Guest / Limited Access /

If he wasn't the most obscure person in the room, Barack Obama was close: a young, first-term state senator with few connections outside of Chicago.

"When people went around the room and said who they were, you could probably figure out why they were there," said the Rev. Jim Wallis, a well-known progressive preacher and activist.

Among those seated at the table were former Clinton White House aide George Stephanopoulos, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, and former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed.

And when it got to Obama, people thought, "Yeah, OK, why are you here?" Wallis recalled with a laugh.

It was a Harvard seminar in 1997 on social capital—the human equivalent of greenbacks. Compared to the 32 others in the room, Obama was pretty broke in that regard; the seminar helped turn his little pile into a fortune.

Though the Saguaro Seminar, which met every few months from 1997 to 2000, remains an unfamiliar chapter in Obama's well-thumbed biography, over the last decade, he has continually built on relationships, ideas and political skills gleaned from or reinforced by those meetings.

Obama has hired fellow Saguaro alumni for top White House posts; solicited two more, including Wallis, to be close spiritual advisers; and implemented a host of ideas kicked around those tables 10 years ago. In ways large and small—from extending an olive branch to Muslims overseas to revamping the White House faith-based office to seeking common ground on abortion, Obama has echoed themes straight from the Saguaro playbook.

"There's a lot of resonance between what we talked about in this group and what he's saying now," said Robert Putnam, the Harvard political scientist who convened the Saguaro Seminar. "But I would ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Read These NextSee Our Latest
RecommendedBiblical Illiteracy by the Numbers Part 1: The Challenge
Biblical Illiteracy by the Numbers Part 1: The Challenge
How well do American Christians know their Bibles? Hint: not well.
TrendingMark Driscoll Resigns from Mars Hill
Mark Driscoll Resigns from Mars Hill
"I do not want to be the source of anything that might detract from our church’s mission."
Editor's PickWas Driscoll's Board a Problem?
Was Driscoll's Board a Problem?
Outside Insight: Some say it’s the new norm. Others don’t consider it biblical.
Comments
Christianity Today
Saguaro Seminar Stays with Obama
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

June 2009

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.