Bush highlights "faith-based" initiative at meeting with religious leaders
President-elect George Bush met with about 30 religious leaders and academics at the First Baptist Church in Austin yesterday. "This is not a political meeting," he told a press conference, "This is a meeting to begin a dialogue about how best to help faith-based programs change people's lives, how best government can encourage as opposed to discourage faith-based programs from performing their commonplace miracles of renewal." There were other topics, too. The largest group represented at the meeting, which included Muslim and Jewish clergy as well as Christians, were African-American pastors. And almost every news organization covering the meeting noted that Bush only received about 10 percent of the African-American vote. It wasn't lost on Bush, either. "Not everybody here voted for me," he said. "I'm hoping to find one or two who did." Among the Christian leaders attending were Eugene Rivers, Tony Evans, Cheryl Sanders, Jesse Miranda, Jim Wallis, Floyd Flake, Dean Trulear, and Marvin Olasky. (T.D. Jakes was invited but could not attend.) Of those, it's somewhat safe to say that only Olasky voted for Bush (most are on the record as voting for or endorsing Gore). At the meeting, conversation touched on AIDS in Africa and other topics, but most were on Bush's plan to involve churches and religious groups in government antipoverty programs. He reiterated his plan to create an Office of Faith-Based Action and to end regulations prohibiting religious groups from receiving federal funds. Most of the invitees seemed to come away cautiously optimistic. Meanwhile, people who weren't invited to the meeting criticized it. Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D-Va.) called Bush's plans "a substitute for racial discrimination" and Jesse Jackson told The Washington Post, "I know the subplot: This is an attempt to play one group against the other." Whatever. See coverage of the meeting from CNN, The New York Times, and the Associated Press. The transcript of Eugene Rivers's appearance on CNN's Inside Politics is also available.

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