Part 2: Obama’s Conservative Meeting Guests–The Pastors

In the first report on Obama’s meeting with religious leaders earlier this month [Part 1: Obama’s Conservative Meeting Guests (Non-Pastors)], I focused on attendees who were not pastors. In Part 2, the focus is on the church pastors. (Pastor T. D. Jakes is profiled in the my first post entitled “So, What’s Obama Going to Give Away to Conservative Religious Leaders and Constitutional Law Profs Who Work with Ken Starr??” ).

Here are a few more pastors who attended:

Rev. Luis Cortes

In 2005 Time magazine listed Cortes as one of the “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.” And who helped him raise his profile?? George W. Bush, while he was running for President in 2000:

In the summer of 2000, a fleet of dark, unmarked vehicles pulled up to the North Philadelphia office of the Rev. Luis Cortes Jr. As neighbors watched in amazement, armed men hustled a mysterious visitor inside. What happened next launched the remarkable ascent of a Hispanic Baptist minister until then little known outside Philadelphia. The visitor was G.O.P. presidential candidate George W. Bush, on a low-profile visit to woo Cortes and other Hispanic leaders. Over the next few hours, Cortes and Bush formed a bond that has vaulted the minister to the top tier of the fast-growing Hispanic Protestant community. With grants from Bush’s Faith-Based Initiative and the cachet that comes from his Bush connection, Cortes, now 47, has expanded his two-decade-old organization, Nueva Esperanza (New Hope) nationwide, building houses in poor communities, offering start-up loans to Hispanic businesses and launching an aids-awareness program. In 2002 Cortes established the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast, addressed annually by Bush and attended by a bipartisan slate of political heavyweights.

By November 2005, Howard Dean was meeting with Cortes. Now, Cortes was seen as exemplifying “he core values and beliefs of the Democratic Party.” Dean wrote in his blog:

I just got out of a great meeting with Chairman Dean and Reverend Luis Cortes. Rev. Cortes is President and CEO of Esperanza USA, which translates into ‘Hope USA’. The meeting took place at the Democratic National Committee headquarters to discuss matters of mutual interest and concern. Esperanza USA is the largest Hispanic faith-based community development corporation in the country. Beginning in Philadelphia with programs targeted to address the many unmet needs in Philadelphia’s Hispanic community, the Reverend Luis Cortes has become a leader in building Hispanic owned institutions nationwide.

The Reverend Luis Cortes recently served as Vice Chair of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board of Pittsburgh. Governor Rendell has nominated the reverend to the Pennsylvania Minority Business Development Authority. Philadelphia Mayor John Street named Reverend Luis Cortes to the City’s Workforce Investment Board. He is also the founder and Executive Director of the Hispanic Clergy of Philadelphia and is also one of the founders of United Bank, the first African-American owned commercial bank in Pennsylvania.

Today, with a national network of 10,000 Hispanic faith and community based agencies; Esperanza USA is one of the leading voices for Hispanics in America. Rev. Cortes, whose ministry envisions an America built on compassion, justice and service exemplifies the core values and beliefs of the Democratic Party.

On March 2, 2008, Cortes was interviewed by NPR (The Rev. Luis Cortes on the Hispanic Vote–4 min. audio available). At that time Cortes spoke highly of John McCain, as well as Clinton. Obama was still an unknown quantity.

He says he was in San Antonio last week for the Southern Baptist church meetings, and among the clergy, they spoke highly of Obama’s speeches but hadn’t had the opportunity to have contact with him and to hear some of their issues and concerns addressed.

On the Republican side, Cortes says John McCain has done well among Latino evangelical voters. “He was the only Republican who had a family matters position on immigration, and, as such, he did very, very well.”

The Latino community shows a bit of a divide between younger and older voters, he says.

“A lot of the younger people who are getting involved for the first time are hearing Obama’s speeches, and his speeches are pushing people to think about the larger American democracy project, and, as such, he’s gathering a lot of young Latinos to move his way,” Cortes says. “And then, folks who have been involved in the past, they hear the speeches but the thought patterns are, ‘OK, we like what we hear, but what is the substance, what are the issues, what are the policies behind the call to a greater America?’”

It will be interesting to see if Cortes throws the weight of his extensive organization behind Obama or McCain or if he decides to stay neutral.

Max Lucado

Lucado has been Senior Pastor for over twenty years at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas. His website reveals his popularity as a Christian author:

Max Lucado has touched millions with his signature storytelling writing style. Awards and accolades follow Max with each book he writes. Max is the first author to win the Gold Medallion Christian Book of the Year three times—1999 for Just Like Jesus, 1997 for In the Grip of Grace and 1995 for When God Whispers Your Name. In 2005, Reader’s Digest dubbed him “America’s Best Preacher.” In addition, he has been an ECPA Gold Medallion finalist with more titles than any other author in the industry.

In 1994, he became the only author to have 11 of his twelve books in print simultaneously appear on paperback, hardcover and children’s CBA bestseller lists. Lucado set a new industry record by concurrently placing nine different Word Publishing titles on the CBA Hardcover Bestseller List in both March and April 1997. Max Lucado is a fixture on the national bestseller lists – a Max Lucado title has appeared on the CBA hardcover bestseller list every month for the past dozen years. He has appeared on the Publishers Weekly, USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists. He has won eight ECPA Gold Medallion awards.

Stephen John Thurston

Thurston is part of a line of pastors. His grandfather founded the New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church and he is the third generation to preach at the Southside Chicago church, whose congregation numbers over 2,000. According to a 2004 biography,

He was named one of “America’s Best and Brightest Young Business and Professional Men” by Dollars and Sense magazine in 1987, and Manya A. Brachear of the Chicago Tribune reported in 2003, “Congregants who have known all three pastors said Stephen Thurston inherited his grandfather’s booming voice and conservative values and his father’s charisma and activist aspirations.” Many of his sermons are available as a transcript or on tape or CD.

The church’s website lists radio and TV broadcasts of Thurston’s services and the 2004 biography states that he “is pushing his congregation to establish its own telecommunications systems to increase control of airtime. Conservative in his social values (he’s against same-sex marriage and ordination of gays), he actively and unapologetically pushes a political platform.” His son has joined him as co-pastor.

The church website summarizes the goals for the future:

A local church with a worldwide vision sums up the future of New Covenant. Senior Pastor Rev. Stephen J. Thurston and Co-Pastor Rev. Stephen J. Thurston II are God’s appointed pair to spiritually lead the people of New Covenant. Through life-changing ministries, three Sunday worship services, weekly Bible study and prayer meetings, a strong media presence (via television, radio, and internet), extraordinary leadership, and the favor of God, New Covenant is committed to effectively changing the lives of its members, the community, and the nation.

In 2007, a $10 million worship center will be completed at the current location further enabling the church and its members to achieve its vision of “Creating a Christian Community Cradled in Kingdom Quality.”

Dr. T. DeWitt Smith

Dr. T. DeWitt Smith, Jr. succeeded the late Civil Rights Leader and Pastor, the Rev. Dr. Ralph David Abernathy as the Pastor of the West Hunter Street Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2003 he formed the Trinity Baptist Church of Metro Atlanta, which participates in the Worship Anytime Network which streams featured worship services from across the nation. Dr. Smith was elected and installed as the 18th President of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. (PNBC) in August 2006. The PNBC has 2,000 congregations with 2.5 million members.

Bishop Philip Robert Cousin, Sr.

Cousin heads the Philip R. Cousin African Methodist Episcopal Church in Naperville, IL, which is described as a “multicultural church.” He was appointed Presiding Prelate of the Fourth Episcopal District in 2000. Cousin has been a member of the National Board of the Southern Leadership Conference since 1979 and National Board member of the National Association for the Advancemenet of Colored People (NAACP). He was a delegate to the 1968 National Democratic Convention; chosen to dialogue with Pope John Paul II in 1987; and was selected by Ebony Magazine as one of the 100 most influential Black Americans. His wife, Dr. Joan Cousin has been an HIV/AIDS crusader, having established centers around the world as well as care centers for the homeless in several states in the U.S.

It seems that these attendees have a heavy involvement in media and/or extensive memberships and organization that can be mobilized . Cousins seems to operate in the most “traditional” way as compared to the others I’ve profiled.

It will be interesting to see which of these pastors get on the Obama bandwagon and how their presence will be felt during the campaign.

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