The new administration of President Obama announced this week that they will be keeping and expanding on the office of faith-based initiatives begun under President George W. Bush. The renamed office – it’s now called The White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships – will continue to work closely with community groups including churches, synagogues, temples and mosques in order to promote local solutions to national challenges. All the details have yet to be worked out, but it is clear that the office will expand even as it shifts its priorities to more closely match those of President Obama.
In its official announcement the Whitehouse declared its commitment to continuing to support religious and community organizations that fight hunger, rehabilitate prisoners, house the homeless, and watch out for those members of our society that too often slip through the social safety net. However, the change at the top has not settled many of the questions that were raised when the office was first formed by the previous administration. Questions regarding funding persist, as many libertarians want to be sure that tax dollars do not inadvertently go to fund proselytizing of any kind. Additionally, opponents continue to voice concerns over the admittedly preferential hiring practices of religious organizations. Both issues raise the specter of crossing the boundary between church and state that many American watchdog groups prize.
Obama’s own history as a community organizer and active participant in an urban Christian congregation may shape his attitude toward the function and funding of this White House office, but a long list of prominent religious thinkers and activists are also serving as advisers. At the top of the leadership tree is Joshua Dubois, an African-American Pentecostal minister who worked on Obama’s campaign. During the run up to the election Dubois organized religious outreach for the Obama/Biden ticket and spearheaded efforts to bring Evangelicals and other politically active religious groups into the Democratic fold.
Watch President Obama’s announcement on the continuing role of the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.