By Michelle Boorstein
Then-Senator Barack Obama speaks speaks to the media during his presidential campaign at Eastside Community Ministry in Zanesville, Ohio, July 1, 2008. (Reuters)
The White House today named some of the new members of an advisory council that advises the president on partnerships between the government and faith-based non-profits.
The Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships is part of President Obama’s broad outreach to faith-based groups, a network of offices that includes a dozen branches in agencies from the Justice Department to Health and Human Services to International Development and other staff.
Among the newly named members:
Lynn Hybels, Co-founder and Advocate for Global Engagement at the Willow Creek Community Church
Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals
The Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church
Read the full list here.
The first council of 25 members ended its term last year and the White House today released the names of 12 members of the second council. The other names are still being vetted. As it was last time, the list includes major names from the world of organized religion, including leaders of denominations (the spiritual heads of the Episcopal Church, the Greek Orthodox Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), advocacy groups (the head of the National Association of Evangelicals and past-president of a major group of Catholic nuns) and large non-profits (the president of United Way).
The last group attracted a lot of attention partially because the administration was new and Americans were eager for a sense of who Obama saw as his “advisors” on faith issues. Two years later it’s clear that group’s scope was extremely limited and the most broad, controversial issue, faith-based nonprofits, was taken off their table. (At issue was whether faith-based groups partnering with the government have the right to hire only people of their own faith.)
Officials said the new group – which will eventually be up to a full, 25-person roster – will continue to focus on the same priorities as the last group, which include: promoting fatherhood, boosting interfaith cooperation and above all, smoothing partnerships between faith-based and secular non-profit groups and the government. Such groups run a vast amount of social services in the United States.
Rather than be a direct pipeline for religious progressives to the president, as some religious conservatives feared, the office has adopted the conservative view on several contentious issues that come up in the non-profit world — a tact some see as a strategic way to be close to religious conservatives. The White House has left in place the Bush administration policy of letting groups discrimination on the basis of religion in hiring, for example.
The Obama administration has sought to tone down religious culture war issues and makes a display of how ideologically broad their advisory council members are. The White House also sought at the beginning of Obama’s term to differentiate itself from the Bush administration’s stated strategy of helping faith groups access money, emphasizing that funding is tight and faith-based groups would be primarily getting guidance. However, the scope and impact of the White House’s outreach isn’t yet clear. Politico did an interesting story a few months ago about the significant chunk of stimulus money that has gone to faith-based groups.