Tuesday, July 14, 2009

White House Advisory Council Maps Out Faith-Based Plans

By Adelle M. Banks

WASHINGTON (RNS) Members of a new White House advisory council mapped out plans to link government and religious groups, from interfaith service projects to regional town halls on fatherhood, during a two-day meeting that ended Thursday (July 9).

Eboo Patel, founder of Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core, said his task force of the Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships will work to advance President Obama’s discussion about interfaith cooperation by fostering hands-on activities.

“Can we have interfaith service projects on 500 campuses?” he asked fellow leaders on the 25-member council. “Can we work with 25 State Department embassies to have interfaith service projects?”

Council members discussed the priorities of six task forces, which range from reforming the faith-based office to addressing the economic crisis.

Melissa Rogers, an expert on religion and public affairs at Wake Forest University School of Divinity, said the task force charged with reforming the office will examine everything from executive orders to PowerPoint presentations to ensure church-state restrictions are clear when religious organizations partner with the government.

Several council members told administration officials they want to make sure that government partnerships extend to the city and county level—in part to ensure that economic recovery funds reach struggling grass-roots nonprofits.

Joshua DuBois, the executive director of the office, said he expects intergovernmental outreach to increase, but is seeking recommendations from the advisers on best approaches for that cooperation.

Many of the advisers’ proposals will be developed into a report to the White House next year. Some of their work will be evident before then, such as regional town hall meetings on fatherhood scheduled for later this year.