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Faith and the White House: Who has access?

Faith and the White House: Who has access?

Religion News Service takes a look at this presidency’s relationship with faith leaders in terms of White House access, as the image of an evangelical laying on of hands in the Oval Office makes the social media rounds (Washington Post article here).

The July 10 Oval Office prayer session, which has been panned and praised, is just one example of the access Trump and his key aides have given to conservative Christian leaders — from an hourslong May dinner in the Blue Room to an all-day meeting earlier this month in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door.

“This is unlike anything we’ve experienced in our career or ministry — unprecedented access, unprecedented solicitation of opinions and viewpoints,” said Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews, N.C.,  and a veteran at the intersection of religion and politics.

Non-evangelical Christian denominations and non-Christian faiths, however, are being excluded to an extent far beyond recent administrations, both Republican and Democrat.

Steven Martin, the communications director for the National Council of Churches, a group that includes mainline Protestant, Orthodox and historically black denominations, declared: “I’d absolutely say we’re frozen out.”

Manjit Singh, a co-founder of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, called interaction with the White House at a “very limited level to practically non-existent.”

Minhaj Hassan, a spokesman for Islamic Relief USA, said: “In the first six months of the Trump presidency, there hasn’t been any direct communication with the White House.”

This is an unusual shift.

Melissa Rogers, who was director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships under President Obama, said it was “very common” for various offices to hold briefings for a diverse range of U.S. religious communities.

“That certainly included evangelicals, Catholics, mainline Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs and others,” said Rogers, whose former position still hasn’t been filled by the Trump administration.

In the 1980s, President Reagan welcomed conservative Christian leaders Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell Sr. to the White House. But political scientist Paul Kengor called Reagan “a Protestant with a healthy respect for non-Protestant faiths, especially Catholic and Jewish faiths.” Reagan had relationships with Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa and Cardinal Terence Cooke and “carried in his jacket a list of Soviet Jews held in prison or denied the right to emigrate.”

Read the full RNS story here.


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