancient desert god and his covenant with a certain tribal leader is required to determine communities' needs and allocate resources in the United States in 2009?
When Bush did this with fundamentalist Baptists and Catholics and Jews it was wrong, but when Obama does this with liberal Methodists and Catholics and Jews it's okay?
Religious people have only one goal: Obey God. It's how they show their love and trust. It's how they keep up their end of the covenant. It's their duty and salvation. It saves them from death and eternal nothingness.
There is nothing, nothing, people won't do to achieve this goal. The only difference is their interpretation of God's Will, and we all know how well that usually works out.