In launching his new Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships this morning, President Obama also unveiled a new committee of outside experts to advise the office, which will be called the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. There will be 25 members of the Council, appointed to one-year terms, including these figures (I comment on the standouts below):
Judith N. Vredenburgh, President and Chief Executive Officer, Big Brothers / Big Sisters of AmericaPhiladelphia, PA
Rabbi David N. Saperstein, Director & Counsel, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and noted church/state expertWashington, DC
Dr. Frank S. Page, President emeritus, Southern Baptist ConventionTaylors, SC
Father Larry J. Snyder, President, Catholic Charities USAAlexandria, VA
Rev. Otis Moss, Jr., Pastor emeritus, Olivet Institutional Baptist ChurchCleveland, OH
Eboo S. Patel, Founder & Executive Director, Interfaith Youth CorpsChicago, IL
Fred Davie, President, Public / Private Ventures, a secular nonprofit intermediary New York, NY
Dr. William J. Shaw, President, National Baptist Convention, USAPhiladelphia, PA
Melissa Rogers, Director, Wake Forest School of Divinity Center for Religion and Public Affairs and expert on church/state issuesWinston-Salem, NC
Pastor Joel C. Hunter, Senior Pastor, Northland, a Church DistributedLakeland, FL
Dr. Arturo Chavez, Ph.D., President & CEO, Mexican American Cultural CenterSan Antonio, TX
Rev. Jim Wallis, President & Executive Director, SojournersWashington, DC
Bishop Vashti M. McKenzie, Presiding Bishop, 13th Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal ChurchKnoxville, TN
Diane Baillargeon, President & CEO, Seedco, a secular national operating intermediaryNew York, NY
Richard Stearns, President, World VisionBellevue, WA
A few of these folks stand out, for various reasons:
World Vision president Richard Stearns recently said that if Obama keeps his campaign pledge to undo President Bush's policy that allows faith-based groups to hire only likeminded believers with federal funds, World Vision would back out of faith-based initiatives. It's still unclear exactly how Obama will handle the hiring question, but it would be odd for Stearns to agree to join a White House advisory committee for a program that his organization will walk away from.
Wake Forest's Melissa Rogers is the coauthor of a recent Brookings Institution report that recommends the Obama administration tighten rules preventing federal funds going to explicitly religious activities and that encourages the administration to study the hiring question more before making a final decision about it.
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism's David Saperstein was an opponent of Bush's faith-based initiatives office but has been working with the Obama team as it launches its own version.
These three individuals have sharply different views on faith-based initiatives, making it difficult to puzzle out how the White House will handle the sensitive hiring question. Stay tuned.