Faith council officially gives Obama its recommendations
By William Wan
After a year of deliberations, the faith council convened by President Obama formally handed over their final report and 60-plus recommendations to the White House today.
As many of council members have said in past weeks, what impact the council has depends in large part on how serious the Obama takes its report. To lend the report authority, Faith Office Director Joshua Dubois brought in a hit list of heavyweights from Obama's administration throughout the day to receive each portion of the report: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Domestic Policy Director Melody Barnes, USAID administrator Raj Shah, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, National Security Council Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.
While there wasn't any breaking news from today's final council meeting in a conference room at the White House's old executive building, council members talked reflectively and even nostalgically about the year they've spent on the report. The highlight for many were words from Rev. Otis Moss Jr., probably the oldest council members, who recalled his days working with Martin Luther King Jr. five decades ago.
"We sought and believed that we could change the nation and the world," Moss said of his work with King. "And when I look at the younger spirits and persons on this council...I am tempted to wonder what you will be saying to each other 50 years from now, listening in on how these recommendations have been implemented and played a role in changing the nation and the world."
Some present -- secular and religious activists alike -- noted the absence of abortion reduction and the religious hiring issue -- two of the most pressing issues in the faith world today -- which were notably absent in the council's taskforces and final report.
"It's the 800-lb gorilla in the room that you'll notice no one is talking about today," said Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which issued a statement today on the council's report. Lynn, who wasn't a council member but helped advise one of its task forces, has pushed hard for Obama to reverse Bush policies which allow faith-based organization to consider a person's faith when hiring.
On the other side of the issue is faith council member Richard Stearns -- president of Christian relief organization World Vision, who talked to the Post yesterday about his interpretation of Obama's choice so far to stay within status quo.
In a column for the Post's On Faith today, Faith Council Chairwoman Melissa Rogers says it's something the administration needs to tackle soon. (Obama has said the issue has been referred to the US Justice Dept to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.)
Of the council's six task forces -- domestic poverty, fatherhoood, environment, interfaith, global development, faith-based office reform -- Rogers' task force, which tackled recommendations for reforming the Faith-based office had one of the toughest jobs on the council. At today's meeting council members revealed that some recommendations on some of the most controversial decisions passed a single vote -- like the issue of whether houses of worship need to incorporate a nonprofit entity in order to receive federal funds.
With this first council ending its term, we gathered a few behind the scenes tidbits as well.
As can be expected with a group as diverse as this, there were occasionally touchy moments. In recent weeks, after gay rights activist and faith council member Harry Knox affirmed some of his previous harsh comments about the pope ("hurting people in the name of Jesus" because the pope's view on condoms), at least one Catholic member on the council expressed dismay. Arturo Chavez, president of Mexican American Catholic College, said he called Knox to clarify and work out their differences.
That kind of exchange, in some ways, Chavez said, has been a unexpectd benefit of the council's work. "One of things we've worked on is how to disagree in a way that still keeps us moving and does not gridlock the work we're charged with," he said.
The next council will be named in late spring/early summer, according to Faith Office Director Dubois. He said he doesn't expect the next council to address the same issues this one did. What exactly they'll address will be worked out by him and possibly the new council members themselves in coming months, he said.
Update: According to council member Eboo Patel, who runs the Interfaith Youth Core, some on the council will be already taking action tomorrow on at least one of the recommendations. They're meeting to plan for a White House roundtable on interfaith cooperation. Expect that roundtable to come together sometime in the late spring, he says.
William Wan| March 9, 2010; 2:18 PM ET | Category: God in Government Save & Share:
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