Obama's New Faith-Based Council

By Jim Wallis 2-05-2009

The launch of the President's Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, on which I will serve, recommits our nation to the necessary and positive vision of partnership between the public sector and the faith community. It is significant that both the elimination of poverty and the reduction of abortion are central goals within the administration and this new initiative. This indicates a shift toward a deeper and more constructive engagement with the faith community and civil society around substantive policy issues.

The President's Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships offers the chance to move beyond necessary programs to fund exemplary faith-based organizations, which I support, to a broader and deeper vision of real "partnership" between the faith community and sound social policies. The "faith-based initiative" from the Obama administration seems to be inviting a partnership with, rather than a substitute, for good public policies to address poverty and social justice issues in America and around the world. To truly be successful, this initiative must utilize the unique resources and identity of the faith community while recognizing the indispensible role that government and public policy must play in tackling the root causes of poverty and the high abortion rates.

I am also pleased at the selection of Joshua DuBois to be the executive director of the White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. DuBois represents a new generation of faith leaders who believe their faith can and should change the world. He is a bright and committed young leader who has shown a great ability to reach out very broadly to the faith community, to build good relationships, to include many people in the process, and whose background and interests prepare him to focus on both good programs and good policy. With the support of a very diverse group of significant leaders from the faith community and the non-profit world on the president's council of advisors, DuBois can build a good team to produce real results.

The Council is composed of independent faith leaders who will remain outside of the administration, doing the work that they each do, while advising the president and the White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships on matters of deep mutual concern. President Obama is himself a person of strong faith, and has shown a real desire to partner with the faith community throughout his career, from being a community organizer to becoming the president of the United States. He understands that the faith community will offer him our prayers and our support for agendas that are consistent with our own mission, as well as our challenge when we feel it is necessary to fulfill our "prophetic" responsibilities as leaders in the faith community. As a political leader, he has always welcomed diverse and strong opinions, and could become the kind of president who would understand how challenge is often the deepest form of support.

I know that many of us who have been appointed to the President's Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships see this as an exciting opportunity to represent the faith community, to serve our nation, and advance the common good.

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