Despite critiques that the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships has been relatively quiet recently, Joshua DuBois, the Office’s Director, takes to the White House blog to reflect on what they have achieved during the past year:
On February 5, 2009, President Obama launched the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. He charged this Office with a specific and critical mission: shifting the focus of the previous initiative from funding to programmatic impact, and helping the federal government partner with faith-based and other nonprofit organizations to better serve all Americans. And over the last year, this Office has done just that. Here’s a just brief snapshot of the Office’s work:
* The Office has coordinated President Obama’s national fatherhood agenda, implementing strategies to address the challenge of father absence in communities across the country.
* It has built partnerships between federal agencies and local nonprofits on a range of key issues, from making sure that faith-based organizations can respond to the H1N1 crisis to ensuring that these groups are a part of the government’s disaster response efforts.
* It has brought people together across religious lines, working with groups on over 4,000 interfaith service projects this summer, organizing a new President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships of some of the top faith and community leaders in the country, and helping to lead the Administration’s efforts on interfaith cooperation abroad.
* It has worked to help local organizations to respond to the economic crisis, from implementing foreclosure prevention programs to strengthening nonprofit capacity building.
Each of these and the many other priorities of the faith-based office are central to President Obama’s vision for our country. The President realizes that government programs alone cannot solve all of our problems, and that only by connecting with individuals, families, and community- and faith-based organizations across the country will we address our most pressing challenges. The White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships is working to form those partnerships every day, on behalf individuals, families and communities.
But over at the Washington Post, Michelle Boorstein and William Wan report that critics are concerned the office is “more about window dressing than results”:
Critics say that the faith-based office isn’t enough of a priority at the White House and that faith leaders who were consulted regularly during the campaign are now simply copied on pro-forma e-mails. They complain that Obama is no longer using the faith language that he employed as a candidate to frame his policy goals, and that before the new faith council convened, some of the most controversial questions, including religious hiring and abortion, were taken off the table.
“We’re wondering if religiously driven voices really have a voice at the table,” said David Gushee, an evangelical ethicist who has been in regular contact with Obama’s team since the presidential campaign. And whether “gatekeepers around the president are thinking he has more important constituencies to pay attention to.”
At Spiritual Politics, Mark Silk attributes this discontent within the faith community to the Office’s relatively vague mission, relative to its predecessor initiative under President Bush:
I’d put it this way. Under Bush, the initiative had a clear idea and purpose. The idea was that social service provision could be done more effectively by faith-based organizations (FBOs) because they were, well, faith-based. The purpose was to make it easier for FBOs to have access to public funds to do their good works. In fact, the idea remains unproven and the purpose was based on the largely false premise that FBOs didn’t have access to public funds already. There were legal problems. There was politics. But still, you knew what the thing was.
Under Obama, the idea of FBO superiority has been jettisoned, the money-funneling purpose shuttled aside. In their place is generalized outreach to the “faith community”–understood in a much broader way than the Bushies did. It’s all about motherhood-and-apple pie…make that fatherhood.
Only time will tell if this new Office has had the impact DuBois claims. As Boorstein and Wan report, “several members of the faith council argue that it will be easier to measure their results once the president receives their recommendations on fatherhood, interreligious cooperation, economic recovery and other issues.”
Find out more about the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships here.