The Common Good

Dungy declines, gay advocate joins faith-based council

Date: April 7, 2009

WASHINGTON (BP)--President Obama announced April 6 the rest of the members of his faith-based advisory council, but former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy was not among them.

Dungy had been invited to be one of 25 people to serve on the President's Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, it was reported March 31 by religion writer Dan Gilgoff of U.S. News & World Report. A White House source said Dungy declined the invitation because he would be able to attend only two of four scheduled meetings, Gilgoff reported April 6. Instead, Dungy agreed to advise Obama on fatherhood initiatives.

Dungy said in a statement released to David Brody of CBN News, "I am honored to have been asked by the President to serve on the Council for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. In looking at the dates of the Council meetings I would not be able to participate to the degree I would want. Because of the time commitment needed I have respectfully declined, but do look forward to working with the President in furthering responsible fatherhood and other issues we both hold dear."

The White House invitation to Dungy drew criticism from organizations such as People for the American Way and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. They opposed Dungy's potential inclusion because of his support for an Indiana constitutional amendment to bar same-sex "marriage."

Dungy, a conservative evangelical Christian, became the first black head coach to lead a team to the Super Bowl championship when the Colts won the title in 2007. He retired after the 2008 season. He has been active in Southern Baptist churches in Tampa, Fla., where he served as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for six seasons before taking over the Colts.

Among the 10 new members of the advisory council is a representative of a leading homosexual rights organization. Harry Knox is director of the religion and faith program of the Human Rights Campaign, which describes itself as the country's "largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality."

The new appointees to the advisory council also include Charles Blake, presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ; Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the Orthodox Jewish Union; and Anthony Picarello, general counsel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Blake denounced abortion in an interfaith service that was an official part of the Democratic National Convention in August in Denver. Blake, the pastor of West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles, urged Obama to keep his promise "to reduce the number of abortions."

Diament and Picarello have been active religious freedom advocates. Picarello previously was general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a leading defender of religious expression rights.

The other new council members are Anju Bhargava, founder of Asian Indian Women of America; Noel Castellanos, chief executive officer of Christian Community Development Association in Chicago; Peg Chemberlin, president-elect of the National Council of Churches USA; Dalia Mogahed, executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies; Nancy Ratzan, board chairwoman of the National Council of Jewish Women; and Sharon Watkins, general minister and president of the Disciples of Christ (Christian Church).

Obama named the first 15 advisory council members Feb. 5 when he unveiled a revised version of the faith-based office established by President Bush. The revamped office has four priorities: (1) To give community groups a vital role in economic recovery and subsequently in alleviating poverty; (2) to help the administration "support women and children, address teenage pregnancy and reduce the need for abortion"; (3) to support "responsible fatherhood" and (4) to work with the National Security Council in promoting interfaith dialogue globally.

Former Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page was among the first 15 people named to the advisory council.

The pro-life Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., has expressed disappointment with Obama's lifting of bans on federal funds for organizations that perform or promote abortions overseas and on grants for stem cell research that destroys human embryos. He has said he would resign if he felt he was "being used as a token conservative."

In addition to Page, the other 14 advisers originally named are: Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland Church, Lakeland, Fla.; Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners; Richard Stearns, president of World Vision; Melissa Rogers, director of the Wake Forest School of Divinity Center for Religion and Public Affairs and former general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty; William Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA; Otis Moss, pastor emeritus of Olivet Institutional Church, Cleveland, Ohio; David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA; Vashti McKenzie, presiding bishop of the 13th district of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Knoxville, Tenn.; Eboo Patel, executive director of Interfaith Youth Corps; Judith Vredenburgh, president of Big Brothers/Big Sisters; Fred Davie, president of Public/Private Ventures; Arturo Chavez, president of the Mexican American Cultural Center, San Antonio, Texas; and Diane Baillargeon, president of Seedco.

The council members will serve one-year terms.

Joshua DuBois is the executive director of the faith-based office. DuBois, 26, a former associate pastor, served as director of religious affairs for Obama during the presidential campaign.