Why I Joined Obama’s Faith Council

President Obama is determined to make faith a force for good in the world. He talked about it during his … Continued

President Obama is determined to make faith a force for good in the world. He talked about it during his campaign, during his inaugural address and during the Annual Prayer Breakfast.

Yesterday, I got to hear him talk about it in person in the Oval Office. I had the honor of being named to President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The group includes prominent pastors like Joel Hunter, faith-based social justice giants like Jim Wallis and influential rabbis like David Saperstein. But it also includes people from secular service organizations, like Judith Vredenburgh of Big Brothers / Big Sisters. President Obama is sending a message with the membership — this Council is about how faith and other inspirations make a difference in the world, not about how people worship in their church, or whether they worship at all.

We had 30 minutes in the White House with the President yesterday. The Oval Office looks larger on TV than it does in person, but the President looks pretty much the same — that striking combination of regal figure and next-door-neighbor.

He spoke happily about his daughters and somberly about the economy. “Even if we get everything right,” he said, “people are going to be hurting these next few years.” And then he became all business.

He talked about the front-line work that so many organizations are doing to keep people fed and clothed and sheltered in America, and how much more acute the need is during an economic crisis. He talked about how many of those front-line groups are faith-based, and how we needed to do as much as possible to support each other and our fellow Americans in need right now.

This is not the time to argue between faith-based and secular, or Muslim and Christian, he emphasized. This is the time to find the common ground of compassion in all faiths and traditions, and put it into action where it is needed most.

‘Maybe some of those talented young people who can’t find jobs on Wall Street will join your efforts,’ the President said, with a twinkle in his eye.

And then he connected his domestic vision with his foreign policy goals — speaking of the importance of reaching out to the Muslim world, and making sure that our faiths are bridges for service and cooperation instead barriers of separation and resentment.

It made me think about the interview that Obama did with Al-Arabiya. The pundits who scoffed that leaders like President Ahmadinejad of Iran were not going to unclench their fists simply because President Obama asked missed the point.

Obama wasn’t speaking primarily to Ahmadinejad — he was reaching out to Iranians, especially young Iranians, and their counterparts across the Muslim world. He was saying, ‘We in America respect your faith and seek a common life together. Collectively we can be a powerful force for pluralism. Our shared values call on us to serve others and to defeat extremism.”

That’s a faith-based youth movement that can cross borders and traditions.


  • norriehoyt

    Why isn’t Barry W. Lynn a member of the Advisory Council?The Council needs somebody on it who will keep these pious treasury robbers from riding hellbent over the Constitution, their saddlebags stuffed with taxpayers’ cash, on their path of religious self-promotion.

  • clearthinking1

    The unfortunate problem with supremacists like Muslims and Christians is that they will unclench their fists when weak. When they get strong again, the open hand is again clenched into a fist.How do you stop these cycles of violence associated with religion? One must fundamentally reorient these religions away from the ideas of supremacy and collective politics and direct them towards helping individuals evolve spiritually.Can Islam and Christianity be fundamentally repaired? Christianity has made some progress on the surface, but mainly because of secularity and science in Europe. Sorry to say, Islam has no chance of disconnecting from violence. Not only is the Koran and Islam inherently supremacist and political, but it is also philosophically, historically, and culturally violent.Can anyone honestly imagine a day when a true beieving Muslim truly believes that people of other beliefs – Atheists, Hindus, Christians, Jews, Zorastrians, etc… – are truly equal?MUTUAL respect. MUTUAL. Mutual. Otherwise, it’s just a lot of empty rhetoric that keeps people with “councils” and “think tanks” employed.

  • s_j_thaikattil

    Dear Dr PatelA heartfelt Congratulations on being named as a member to President Obama’s Faith Council! A truly well deserved appointment! I wish you much success for are among those who bring much hope and joy to the world through the work you do, ever so patiently and with much love, despite all the opposition.Soja John Thaikattil

  • Farnaz2

    norriehoyt:”Why isn’t Barry W. Lynn a member of the Advisory Council?”That is an excellent question, Norrie, one that will end up in a letters to be written this weekend. Aside from the White House, to whom should I write? My Congressman is very responsive. Schumer is and Clinton was. Shall I write them? Anyone else?

  • efavorite

    I nominate Greg Epstein, Secular Chaplain of Harvard to serve on the council. It’s only fitting to have a humanist representative.Obama’s own mother was a secular humanist and she raised him well.

  • CCNL

    Taxpayers would be better served by first correcting all the historical and theological flaws and errors in the various religions that make up faith-based councils.

  • norriehoyt

    Farnaz2,I just read your post commenting on my post suggesting that the Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Barry Lynn, should be appointed to the new Advisory Council.Whom should you write to promote this idea?I’m at a bit of a loss here. I could really help you if Howard Dean were president. My wife was his chief of staff and secretary of administration for ten years and I was a commissioner in his administration for six.Actually, if Howard were president today he might well think of Barry Lynn himself; he shares the AUSCS’s views.Since Howard isn’t president you should write to someone who’s close to Barack and who shares your and my views on this question.Unfortunately I don’t know who that might be. You named some good possibilities, though I imagine Hillary’s busy with other issues now.Barack’s White House Counsel is Greg Craig, a very good guy and a native Vermonter. You probably saw the story in today’s WaPo which says that Vermont is the least religious of all the states. If Greg (whom I don’t know personally since he’s been away from Vermont for decades)has the time and interest in the matter, I bet he’d be sympathetic to having Barry Lynn on board.I wish I could be of more help to you here, and I’ll keep thinking about it.Obama’s moved so far in pandering to conservative, intolerant Christians that he owes us secularists. We all voted for him and most of those folks didn’t.All the best to you.

  • CCNL

    Eboo asks: Why I joined the leader of the Immoral Majority’s Faith Council??The answer: “Tis” payback for supporting BO and also for the easy money!!!

  • clearthinking1

    vjg3 writes:Islam is superior to all other religions. Most Muslims will say this openly and willingly. Sneaky Muslims like Eboo Patel will talk about the need of “interfaith dialogue” as a cover. Ultimately this supremacist attitude leads to conflict and violence. This is perfectly OK with Eboo Patel and other Muslims. Let’s see if Eboo Patel will ever write this simple statement: “all religions are equal. Islam is not superior to other religions” Sounds easy, doesn’t it? You will never hear it from a true Muslim.

  • svengerald

    Congratulations Mr Patel , as much as I disagree with your opinions when it comes to Judeo-Christian/Muslim problems, I wish you and the council much success. I disagree on many issues with our new President , as I did with our former President. Right now the nation needs people to work and pray towards overall success for our government in all aspects of its’ responsibilities, we are the government.

  • vjg3

    Perhaps Mr. Patel can use his new power of authority to speak of inhumane treatment of non-Muslims in 57 Islamic nations.Perhaps he can ask why these Muslim majority Islamic nations have to call themselves “Islamic republics” ; thus insulting non-Muslims?

  • calexo

    The first commentor had it right. When will Eboo Patel and Obama’s Council will use their influence to dissuade the Muslim nations to become truly “non-Islamic” Republics or Kingdoms and thus become “civilized”. Also, leaving out Barry Lynn is a slap in the face of those of us who supported Obama hoping that he would not kow tow to the religious right. As a US Army veteran, and practicing Christian, I am sick and tired of our government and Obama continuing to pander to the religious right and also ignore other non-Abrahmic faiths such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Bahais, Sikhism etc…Are they not entitled to a voice in Obama’s interfaith council? The whole effort of Obama seems to be more geared towards keeping the evangelicals, Jewish folks and Islamicists on his side while merely giving lip-service to secularists and people of non-Abrahamic faiths. If he continues with his duplicitous behavior, he can count people like me in working for his reelection campaign.

  • aepelbaum

    So, I can not post a comment. My comments disappeared. Okay, it might be for the best.

  • CCNL

    In case you missed it:Eboo asks: Why I joined the leader of the Immoral Majority’s Faith Council??The answer: “Tis” payback for supporting BO and also for the easy money!!!


    Dear Presedent Obama has ınvıted to Ankara Kocatepe Mosque Imam for consult and get information about İslam, but ı could not in all news and news paper about thıs news. Thats Turkıs Imam alredy ın there?? presedant Obama want to expansion about other religions and he atteched ımportand to İslam.Because Bush Crashed to usa impression..

  • coloradodog

    correction: “includes all ABRAHAMIC faiths”

  • coloradodog

    looks like JJ is off his meds again

  • sharon-jefferson

    I think that you are a wonderful choice to serve on the interfaith council. I pray that through the council people of faith and non-believers can put aside their difference and create programs that end poverty, improve education and promote good will among Americans. God bless you and your work. I really enjoy your columns. I wish that some of the people responding to your column today would stick to the subject.

  • CCNL

    “Saperstein set to join Obama’s faith-based councilWASHINGTON (JTA) — A leading Reform rabbi reportedly will be named part of a new advisory council to the White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.The Associated Press reported that Rabbi David Saperstein, director and counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, would be part of the council, which will meet at least twice a year and include leaders from the religious and secular worlds who have experience in social services.Others reportedly tapped for the council include evangelical Christian Rev. Joel Hunter; Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America president and CEO Judith Vredenburgh; and Bishop Vashti McKenzie, the first female bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.”This news article did mention Eboo Patel’s name. Reason??

  • cantabb1

    What I think you have is an opportunity to clarify to other members of this presidential inter-faith initiative the major misconceptions they have about your religion. In this, people in other faiths are willing to listen, but you face serious disparities between what you say about Islam and its practices and what others, mostly extremists, think and do. We have heard about the largely “silent” moderates who are not the same as the extremists, but unless you convince the extremists how anti-Islam they are or how they violate the principles the ‘moderates’ like yourself believe in, they (the extremists) will continue to gut your own position.Most of the reasonable people are willing to see and understand the difference, but what you say is always negated by some of your own fellow-Muslims and their actions, you have very limited credibility. People see what believers in Islam have DONE (Terrorism, violence, supposedly following following reading the Scriptures you share with them), rather than what you say they are.Your problem, I think, lies with your fellow Muslims about what your Scriptures say about killing innocent people and the unreconstructed hatred they have toward other religions.To suggest that your religion is better than others is a NON-Starter.

  • deutschryan

    “It made me think about the interview that Obama did with Al-Arabiya …” “Obama wasn’t speaking primarily to Ahmadinejad — he was reaching out to Iranians, especially young Iranians, …”While much has been made about Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world through his interview with “al-arabiya”, this should be more precisely viewed as outreach to the (muslim and non-muslim) Arabic speaking world. 80% of the world’s Muslims don’t speak Arabic, including young Iranians, who would feel just as much addressed by an interview on non-Persian language “al-arabiya” as an interview on non-Persian language CNN.

  • montaguew

    Eboo,I’m so glad you’re a part of this council. I’ve read “Acts of Faith” and am currently in the second book. And soon we (in Kansas City) will be meeting with some IFYC folks to get the movement started in KC.Now for a couple questions:1. I’ve interacted with some fellow Christians who consider the push to ‘pluralism’ a very negative thing. Of course the word can mean different things to different people. But do you think this idea is well-accepted by broader (if there is one) Islamic perspective? 2. Do you have a specific role on Obama’s council?Thanks,

Read More Articles

Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.

How Passover Makes the Impossible Possible

When we place ourselves within the story, we can imagine new realities.

This Passover, We’re Standing at an Unparted Red Sea

We need to ask ourselves: What will be the future of the State of Israel — and what will it require of us?

Just As I Am

My childhood conversion to Christianity was only the first of many.

This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

Hey Bart Ehrman, I’m Obsessed with Jesus, Too — But You’ve Got Him All Wrong

Why the debate over Jesus’ divinity matters.

shutterstock_127731035 (1)
Are Single People the Lepers of Today’s Church?

In an age of rising singlehood, many churches are still focused on being family ministry centers.

Mysterious Tremors

People like me who have mystical experiences may be encountering some unknown Other. What can we learn about what that Other is?

Five Bible Verses You Need to Stop Misusing

That verse you keep quoting? It may not mean what you think it means.

What C.S. Lewis’ Marriage Can Tell Us About the Gay Marriage Controversy

Why “welcome and wanted” is a biblical response to gay and lesbian couples in evangelical churches.

How to Resolve Conflict: A Bible Lesson for Foreign Policy Leaders

The biblical story of Abigail shows how visible vulnerability can create a path toward peace.