WASHINGTON -- Presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama huddled privately Tuesday with a group of influential Christians in downtown Chicago -- not all supporters -- to help shape conversations Obama wants to have with voters as he heads toward the general election.
Obama invited the mainline Protestant, evangelical and Catholic leaders and authors from across the country for the meeting -- in offices at 55 E. Monroe -- in part because he wanted to hear their critiques as he intensifies his campaign against GOP rival John McCain. I'm told Obama -- hunting for independent, middle class and GOP support -- wanted to let the group know that his door was open -- in the campaign and in the White House, if he is elected.
The group of about 30 -- who were not assembled with an eye toward endorsements -- included Cameron Strang, the founder and CEO of Relevant Media Group, the publisher of the hip Christian magazine and related Web site Relevant, "covering God, Life and Progressive Culture," with a big youthful audience; Bishop T.D. Jakes, the leader of a Dallas megachurch, and Catholic scholar Douglas Kmiec, an attorney who served in the Reagan and Bush 1 administrations.
Others included best-selling Christian author Max Lucado; Paul Corts, the president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities; the Rev. Stephen Thurston -- who is the president of the National Baptist Convention of America, and the pastor of the New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church on Chicago's South Side; the Rev. T. Dewitt Smith, president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention Inc., and AME church leader Bishop Phillip Robert Cousin Sr.
"Barack Obama hosted a meeting with prominent evangelicals and other faith leaders this afternoon where attendees discussed policy issues and came together in conversation and prayer. Outreach to the faith community is a priority for Barack Obama, and we look forward to holding regular meetings in the months to come," Obama religious affairs chief Joshua Dubois said in a statement.
Obama's primary campaign included a religious affairs department from the start, run by Dubois, a former Assemblies of God associate pastor, and the faith shop is growing.
Dubois each Friday morning holds a prayer call for anyone who wants to dial in. Already the Obama team on a weekly basis holds conference calls for:
• • Prominent African-American religious leaders.
• • Evangelical and values voters activists.
• • Catholics -- the campaign has a National Catholic Advisory Council.
• • Jewish religious and civic leaders. The campaign has a separate staff working on Jewish and Middle Eastern affairs.
• • People involved in the intersection of faith and policy -- religious-based charities, for example.
Before their controversies -- which forced their exit from the Obama campaign -- Obama's former minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and Father Michael Pfleger were on Obama campaign faith-based advisory councils.