White House Plans New Faith-Based Council
By Jacqueline L. Salmon
The White House is expected to announce tomorrow the creation of a Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, part of its effort to overhaul the White House office of faith-based initatives.
The group will do more than steer federal social-service funds to religious organizations, said the Rev. Jim Wallis, who expects to be named to the council. "This is a much broader mission than who gets funded," he said.
Wallis, who presides over Sojourners, a progressive Christian organization based in the District, said that he expects the council will advise the president on substantive policy issues -- both foreign and domestic.
Foreign issues might include issues that have concerned religious and non-governmental organizations for years, such as alleviating AIDS in Africa or conflict resolution in Darfur. Domestically, a major focus of the council is expected to be advising President Obama on poverty reduction. "That's what brings us together across the political spectrum," said Wallis.
The announcement tomorrow will coincide with the date of the annual National Prayer Breakfast, which Obama is scheduled to attend.
Aside from Wallis, those expected to be named to the council include the Rev. Joel Hunter, senior pastor of the megachurch Northland Church in Florida; Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; the Rev. Frank Page, former president of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention; and Judith Vredenburgh, president of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. The council will eventually have about 20 to 25 members, and about a dozen are expected to be named tomorrow.
Last week, Obama named Joshua Dubois, who worked on Obama's faith outreach during his campaign, as executive director of White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The council will be a part of that office.
Some religious and secular groups said this week that they were primarily waiting to see what Obama's faith office does on constitutional issues that were controversial during the Bush years. They include whether the administration will rescind executive orders allowing religious groups that got government dollars to hire only those from their own faith.
Joe Conn, spokesman for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said the existence of the advisory council was neither good nor bad. "For us, the problem is correcting these civil liberties violations. ... We want to see some actions on executive orders," he said.
February 4, 2009; 9:21 AM ET
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