The Common Good

Obama's New Faith Based Office -- Substantive But Leaning Left

Source: Beliefnet
Date: February 5, 2009

The main thing I was looking for in the creation of Obama's faith-based office was whether it's designed to mobilize the faith community to solve problems -- or russle up votes. Is it substantive or political (as it was under Bush)?.

How did Obama do?

He created a "new" White House Office of Faith-based and Neibhorhood Partnerships, a less-than-dramatic rhetorical break from George Bush's White House Office of Faith-based and Commnity Initiatives. I'm not clear on why "Neighborhod Partnerships" is superior than "Community Initiatives." I guess if they want to stand for Change, they need to change the stationery.

The most positive sign: Obama assigned the office substantive priorities, as opposed to, say, just improving "outreach" to the religious community. The priorities:

"making community groups an integral part of our economic recovery and poverty a burden fewer have to bear when recovery is complete.


"look at how we support women and children, address teenage pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion.

"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.

"work with the National Security Council to foster interfaith dialogue with leaders and scholars around the world."

It almost seems as if they're viewing faith-groups as ways of solving problems rather than towards political ends. As Amy Sullivan notes, the office reports to the policy apparatus not the political office. Very encouraging. And it's fascinating, and potentially important, that they're to help "reduce the need for abortion."

However, I'm disappointed by the composition of the Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships he created at the same time. It's an outstanding group of people, and it's notable that there are quite a number of pro-lifers in the group. But other than on abortion, the group so far tilts left.

I'm still trying to figure out the politics of these folks -- and it should be said that some of them are just great professionals and their ideology is largely irrelevant -- but here's my first whack:

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


Rev. Otis Moss, Jr., Pastor emeritus, Olivet Institutional Baptist Church Cleveland, OH -- Progressive and/or Obama Supporter

Eboo S. Patel, Founder & Executive Director, Interfaith Youth Corps Chicago, IL -- Progressive and/or Obama Supporter

Dr. William J. Shaw, President, National Baptist Convention, USA Philadelphia, PA -- Progressive and/or Obama Supporter

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

Pastor Joel C. Hunter, Senior Pastor, Northland, a Church Distributed Lakeland, FL -- Progressive and/or Obama Supporter (??)

Dr. Arturo Chavez, Ph.D., President & CEO, Mexican American Cultural Center
San Antonio, TX -- Progressive and/or Obama Supporter

Rev. Jim Wallis, President & Executive Director, Sojourners, Washington, DC -- Progressive and/or Obama Supporter

Bishop Vashti M. McKenzie, Presiding Bishop, 13th Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church Knoxville, TN -- Progressive and/or Obama Supporter

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

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

Richard Stearns, President, World Vision, Bellevue, WA -- ???

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

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

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

It should be said that several of the progressives on the list are anti-abortion, so at least on that one issue, it's quite balanced -- stunningly so, for a Democrat. And they're planning to appoint ten more people; perhaps some more will be more conservative. But couldn't they have made it more impactful if they'd gotten more conservatives?

Also, the new office will be run by Obama's campaign religious outreach director, Joshua Dubois, making it less likely that the efforts truly unite red, blue and purple believers. He's surely a talented man but had George W. Bush appointed a panel made up mostly of conservative clergy, reporting to, say, Ralph Reed, wouldn't progressives be skeptical?

Interesting takes from:


  • Mark Silk (who thinks Obama has walked back from part of his campaign promise)..

  • Amy Sullivan (who lays out the faith-based hiring minefield)....

  • Dan Gilgoff (who notes the diversity on at least the issue of faith-based hiring)...The Economist (which notes that Obama again paid tribute to non-believers)

  • Jim Wallis (thrilled that "the elimination of poverty and the reduction of abortion are central goals")

  • Aziz Poonawalla a.k.a. City of Brass (who feels there are sufficient conservative voices)