August 18, 2009

President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Updated Sept. 9, 2009
On Feb. 5, 2009, two weeks after taking office, President Barack Obama signed an executive order establishing the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The new office retains the basic administrative structure of President George W. Bush’s White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The central White House office and satellite offices in 12 government agencies work together to encourage partnerships between the government and religious and community groups for the delivery of social services.

The White House office, led by executive director Joshua DuBois, has identified four primary goals:

  • Connecting faith-based and community groups to economic recovery;
  • Promoting interfaith dialogue and cooperation;
  • Encouraging responsible fatherhood and healthy families;
  • Reducing unintended pregnancies and the need for abortions, strengthening maternal and child health, and encouraging adoptions

To address these policy goals, Obama also has established a 25-member President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships to make recommendations to the president on how to improve government partnerships with faith-based and community organizations. Members of the council represent a variety of religious traditions and policy positions and serve one-year terms. The current council members will issue their final report to the president in February 2010.

Council members serve on at least one of six task forces. The task forces also include advisers who are not on the council. Each task force will explore and outline ways to expand the impact of faith-based and community organizations in specific policy areas.

What follows are short descriptions of the goals of each task force and brief biographies of the advisory council members who serve on each task force.

Navigate this Report:

Economic Recovery and Fighting Poverty Task Force
Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation Task Force
Fatherhood and Healthy Families Task Force
Reforming the Faith-Based Office Task Force
Environment and Climate Change Task Force
Global Poverty, Health and Development Task Force


Food stamps

The Role of Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Economic Recovery and Fighting Poverty Task Force

This task force focuses on identifying strategies for reducing domestic poverty and engaging local faith-based and community organizations to carry out federal economic recovery programs. The task force has selected the following focus areas: reviewing laws and regulations to suggest improvements to federal programs for the poor and improving eligible Americans’ access to government benefits. For example, the task force is considering recommending programs modeled after The Benefit Bank, a centralized, Web-based program that serves as a “one-stop-shop” resource for people with low and moderate-level incomes to apply for and receive food stamps, Medicaid and tax credits.

The council members on this task force are as follow:

Diane Baillargeon is president and chief executive officer of the Structured Employment Economic Development Corporation (Seedco), a New York-based nonprofit organization that provides financial and technical assistance to faith-based and community groups to help low-income communities increase economic prosperity. She is a self-described secular member of the council.

Anju Bhargava, a management consultant and Hindu priest who was born in India, is president and founder of New Jersey-based Asian Indian Women in America, Inc., an organization representing Indian-American women in public and professional life. She also is an organizer for Hindu American Seva Charities, which promotes Indian-Americans’ involvement in service projects. Bhargava advised Obama on the June 2009 speech the president delivered in Cairo, Egypt, that called for worldwide Muslim engagement. She also serves on the interreligious dialogue and cooperation task force.

Peg Chemberlin is executive director of the Minnesota Council of Churches and president-elect of the National Council of Churches USA, an interdenominational Christian organization that provides social services and represents more than 100,000 constituent congregations. Chemberlin is also a Minneapolis-based minister in the Moravian Church, a mainline Protestant denomination.

William J. Shaw is a pastor at White Rock Baptist Church in Philadelphia and president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, which is the largest historically black Protestant denomination in the United States. Shaw has advocated for advancements in education, civil rights, housing, health care and economic empowerment for African-Americans.

Larry J. Snyderis president of Catholic Charities USA, a national network of more than 1,600 Catholic charities that is among the largest private social-service providers in the United States. An ordained priest, Synder oversees Catholic Charities’ multifaceted campaign to cut domestic poverty in half by 2020.

Jim Wallis is president and executive director of Sojourners, a Washington, D.C.-based national federation of religious organizations that advances public policy initiatives to fight domestic and global poverty. An evangelical Christian, Wallis has helped spearhead a “progressive left” movement to engage religious communities in government efforts to alleviate poverty.


Religious symbols

The Role of Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation Task Force

This task force focuses on fostering greater communication and cooperation among people of different religious traditions and encouraging religious leaders to be involved in foreign policy development and diplomacy. The task force has selected the following focus areas: expanding partnerships between religious leaders and embassy officials and creating interfaith community service projects. For example, the task force has considered whether faith-based and community organizations might participate in United We Serve, a program launched by Obama in June 2009 to encourage volunteers to improve resources in America’s neighborhoods.

The council members on this task force are as follow:

Anju Bhargava, a management consultant and Hindu priest who was born in India, is president and founder of New Jersey-based Asian Indian Women in America, Inc., an organization representing Indian-American women in public and professional life. She also is an organizer for Hindu American Seva Charities, which promotes Indian-Americans’ involvement in service projects. Bhargava advised Obama on the June 2009 speech the president delivered in Cairo, Egypt, that called for worldwide Muslim engagement. She also serves on the economic recovery and fighting poverty task force.

Nathan J. Diament is director of public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, the nation’s largest Jewish Orthodox organization representing more than 1,000 synagogues. In his capacity as public policy director, Diament has worked with multi-faith coalitions in Washington, D.C., to promote public policy initiatives such as religious freedom legislation and support for public funding of stem cell research. Diament also serves on the council’s reforming the faith-based office task force and environment and climate change task force.

Joel C. Hunter is senior pastor at Northland, A Church Distributed, a nondenominational megachurch in Longwood, Fla., and a board member of both the World Evangelical Alliance and the National Association of Evangelicals. Hunter takes part in a technological outreach ministry that uses the Internet to explain Christianity in multiple languages for a global audience. Hunter advised Obama on the June 2009 speech the president delivered in Cairo, Egypt, that called for worldwide Muslim engagement.

Dalia Mogahed is a senior analyst for and executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, a nonpartisan research center that analyzes the views of Muslims worldwide. Born in Egypt, Mogahed is among the first Muslim women to advise a president. As a researcher, she has collected and disseminated information to help people of different faiths and cultures forge relationships.

Otis Moss Jr. is a retired pastor of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio, a board member and trustee of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change and a board member of Morehouse College. Moss is a long-time civil rights leader and adviser to former presidents on international relations. He also serves on the fatherhood and healthy families task force.

Ebrahim “Eboo” Patel is founder and executive director of Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that encourages youth to participate in interfaith community service. Patel, a Muslim born in India, advised Obama on the June 2009 speech the president delivered in Cairo, Egypt, that called for worldwide Muslim engagement.


Father and children

The Role of Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Fatherhood and Healthy Families Task Force

This task force focuses on reforming policies, especially at the state level, that promote healthy families and fatherhood and devising national information campaigns to promote responsible fatherhood. The task force has selected the following focus areas: seeking uniform state administrative systems to help fathers pay child support, launching fatherhood ad campaigns and holding informational town hall meetings. For example, the task force will work with government officials to hold regional town hall meetings to provide information and inspirational messages on mentoring and parenting, to identify partners for providing assistance and to hear the needs of parents.

The council members on this task force are as follow:

Arturo Chavez is president and chief executive officer of the Mexican American Catholic College, an arm of the Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio, Texas, that trains leaders for service in culturally diverse churches and communities. Chavez, a former prison chaplain, has counseled men about being engaged fathers and has worked as a community organizer and educator specializing in youth and family ministry.

Vashti M. McKenzie is presiding prelate of the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s 13th district, which represents congregations in Tennessee and Kentucky. She is also the first woman elected as president of the historically black denomination’s council of bishops. She has worked extensively in the United States and Africa to promote job training, fatherhood programs and care for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

Otis Moss Jr. is a retired pastor of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio, a board member and trustee of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change, and a board member of Morehouse College. Moss is a long-time civil rights leader who has called on churches to address poverty and inequity in education and health care. The National Institute for Responsible Fatherhood and Family Development has recognized Moss for his leadership on fatherhood initiatives. Moss also serves on the council’s interreligious dialogue and cooperation task force.

Frank S. Page is a past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, and currently pastor of Taylors First Baptist Church in South Carolina. Under Page’s leadership, Taylors First Baptist Church has expanded its family ministries and increased its domestic and international mission work. Page supports a traditional definition of marriage and opposes efforts to extend benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

Nancy Ratzan is president of the National Council of Jewish Women, a New York-based organization representing about 90,000 nationwide volunteers and members who work for the rights of women, children and families. An attorney, Ratzan was previously the president of a Reform Jewish congregation in Miami. She supports a range of family and child development programs including comprehensive sex education, parenting programs and expanded health care benefits.

Judith N. Vredenburgh is president and chief executive officer of Pennsylvania-based Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America (BBBS), the nation’s oldest and largest youth mentoring program operating in 50 states and 12 countries. BBBS works with about a quarter million young people and is replicating a faith-based program model to mentor children of incarcerated parents. Vredenburgh is a self-described secular member of the council.


The Role of Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Reforming the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Task Force

This task force focuses on clarifying the legal and administrative parameters that govern partnerships between the government and religious and community organizations to provide social services. The task force has selected the following focus areas: assessing government regulations to ensure they meet constitutional standards; streamlining policies to make faith-based social service providers more effective; and strengthening relations between the White House, federal agencies and local governments to partner with faith-based and community organizations. For example, the task force is reviewing brochures, PowerPoint presentations and published materials disseminated by President George W. Bush’s faith-based office to determine how future faith-based office informational materials could be improved.

The council members on this task force are as follow:

Noel Castellanos is chief executive officer of the Chicago-based Christian Community Development Association, a national association of more than 500 faith-based organizations that works to improve the resources available to low-income neighborhoods. An evangelical Christian, Castellanos founded the Latino Leadership Foundation and has worked in neighborhood development and urban ministry since 1982.

Fred Davie is a senior executive at the New York-based Arcus Foundation, which advocates for such issues as racial, lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender rights. An ordained Presbyterian minister, Davie oversees Arcus programs related to religion and values that advocate for religion’s place in equality issues. As the former president of Public/Private Ventures, Davie has experience in social policy, program evaluation, philanthropy, government and management as well as faith-based social services.

Nathan J. Diament is director of public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish organization representing more than 1,000 synagogues. Based in Washington, D.C., Diament is a long-time supporter of federal policies that allow faith-based organizations to retain their religious character and autonomy when receiving government money to provide social services. Diament also serves on the council’s interreligious dialogue and cooperation task force and environment and climate change task force.

Harry Knox is director of the Religion and Faith Program at the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C.-based national organization that works for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. A former pastor of a United Methodist Church, Knox serves as the Human Rights Campaign’s liaison to religious groups and provides faith-based commentary on equality issues.

Anthony R. Picarello Jr. is general counsel of the Washington, D.C.-based United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the leadership body of the Catholic Church in America. Picarello also served as vice president and general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. He is a leading advocate for laws that protect religious expression and practice.

Melissa Rogers is director of the Wake Forest School of Divinity Center for Religion and Public Affairs in Winston-Salem, N.C. A lawyer, Rogers teaches courses on church-state relations and Christianity. She previously served as executive director of the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. She has co-authored a joint report published by the Wake Forest divinity school and the Brookings Institution outlining 16 ways to reform government partnerships with faith-based and community groups.


Earth

The Role of Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Environment and Climate Change Task Force

This task force focuses on engaging religious organizations to address the effects of climate change on the environment and the American population. The task force has selected the following focus areas: urging faith-based organizations to renovate their buildings for better energy use; creating grants, support and training to encourage people from low income levels to apply for conservation jobs and strive for energy efficient homes; and working with the government to craft global warming policy. For example, the task force has supported the inclusion of religious leaders at a White House meeting on climate change to take place this fall in anticipation of an international conference in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009.

The council members on this task force are as follow:

Nathan J. Diament is director of public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish organization representing more than 1,000 synagogues. Based in Washington, D.C., Diament has promoted federal legislation that would help pay for energy-efficient cooling and heating systems in buildings operated by religious groups. Diament also serves on the council’s interreligious dialogue and cooperation task force and reforming the faith-based office task force.

David N. Saperstein is director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Washington, D.C., office of the Union for Reform Judaism, which represents more than 900 constituent congregations. Saperstein, a rabbi and attorney, legally represents the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, which seeks to reduce carbon emissions by 70% by 2050.

Sharon Watkins is general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a mainline Protestant denomination. Under Watkins’ leadership, the denomination has adopted a mission statement that recognizes people of faith as stewards of the Earth and calls for reducing the effects of climate change.


Vaccine

The Role of Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Global Poverty, Health and Development Task Force

This task force focuses on improving collaboration between government and private relief organizations in addressing global poverty and strengthening international development. The task force has selected the following focus areas: emphasizing the value and importance of nonprofit and religious organizations in relief efforts; increasing the effectiveness of religious organizations in first-response disaster relief; eliminating impediments preventing faith-based organizations from participating in foreign assistance; and identifying best-practice techniques for humanitarian aid. For example, the task force is considering whether the U.S. Agency for International Development can work more with grassroots nonprofit and religious organizations to provide international relief.

The council members on this task force are as follow:

Charles E. Blake Sr. is presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ, a prominent historically black Pentecostal denomination, and pastor of West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles. As founder of the Pan African Children’s Fund, Blake leads global efforts to fight HIV/AIDS and has advocated for an end to violence in Darfur.

Richard Stearns is president of Washington-state-based World Vision, which is among the world’s largest Christian humanitarian relief organizations with outreach efforts in 100 countries. Stearns, an evangelical Christian who worked for major corporations for 25 years before joining World Vision, is a strong advocate for expanding and improving collaborations between governments and nonprofit and religious organizations to address global poverty.


This report was written by Anne Farris.

Photo credits: Obama: Pete Souza, Executive Office of the President of the United States; Food stamps: Corbis; Religious symbols: Sebastien Desarmaux/Corbis; Father and children: IStockPhoto; White House: James Steidl/IStockPhoto; Earth: NASA; Vaccine: IStockPhoto