Obama's Faith-Based Office Gets Down to Work

April 9, 2009

Author: Amy Sullivan

Source: TIME Magazine


At this rate, Barack Obama may need to start his own version of the old Stephen Colbert "This Week in God" segment. On Monday, the President held forth to the Turkish Parliament on the contributions of Muslim-Americans and noted that he had Muslims in his family. Later that same day, Obama prompted cheers from secularists when he declared, "One of the great strengths of the United States is...we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation; we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values." That was just Obama's warm-up. On Thursday evening, the First Family will observe the second night of Passover by hosting family and friends for the first White House seder. And at the end of this Holy Week in Christianity, they will celebrate Easter — though exactly where has yet to be determined.'

But perhaps the loudest message the White House sent about religion this week took place without the President in attendance. Over the course of two days, the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships gathered more than 60 religious leaders (and a handful of secular non-profits) at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building for the first in what director Joshua Dubois says will be a series of briefings. The White House also released the complete list of members of the advisory council of religious and secular leaders who will provide Obama with advice and feedback. (View a 2 minute bio of Joshua DuBois.)

Unlike the faith-based office itself, which was created by President Bush, the advisory council is a newly established body that has never existed in previous administrations. Members each serve one-year terms, and they come from a wide range of religious traditions, including Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, mainline Protestant, and Evangelical communities. The group includes a mix of theological liberals, civil rights leaders, conservative Evangelicals and even a few vocal critics of the Democratic Party's approach to social issues.