All posts from “Faith-based Initiative”

April 30, 2012

White House Releases Public/Private Guidelines for Faith-based Groups

The 50-page report was issued Friday.

A new White House report that offers guidance on public/private partnerships between the government and faith-based groups leaves critical questions unanswered and does not resolve the issue of religious groups' ability to discriminate in hiring and firing, church-state watchdogs said.
The 50-page report, issued Friday, comes 18 months after President Obama issued an executive order calling for more transparency as faith-based groups work with the government to meet social needs.
The report breaks little new ground, but reaffirms that:
-- A faith-based organization can provide federally funded social services without removing religious art, scriptures and symbols from their facilities.
-- Explicitly religious activities can't be supported by federal funds but are permitted if they are funded privately and occur at a separate time and location from programs that receive government money.
-- Beneficiaries who object to the religious character of a provider must be referred promptly to an alternative.
Joshua DuBois, director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, called the guidance "an important step" in implementing the recommendations from a blue-ribbon advisory board.
"A diverse group of faith and nonprofit leaders proposed ways to strengthen the government's relationship with faith-based organizations in a manner that protects religious liberty and the separation of church and state, and we are glad to move these recommendations forward," he said.
The report includes detailed examples on separating federally funded programs from privately funded religious activities, including distinct web pages and careful reporting of travel and use of electronic equipment.

Continue reading White House Releases Public/Private Guidelines for Faith-based Groups ...

November 17, 2010

Obama Signs Order to Reform Faith-based Office

President Obama signed an executive order today that reforms the White House's faith-based office in a bid to improve transparency and clarify rules for religious groups that receive
federal grants.

The nine-page order reflects numerous recommendations made more than six months ago by a blue-ribbon advisory council charged with streamlining and reforming the office created under former President George W. Bush.

"The recommendations that they've put forth make really concrete and tangible improvements to the government's relationship with faith-based organizations," said Joshua DuBois, director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The executive order, however, does not address controversial questions of whether grant recipients can hire and fire based on religion. Administration officials have said those questions will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

DuBois and others said the new order gives better legal footing to public-private partnerships. "It ... clarifies that decisions about financial awards must be free from political interference or the
appearance thereof," DuBois said.

In particular, the order reflects the council's special concern about the treatment of people who receive social services from a religious group receiving federal funding.

"The government has a responsibility to give a referral to a nonreligious program if the beneficiary objects to the religious program they're in," DuBois said in explaining the order.

Melissa Rogers, who chaired the advisory council, said the order both continues and changes the work begun under Bush. For example, grant recipients may continue offering services in buildings containing religious symbols, but will be required to provide beneficiaries with written information about their rights.

"In the case of social service beneficiaries, that's been a real worry for many of us, that they might not know what their rights are," Rogers said.

Responding to recommendations for greater transparency, the order calls for agencies to post rules affecting religious organizations online, as well as lists of federal grant recipients.

Continue reading Obama Signs Order to Reform Faith-based Office ...

March 9, 2010

Faith-based Panel Submits Recommendations

A White House advisory council on today submitted 164 pages of recommendations on ways the federal government can better partner with faith-based groups in tackling a host of social problems, from poverty to improving interfaith relations.

Still, some of the thorniest issues surrounding public-private partnerships -- especially legal questions of discrimination in hiring -- remain unsolved after White House officials decided early on they would not be included in the panel's portfolio.

Administration officials, however, promised that the 25-member panel's suggestions will not suffer the fate of countless blue-ribbon commissions.

"It won't just be a document on a shelf," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "I promise you this document will become an active action plan in the Department of Health and Human Services."

Sebelius, one of several officials who met with the President's Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said she hopes to work with churches and other community organizations on a range of issues, including how to continue free-lunch programs for needy students during school vacations.

The 25 members of the council, which included representatives of national faith-based and secular charities, finished their one-year term with a 164-page report that included more than 60 specific recommendations.

Melissa Rogers, chair of the council, said the diverse panelists were able to reach common ground beyond the "lowest common denominator," and will remain available as the administration considers how, or if, to implement the recommendations.

"Whether it's been through press statements, books or sermons, all of us have been trying to tell the government what to do for years," she said, "but we've rarely received a White House invitation to make a list of recommendations."

President Obama met with council-members in the White House after they concluded their final meeting. New members of the council, who also will have a one-year term, are expected to be named soon.

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson told the council that she is open to their recommendations to create faith-based and community-based liaisons in regional EPA offices and to sponsor a public education campaign on the environment.

"We're taking for granted the fact that people know in this day and age how important it is," Jackson said. "We probably need to remind them that the abundance we're fighting to save is their heritage. It is a heritage they got from God."

The council was formed after President Obama announced in February 2009 that he would revamp, but keep open, the former White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Initiatives that he inherited from President George W. Bush.

Their recommendations came in six different areas, including reform of the renamed White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. They suggest increased guidance so religious organizations use federal funds while respecting the separation of church and state.

Continue reading Faith-based Panel Submits Recommendations ...

March 2, 2010

White House Faith-Based Council Adopts Recommendations

After a year's work, a White House advisory council on faith-based programs adopted dozens of recommendations on February 26 on everything from church-state separation to fighting poverty and promoting fatherhood.

The 25-member advisory council also called for reforms to the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships to help protect "religious liberty rights."

"The recommendations call ... for greater clarity in the church-state guidance given to social service providers so that tax funds are used appropriately and providers are not confused or sued," the panel's report said.

"The recommendations also insist that beneficiaries must be notified of their religious liberty rights, including their rights to alternative providers."

The advisory panel, which will submit its final report on March 9, also urged the Obama administration to ensure that "decisions about government grants are made on the merits of proposals, not on political or religious considerations."

Among the panel's 64 recommendations, advisers voiced support for:

Continue reading White House Faith-Based Council Adopts Recommendations...

July 28, 2009

Study: One-Third of Americans Volunteer through Religious Organizations

The White House is promoting a new report that suggests that about 36 percent of Americans volunteer through a religious organization in 2008, more than any other type of organization. However, only about 15 percent of nonprofit charities report partnerships with faith-based organizations.

The Volunteering in America 2009 report found that the number of volunteers increased by a million, totaling 61.8 million Americans who volunteered in 2008 for 8 billion hours.

"Using this information, nonprofit organizations can work to create new partnerships focusing on volunteer service," Joshua DuBois, director of the White House's faith-based office, said in a statement. "There are millions of volunteers who want to be a part of critical efforts from mentoring children to improving schools to helping their neighbors meet their basic needs. The President has called upon all of us to join together in these difficult times, and this report highlights the possibilities of doing just that."

The top rated states were Utah, Nebraska, Minnesota, Alaska, Iowa, Montana, South Dakota, Kansas, Vermont, and North Dakota.

The top rated cities were Minneapolis-St Paul, Portland, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Kansas City, Columbus, Oklahoma City, Hartford, Denver, and Washington, DC.

June 12, 2009

DuBois: Policy Recommendations Will Come in February

It may take a while to see any impact from President Obama's Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The office's director, Joshua Dubois said Thursday that his office is still compiling data about existing faith-based programs before it gives policy-based recommendations for the President in February 2010. Dubois also indicated that there won't be an announcement regarding the President's stance toward religion-based hiring policies anytime soon.

Since the announcement last February that President Obama was renaming President Bush's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (FBNP), leaders of faith-based programs have speculated on whether President Obama would override former President Bush's policy of allowing federally-funded religious organizations to take religious belief into consideration in hiring employees.

DuBois said on Thursday that because the president understands the importance of the issue, he wants to "fully understand" both sides of the policy. "There are a range of issues that we're working on a day to day basis that aren't as titillating," he added.

DuBois said the office's advisory council will consider how to "use the bully pulpit of the presidency" to promote the administration's four priorities for the office: economic recovery, reducing the number of abortions, promoting interfaith dialogue, and strengthening the role of fathers in society. He was speaking at an event organized for the release of the Roundtable on Religion & Social Welfare Policy's report on "The Bush Faith-Based Initiative and What Lies Ahead."

April 24, 2009

Opinion: Faith-based Hiring Issue Proves Distracting

The faith-based office has become sidetracked on marginal issues.

In campaign 2008, candidate Barack Obama pledged an "all hands on deck" approach to meeting human needs. His improved approach would include a wider range of faith-related groups in more extensive policy deliberations and, pointedly, a stronger and "de-politicized" faith-based initiative.

At its maximum, "all hands on deck" implies aggressive work to provide all kinds of help – direct government aid, indirect government aid, and enhanced private aid – to the full range of faith-based groups. It would involve incentives for philanthropy and charitable contributions, and ways to get all forms of appropriate aid to any effective faith-related group. It would also involve encouraging faith-related groups to apply to the full range of social service programs available, not a smaller range of politically favored ideas. And, in regard to the hot-button hiring issue, it would mean figuring out ways to help those groups which wanted to keep their rights to use religious criteria in hiring decisions: Providing direct federal aid if the Obama administration deemed it appropriate; helping find sources of indirect aid if they ruled such discrimination inappropriate (as the campaign stated it would do).

So far, the pledge is not fully redeemed. Rather, the Obama Administration seems caught in the web of misunderstandings that always seems to follow the faith-based initiative.

Continue reading Opinion: Faith-based Hiring Issue Proves Distracting...

April 6, 2009

Faith-Based Council Doesn't Include Tony Dungy After All

Former Colts coach Tony Dungy will not be on the Advisory Council for the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, as previously reported. A White House source says he could only make two of the four scheduled meetings.

The announced council will certainly be diverse. The office added several more women, Charles Blake, who decried abortion in his address at the interfaith service at the Democratic National Convention, and Harry Knox from a LGBT lobbying group and political action committee. They're meeting tonight, so check back for more reports.

April 6, 2009

White House Announces More Members of the Faith-Based Advisory Council

The White House just announced additional members of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Each member of the Council is appointed to a one-year term as part of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The religious leaders and scholars who were added have an asterisk by their names, and the members that were previously added are after the jump.

*Dalia Mogahed, Executive Director, Gallup Center for Muslim Studies
Washington, DC

*Dr. Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President, Disciples of Christ (Christian Church)
Indianapolis, IN

*Anju Bhargava, Founder, Asian Indian Women of America
New Jersey

*The Rev. Peg Chemberlin, President-Elect, National Council of Churches USA
Minneapolis, MN

*Bishop Charles Blake, Presiding Bishop, Church of God in Christ
Los Angeles, CA

*Nathan Diament, Director of Public Policy, Orthodox Jewish Union
Washington, DC

*Harry Knox, Director, Religion and Faith Program, Human Rights Campaign
Washington, DC

*Anthony Picarello, General Counsel , United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Washington, DC

*Nancy Ratzan, Board Chair, National Council of Jewish Women
Miami, FL

Continue reading White House Announces More Members of the Faith-Based Advisory Council...

March 31, 2009

Tony Dungy to Join Faith-Based Council

The White House has invited recently retired NFL Coach Tony Dungy to join the Advisory Council for the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Dan Gilgoff reports.

Tony_Dungy.jpg

Dungy led the Indianapolis Colts to the Super Bowl in 2007. Known for his strong Christian faith commitment to family, Dungy retired to spend more time with his family and in volunteer work. He has long been involved with groups like Family First, All-Pro Dad, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Prison Crusade Ministry, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the United Way.

Christianity Today's Stan Guthrie recently interviewed Tony Dungy (listen here). CT also covered Dungy in "A Kinder, Gentler Coach" and "Christian Coaches Face Off for Super Bowl XLI."

March 26, 2009

Donald Miller Added to Faith-Based Office Task Force

Author Donald Miller, who campaigned for President Obama, will be on a task force for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Miller became involved with the Obama campaign after he gave the benediction at the Democratic National Convention. He then traveled with the campaign to Christian colleges, including Calvin and Hope Colleges in Michigan. He writes about his new role with the office on his blog but doesn't go into details.

I’ll be meeting with the CFBCI about twice a month, when I’m able to sit on on the conference call, and I’ll keep you informed of their progress. It all sounds really good to me and I’m honored to be one of the people they’ve asked for input. I assure you I’m a small fish on the phone. Perhaps the smallest.

donaldmiller.jpg

Evangelicals on the office's broader council include Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, Frank S. Page, president emeritus of the Southern Baptist Convention, Joel C. Hunter, pastor of Northland, a Church Distributed, and Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners.

Director of the office Joshua DuBois told me earlier this week that the rest of the members have been chosen and will be announced soon.

Continue reading Donald Miller Added to Faith-Based Office Task Force...

February 12, 2009

National Association of Evangelicals Probes Faith-Based Office

The National Association of Evangelicals issued a favorable but questioning response to President Obama's new Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Office. Carl Esbeck, a law professor at the University of Missouri, applauds the office while offering a few concerns.

First, Esbeck wonders whether the office is big enough to address its new priorities: reducing poverty, reducing abortion, encouraging fatherhood, and encouraging interfaith efforts.

NAE welcomes these developments, but notes that the office's greatly expanded portfolio will quickly overwhelm a staff the size of the Bush Faith-Based Initiative. To do justice to all four of these charges - from abortion to fatherlessness to reaching out to moderate Muslims - will take a staff five-fold the half dozen employees under President Bush.

Esbeck is also concerned about the hiring question: whether religious groups can choose employees from a specific faith groups.

If hiring rights are denied because of a change of leadership at Obama's Department of Justice, many evangelicals will turn away from participation in federal grant programs. That's hardly the "all hands on deck" approach the President called for as a way to soften the blow of the nation's deepening recession.

Esbeck also asks two questions: First, when a federal grant is awarded directly to an [faith-based organization], where is the line between delivering the permitted program services and engaging in prohibited "worship, sectarian instruction, and proselytization?" Second, when a federal grant is awarded directly to an FBO, how intensely must the government monitor the use of the grant monies?

(h/t Dan Gilgoff)

February 5, 2009

Obama Signs Executive Order on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

President Obama signed an executive order establishing the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

As expected, Obama named Joshua DuBois as the head of the office. The order says the office will look to "reduce the need for abortion." The office's top priority will be making community groups an important part of economic recovery and reducing poverty. The office will also encourage responsible fatherhood and work with the National Security Council to allow interfaith dialogue around the world.

Evangelicals on an advisory council include Richard Stearns, President of World Vision, Frank S. Page, President emeritus of the Southern Baptist Convention, Joel C. Hunter, Pastor of Northland, a Church Distributed, and Jim Wallis, President of Sojourners.

The full press release is below:

Washington (February 5, 2009) ? President Barack Obama today signed an executive order establishing the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will work on behalf of Americans committed to improving their communities, no matter their religious or political beliefs.

"Over the past few days and weeks, there has been much talk about what our government's role should be during this period of economic emergency. That is as it should be ? because there is much that government can and must do to help people in need," said President Obama. "But no matter how much money we invest or how sensibly we design our policies, the change that Americans are looking for will not come from government alone. There is a force for good greater than government. It is an expression of faith, this yearning to give back, this hungering for a purpose larger than our own, that reveals itself not simply in places of worship, but in senior centers and shelters, schools and hospitals, and any place an American decides."

The White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will be a resource for nonprofits and community organizations, both secular and faith based, looking for ways to make a bigger impact in their communities, learn their obligations under the law, cut through red tape, and make the most of what the federal government has to offer.

President Obama appointed Joshua DuBois, a former associate pastor and advisor to the President in his U.S. Senate office and campaign Director of Religious Affairs, to lead this office. "Joshua understands the issues at stake, knows the people involved, and will be able to bring everyone together ? from both the secular and faith-based communities, from academia and politics ? around our common goals," said President Obama.

The Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will focus on four key priorities, to be carried out by working closely with the President's Cabinet Secretaries and each of the eleven agency offices for faith-based and neighborhood partnerships:

The Office's top priority will be making community groups an integral part of our economic recovery and poverty a burden fewer have to bear when recovery is complete.
It will be one voice among several in the administration that will look at how we support women and children, address teenage pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion.
The Office will strive to support fathers who stand by their families, which involves working to get young men off the streets and into well-paying jobs, and encouraging responsible fatherhood.
Finally, beyond American shores this Office will work with the National Security Council to foster interfaith dialogue with leaders and scholars around the world.

As the priorities of this Office are carried out, it will be done in a way that upholds the Constitution ? by ensuring that both existing programs and new proposals are consistent with American laws and values. The separation of church and state is a principle President Obama supports firmly ? not only because it protects our democracy, but also because it protects the plurality of America's religious and civic life. The Executive Order President Obama will sign today strengthens this by adding a new mechanism for the Executive Director of the Office to work through the White House Counsel to seek the advice of the Attorney General on difficult legal and constitutional issues.

The Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will include a new President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, composed of religious and secular leaders and scholars from different backgrounds. There will be 25 members of the Council, appointed to 1-year terms.


Members of the Council include:

Judith N. Vredenburgh, President and Chief Executive Officer, Big Brothers / Big Sisters of America
Philadelphia, PA

Rabbi David N. Saperstein, Director & Counsel, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and noted church/state expert
Washington, DC

Dr. Frank S. Page, President emeritus, Southern Baptist Convention
Taylors, SC

Father Larry J. Snyder, President, Catholic Charities USA
Alexandria, VA

Rev. Otis Moss, Jr., Pastor emeritus, Olivet Institutional Baptist Church
Cleveland, OH

Eboo S. Patel, Founder & Executive Director, Interfaith Youth Corps
Chicago, IL

Fred Davie, President, Public / Private Ventures, a secular non-profit intermediary
New York, NY

Dr. William J. Shaw, President, National Baptist Convention, USA
Philadelphia, PA

Melissa Rogers, Director, Wake Forest School of Divinity Center for Religion and Public Affairs and expert on church/state issues
Winston-Salem, NC

Pastor Joel C. Hunter, Senior Pastor, Northland, a Church Distributed
Lakeland, FL

Dr. Arturo Chavez, Ph.D., President & CEO, Mexican American Cultural Center
San Antonio, TX

Rev. Jim Wallis, President & Executive Director, Sojourners
Washington, DC

Bishop Vashti M. McKenzie, Presiding Bishop, 13th Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church
Knoxville, TN

Diane Baillargeon, President & CEO, Seedco, a secular national operating intermediary
New York, NY

Richard Stearns, President, World Vision
Bellevue, WA

February 5, 2009

Report: Obama Will Delay Decision on Faith-based Initiatives

The Obama administration will delay a decision on whether religious groups who hire based on the religious background of job applicant can receive federal funding, the Associated Press reports.

The decision will impact whether evangelical groups like World Vision can receive money from the new White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

President Obama will order a legal review of hiring practices for faith-based groups currently participating in White House faith-based initiatives, the AP reports.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Obama will expand the mission to include abortion reduction and outreach to the Muslim world. Hiring issues should be decided on a case-by-case basis, Joshua DuBois, the 26-year-old former campaign advise told Laura Meckler.

"The president found one of the problems with the previous initiative was that tough questions were decided without appropriate consideration and data," DuBois told the WSJ. President Obama, he said, "doesn't have an interest in rushing questions that are so complex."

Instead, the president will sign an executive order making clear that the director of the new office should seek guidance from the Department of Justice on specific legal issues regarding "how to respect the Constitution" and nondiscrimination laws, Mr. DuBois said.

Dan Gilgoff at U.S. News & World Report writes that Obama's decision mirrors a central recommendation from a report released last December by the Brookings Institution, which recommended that the administration commission a study on the issue.

The study would focus on such questions as: When they are permitted by law or policy to do so, how many religious organizations actually do discriminate in employment matters on the basis of religion in federally-funded programs and activities? To what extent do they do so? Does such discrimination affect a small number of positions, or a larger share? Do religious providers view nondiscrimination obligations to be a hindrance or a help to their work? What does state and local law say on these matters, or what has been common practice? How easy is it for religious providers to segregate government funds from private funds for the payment of employees' salaries? Under various kinds of policies, how many federally-funded jobs would be off-limits to potential employees who did not share the organization's faith commitments?

February 5, 2009

Obama Lauds Faith-Based Initiatives, Gives Personal Testimony in Prayer Breakfast Address

WASHINGTON -- President Obama referenced his plan to allow federal funding to faith-based organizations at the National Prayer Breakfast this morning.

In his the first religiously-themed speech of his presidency, Obama addressed a large gathering of Republicans and Democrats and other leaders at the Washington Hilton hotel. He Obama emphasized in his speech that his plan for the faith-based initiatives will not favor any religious group over another or religious groups over secular groups.

It will simply be to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state. This work is important, because whether it's a secular group advising families facing foreclosure or faith-based groups providing job-training to those who need work, few are closer to what's happening on our streets and in our neighborhoods than these organizations. People trust them. Communities rely on them. And we will help them.

Obama also spoke about the common themes found in religions. "No matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate," Obama said. "There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know."

He also spoke about his father's conversion from atheism to Islam, his mother's resistance to organized religion, and his own path to Christianity.

I didn't become a Christian until many years later, when I moved to the South Side of Chicago after college. It happened not because of indoctrination or a sudden revelation, but because I spent month after month working with church folks who simply wanted to help neighbors who were down on their luck ? no matter what they looked like, or where they came from, or who they prayed to. It was on those streets, in those neighborhoods, that I first heard God's spirit beckon me. It was there that I felt called to a higher purpose ? His purpose.

Here's a short portion of his speech.


C-SPAN has a full video and below are his prepared remarks:

Good morning. I want to thank the Co-Chairs of this breakfast, Representatives Heath Shuler and Vernon Ehlers. I'd also like to thank Tony Blair for coming today, as well
as our Vice President, Joe Biden, members of my Cabinet, members of Congress, clergy, friends, and dignitaries from across the world.

Michelle and I are honored to join you in prayer this morning. I know this breakfast has a long history in Washington, and faith has always been a guiding force in our family's life, so we feel very much at home and look forward to keeping this tradition alive during our time here.

It's a tradition that I'm told actually began many years ago in the city of Seattle. It was the height of the Great Depression, and most people found themselves out of work.
Many fell into poverty. Some lost everything.

The leaders of the community did all that they could for those who were suffering in their midst. And then they decided to do something more: they prayed. It didn't
matter what party or religious affiliation to which they belonged. They simply gathered one morning as brothers and sisters to share a meal and talk with God.

These breakfasts soon sprouted up throughout Seattle, and quickly spread to cities and towns across America, eventually making their way to Washington. A short time
after President Eisenhower asked a group of Senators if he could join their prayer breakfast, it became a national event. And today, as I see presidents and dignitaries here from every corner of the globe, it strikes me that this is one of the rare occasions that still brings much of the world together in a moment of peace and goodwill.

I raise this history because far too often, we have seen faith wielded as a tool to divide us from one another ? as an excuse for prejudice and intolerance. Wars have been
waged. Innocents have been slaughtered. For centuries, entire religions have been persecuted, all in the name of perceived righteousness.

There is no doubt that the very nature of faith means that some of our beliefs will never be the same. We read from different texts. We follow different edicts. We subscribe to different accounts of how we came to be here and where we're going next ? and some subscribe to no faith at all.

But no matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate. There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know.

We know too that whatever our differences, there is one law that binds all great religions together. Jesus told us to "love thy neighbor as thyself." The Torah commands, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow." In Islam, there is a hadith that reads "None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." And the same is true for Buddhists and Hindus; for followers of Confucius and for humanists. It is, of course, the Golden Rule ? the call to love one another; to understand one another; to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth.

It is an ancient rule; a simple rule; but also one of the most challenging. For it asks each of us to take some measure of responsibility for the well-being of people we
may not know or worship with or agree with on every issue. Sometimes, it asks us to reconcile with bitter enemies or resolve ancient hatreds. And that requires a living,
breathing, active faith. It requires us not only to believe, but to do ? to give something of ourselves for the benefit of others and the betterment of our world.

In this way, the particular faith that motivates each of us can promote a greater good for all of us. Instead of driving us apart, our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife and rebuild what has broken; to lift up those who have fallen on hard times. This is not only our call as people of faith, but our duty as citizens of America, and it will be the purpose of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships that
I'm announcing later today.

The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group over another ? or even religious groups over secular groups. It will simply be to work on behalf of those
organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state. This
work is important, because whether it's a secular group advising families facing foreclosure or faith-based groups providing job-training to those who need work, few are closer to what's happening on our streets and in our neighborhoods than these organizations. People trust them. Communities rely on them. And we will help them.

We will also reach out to leaders and scholars around the world to foster a more productive and peaceful dialogue on faith. I don't expect divisions to disappear overnight, nor do I believe that long-held views and conflicts will suddenly vanish. But I do believe that if we can talk to one another openly and honestly, then perhaps old rifts will start to mend and new partnerships will begin to emerge. In a world that grows smaller by the day, perhaps we can begin to crowd out the destructive forces of
zealotry and make room for the healing power of understanding.

This is my hope. This is my prayer.

I believe this good is possible because my faith teaches me that all is possible, but I also believe because of what I have seen and what I have lived.

I was not raised in a particularly religious household. I had a father who was born a Muslim but became an atheist, grandparents who were non-practicing Methodists and Baptists, and a mother who was skeptical of organized religion, even as she was the kindest, most spiritual person I've ever known. She was the one who taught me as a child to love, and to understand, and to do unto others as I would want done.

I didn't become a Christian until many years later, when I moved to the South Side of Chicago after college. It happened not because of indoctrination or a sudden revelation, but because I spent month after month working with church folks who simply wanted to help neighbors who were down on their luck ? no matter what they looked like, or where they came from, or who they prayed to. It was on those streets, in those neighborhoods, that I first heard God's spirit beckon me. It was there that I felt called to a higher purpose ? His purpose.

In different ways and different forms, it is that spirit and sense of purpose that drew friends and neighbors to that first prayer breakfast in Seattle all those years ago, during another trying time for our nation. It is what led friends and neighbors from so many faiths and nations here today. We come to break bread and give thanks and seek guidance, but also to rededicate ourselves to the mission of love and service that lies at the heart of all humanity. As St. Augustine once said, "Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you."

So let us pray together on this February morning, but let us also work together in all the days and months ahead. For it is only through common struggle and common effort, as brothers and sisters, that we fulfill our highest purpose as beloved children of God. I ask you to join me in that effort, and I also ask that you pray for me, for my family, and for the continued perfection of our union. Thank you.

February 3, 2009

Diverse Group Tapped for Faith-Based Office Council

The Obama administration will announce a diverse advisory council and details about the new White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships on Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

AP reporter Eric Gorski's source says that representation from the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community is also anticipated.

Here's on the list so far, according to the source:

-The Rev. Joel Hunter, an Orlando, Fla.-area evangelical megachurch pastor who was consulted by the Obama campaign and prayed privately with Obama over the phone the night he was elected.

-Bishop Vashti McKenzie, the first female bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

-The Rev. Frank Page of Taylors, S.C., the most recent past president of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination.

-Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Washington-based Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, a public policy arm of Judaism's liberal Reform branch.

-Judith Vredenburgh, president and chief executive officer of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America.

The new office will be announced the same day Obama is expected to appear at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

January 28, 2009

Report: Obama Plans to Pick Pastor for Faith-Based Initiatives Position

President Obama plans to tap Joshua DuBois, a 26-year-old Pentecostal pastor and director of religious outreach for the campaign, to direct the office of faith-based initiatives, according to The New York Times.

Reporter Laurie Goodstein writes that DuBois consulted with dozens of religious and charity groups about the faith-based office.

The most contentious issue that Mr. DuBois will have to help resolve is whether Mr. Obama should rescind a Bush administration legal memorandum that allows religious groups that receive government money to hire only those who share their faith.

Mr. Obama said in a campaign speech last June, "If you get a federal grant, you can't use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can't discriminate against them - or against the people you hire - on the basis of their religion."

Dan Gilgoff has also written about the meetings with religious leaders during the transition period. Gilgoff recently wrote that the people continuing on with the administration will include DuBois, Mara Vanderslice, and Mark Linton.

DuBois played a large role in the campaign on the religion front, often keeping in regular touch with people like Jim Wallis, Joel Hunter, and Donald Miller. I heard hints of his appointment when I spoke with several religious leaders last week, including Hunter who said that DuBois had an active relationships with many in religious leadership.

From my perspective his credibility has grown, he has several good assistants now, his confidence has grown. He's always been very responsive to me. I do think this is one of those things that you kind of grow into. You go along and learn and if you pick up and start to become conversant with several religious leaders then you gain confidence and credibility, and I think that's what's happening with Joshua.

DuBois faced some large challenges in the campaign, first when false rumors flew that Obama is a Muslim and then when YouTube videos of Obama's former pastor Jeremiah Wright emerged. Overall, he could be attributed to helping shrink the so-called God Gap, as Steve Waldman wrote after the election.

For more on DuBois, Michael Paulson wrote one of the best profiles for the Boston Globe last summer.

I watched DuBois work at the Democratic National Convention in August. He was very energetic, eager to network with any and every religious leader, but very cautious with the press. Everything we talked about had to go through a public relations team. When I first worked on a story on the Democrats' faith outreach, it took me several weeks to reach him. After I mentioned this problem to a source, I got a call very quickly.

"I'm certainly not a theologian, but there are fundamentals I know to be true. The foundations of my faith are in Jesus Christ and in his teachings, especially addressing the needs of the least of these," DuBois said. "That's certainly a model for me, and that's how I'm hoping to approach my work on the campaign."

DuBois said that while Obama's personal faith (Obama is a member of a United Church of Christ congregation in Chicago) shapes his approach to issues, the senator is a firm believer that church and state should be separated.

"Our democracy demands that when people are religiously motivated," DuBois said, "you have to translate your [policy] concerns into universal rather than religion-specific values. We're no longer just a Christian nation; we're also a Jewish nation, a Hindu nation, a Muslim nation, and a nation that does not adhere to a particular religion."

DuBois always seemed very eager to appeal to every religious group. Now the only thing left to do is get all religions to agree on a universal value.

August 26, 2008

Former faith-based initiatives director praises Obama's plan

I caught up with John DiIulio, the first director of President Bush's office of faith-based and community initiatives after the faith caucuses today. DiIulio quit his job after only seven months on the job because of a struggle with Congress to get financial support for the office.

Is Barack Obama’s plan for the faith-based initiatives better than President Bush's?
I don’t think it’s better, but I think it’s different. It’s got sort of a thicker operational spine at this stage than I will say at this stage in 2000 either the plans Gore or Bush plans had. It’s also got a much broader vision behind it. It’s not just about faith-based and grants, it’s an idea about labor and business representatives. When he talked in July, he had a line when he talks about the faith based office or council being a moral center of his administration, that was intimating or suggesting this notion of having diverse religious leaders involved in thinking out loud about other policy issues, immigration, education, health care, the way labor and business and other sectors have usually been represented. That’s an interesting twist and different I think from before.

I know something that has been an issue has been whether organizations can hire based on religion.
It seems to me that he’s endorsing the status quo, the constitutional, the administrative, and the statutory status quo, versus those on the one side who would want to expand that so you want sort of a cart blanche. I think he’s taking a center left position. I have asked people including many of my friends in the evangelical community to tell me specifically what has been said, because there hasn’t been anything that would change the existing constitutional administrative and statutory status quo. The overall plan is very good because it focuses on getting real resources, human and financial, where hope hits the streets.

July 28, 2008

Faith-Based Initiatives' Democratic Forbears?

In her column for USA Today's Monday religion slot, TIME mag editor/Democratic faith expert Amy Sullivan reveals the surprising history behind George W. Bush's White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. In arguing for the expansion of the program, Barack Obama isn't simply co-opting one of Bush's signature programs; it turns out that he's reclaiming an idea with some well-established Democratic roots:

For decades, religiously affiliated organizations like Lutheran Social Services and United Jewish Communities received, without a hint of controversy, government funds to provide social services.

When candidate Bush pledged in his first campaign speech in 1999 to "rally the armies of compassion," he was not blazing new ground but rather following in the steps of Bill Clinton, whose Cabinet secretaries had worked closely with religious nonprofits and Al Gore, who had endorsed the funding of faith-based organizations six months earlier. Even the most conservative aspect of Bush's faith-based plan -- the expansion of tax incentives to encourage charitable giving -- already had been championed by Hillary Clinton at a White House conference on philanthropy.

The problem for Democrats emerged when Bush shifted tactics -- holding up the idea of a faith-based initiative not just as evidence of his "compassionate conservatism," but also to forge the argument that Democrats were hostile to religion.

The Democratic Party made a key tactical error in 2000 by not rebutting Bush's attacks on Clinton as a secular liberal who discriminated against religious communities. Instead, Gore's supporters took the bait and charged that Bush's support for faith-based initiatives was an inappropriate mixing of religion and politics. At the same time, Gore's advisers persuaded him to back away from promoting partnerships between government and religious non-profits.

By the time Bush established a new White House Office for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in his second week after moving into the Oval Office, many liberals had forgotten the idea ever had bipartisan support. Bill Moyers decried the office as a tool to funnel money to Bush supporters -- "slush funds." That was at least less frightening than the other popular liberal belief: that the faith-based initiative was evidence of a creeping theocracy.

Another reminder that, while the God Gap between the Democratic and Republican parties dates back to domestic cultural revolutions of the 1960s and to the subsequent rise of the Religious Right, it reached chasm status under the current presidential administration. And not just because of Bush. The mounting influence of secular liberals in the Democratic Party also happened over decades.

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