February 5th, 2009
04:30 PM ET

Obama to expand Bush faith program

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Carrie Budoff Brown

President Barack Obama, who has been reversing course on a host of Bush administration policies, Thursday will make a bid to expand and strengthen one of the programs most closely associated with his predecessor.

George W. Bush created the White House faith-based grant program, and Obama intends to keep the same structure. But Obama is going a significant step further, with the creation of a new board of advisers whose recommendations will be woven directly into his policy-making apparatus.

Under Bush, a White House-based program to encourage grants to faith-based social service programs began with high hopes and a barrage of publicity. But over time this Bush hallmark suffered amid complaints from many of its backers that it had become marginalized and used for partisan purposes by White House political aides.

Under Obama, the President’s Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will allow 25 faith and secular leaders to provide regular input on policy and to advise the White House faith office, which is tasked with distributing grants. Obama is slated to announce the council Thursday and meet privately with members at the White House.

“The conventional wisdom suggests that, since Bush used much rhetoric about his commitment to working closely with religious leaders and communities, that the new Democrat coming to the White House might seek to diminish the role of religion in his administration,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, the president of the progressive Christian group Sojourners and a member of Obama’s new council. “But I believe the opposite may turn out to be true. There will be a new paradigm of religious influence under the Obama administration.”

The council will pull together an evangelical megachurch pastor, a Reform rabbi, a former Southern Baptist Convention president and the first female bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The membership is intended to cross the political and religious spectrum, fulfilling Obama’s promise to run an inclusive administration. But with the diversity could come conflict.


Filed under: Barack Obama • Raw Politics • Religion
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. David Warhol

    I believe the stimulus is taking too long, but we have to go with it right? Tax cuts need to happen for us, we are all struggling. Obama I trust you'll get it done.

    February 6, 2009 at 2:17 am |
  2. Sheera, Oregon

    I am VERY disappointed in the President. The constitution is CLEAR – Separation of Church and State. Why don't these politicians get this? Didn't they read the constitution? What about the atheists, the agnositics? What about those people like me, who's religion is nature?

    February 6, 2009 at 1:34 am |
  3. J.V.Hodgson

    Religion has no place in mainline politics. It is in the constitution.
    However, it is a fact of lfe for the news media that it helps to plaster the views of specific religious groups all over the place when the Government or a President passes a law that upsets a particulkar religious lobby or His Pastor/ Evangelical leader says something controversial and outrageous, or expresses himself in a dramatic manner.
    The media then assumes all his audience hold the same view.
    When will you guys take some lessons from philosophy like:-
    You can fool all of the people some of the time etc etc and not assume that all the audience (however important a person attending might be) automatically must agree. Arrant nonsense!!
    In America religion = ratings and becomes a political minefield for Politicians which is why the founding fathers said it should and must be SEPARATE!

    February 6, 2009 at 12:03 am |
  4. Joan Francis

    I am behind President Obama 100%. We have no more time to waste. The Republican Party had eight years in power and did nothing buy create a mess of things. How can the Republican Party now want to dictate the paste in this stimulus plan? Yet , they weren't able to give the former President Bush ideas to fix the economy. The music I have been hearing from the Republican Party is for more "tax cuts". Former, President Bush had so much tax cuts for the wealthy, and no regulations to regulate Walls Street, hence that is why we are in the big hole we are now in. They have lost the right on November 4, 2008, to govern, therefore, they need to come up with new ideas and stop playing politics with people's life. I wish the rest of the Republicans could think like Governor, Charlie Christ. If President Obama fails, then America fails.

    President Obama you have an obligation to the American people to clean up former President Bush's mess and get the country on the right path again towards success.

    It is country first.

    One love,

    February 6, 2009 at 12:00 am |
  5. cheryl

    I think Obama speech today was a very powerful speech. The reason why I say this is because he is making a real important statement about or Economy. It is time to get started. People are struggling, losing their jobs, homes etc. I just hope that their will be some compromising because Obams is reaching out for the American People for change. Personally I am glad that he focused on Religion. I admire him for that.

    February 5, 2009 at 11:53 pm |
  6. anonymous Ahky

    Let the president be the president....his word is law.....we know the old ways weren't working so we voted for change ........of course the republican party disagrees........they didn't vote for him anyway.......WAKE UP.......if change is to occur things must be done that make you feel uncomfortable.......otherwise its the same things that didn't work in our last few presidencies.

    February 5, 2009 at 11:25 pm |
  7. Judy Larson

    I am a retired teacher, and i am still active in the education community.
    I am on a fixed income and feel all the pinches everyone else is feeling. However, I am very concerned about my fellow friends and neighbors. Eight years ago the new president came into office with a balanced budget. He went out of office two weeks ago with one of the worst recessions we have felt in years. Our new president came into office with one of the most challenging situations that could ever happen. It all adds up to the fact that somebody did something wrong to have this kind of problem facing one in the face as he walks into office. The republicans did a horrible job of balancing the budget, they kept spending and spending. Now in order to get out of this mess we are going to have to use a huge stimulus package that we have never had to see in history. Was this because we played politics? Yes. Let's stop playing politics and get the job done. If you folks that are representing us are going to play politics, many more people will be without a roof over their heads. It is horrible, but we have no choices., STOP PLAYING POLITICS, GET DOWN TO WORK AND PASS A STIMULUS PACKAGE TOMORROW! Don't huddle trying to undermine the president, Republicans, get on the band wagon and get a stimulus package that will not just speak to the rich and make the richer, make it speak to the poor in hopes that they will be able to save their homes and jobs.

    February 5, 2009 at 10:51 pm |
  8. gregg alan smith

    As a Methodist lay minister and director of a non-profit determined to do the best for the "least of these", I applaud any policy which provokes us to remember that, far from being partisan and playing favorites, God is passionately concerned with the well-being of us all.

    February 5, 2009 at 10:39 pm |
  9. celestine

    Listening to the president's speech this evening, i sense some frustration in his tone. The republicans fail to know this president inherited billions of dollars and a recession when he got into office. How do we expect him to move us out of the recession without giving him a chance? He's very intelligent and i know he can get us out but we have to give him a chance.

    February 5, 2009 at 10:29 pm |
  10. Chris, Chicago

    Our founding fathers created a democracy, not a theocracy. Therefore, check your history, Jim of California. They would be rolling in their graves at these aberrations you mentioned. So, during the next disaster, while I'm clamoring for food, water and shelter with the masses, I suppose I should expect to get banged over the head with a bible and told to accept jesus as my personal savior before I can receive any aid. Great. I thought this was America. Strike one, President Obama.

    February 5, 2009 at 9:35 pm |
  11. Jim,California

    Go back & learn history people -This Country had The Bible, Ten Commandments, Prayer in Schools for most of its History,They had no problem until the late 1950's .

    February 5, 2009 at 9:00 pm |
  12. Larry

    What department is responsible for the oversight of this program administratively and budget-wise?

    February 5, 2009 at 8:09 pm |
  13. Maria, Boston, MA

    With his speech today Obama has proved one more time that he is an extraordinary person among ordinary people. It takes a confident person to be that open-minded and respectful of other people's believes. I don't think he will let us down, I just hope that we do not let him down!

    February 5, 2009 at 8:04 pm |
  14. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    Having had the please of working with these faith-based initiative groups firsthand, one of my hopes was that once President Bush left office, these disaster area programs would go by the wayside. The grants are given to organizations that may or may not have qualified people working there or running them, these agencies have their own agendas that may or may not best benefit the client populations served, and religious dogma and indoctrination often get in the way of the true message of love and healing most faiths were originally based upon. I only hope this new group does a better job of regulating who gets funded, how qualified they have to be to use it, and how they can use it (for example, services to HIV-infected gay men must come without judgement or conversion as a side agenda of the services provided). My thought is this. If these groups want federal dollars, they must follow the same rules as everyone else and be fair and equal to all. Leave the religion out of the state affairs, or get your money elsewhere. Call me the cynic who has watched religion burn way too many people in the name a God they use to their advantage. Call me the realist who has watched faith-based initiatives waste precious tax dollars that other more qualified government or private agencies could have used to serve so many more in such better ways.

    February 5, 2009 at 7:57 pm |
  15. Sharon, LA, CA

    Separation of church and state. One's faith should not give them a higher priority.

    February 5, 2009 at 7:47 pm |
  16. Isabel Abreu, Brazil

    Politics and religion: between the good and evil.

    Like it or not, politics, violence and religion are intertwined in various historical contexts. There are even some cases where they are amalgamated in such a way that to distinguishes them is difficult.

    The policy is not the empire of evil, nor much less to religion express the well absolute. If the first instrumentalize evil and well and in this sense, sanction itself, the second in that it can not completely leave the real world and have institutionalises is material interests to defend, is politicized.

    Surely, both using the discourse of good and evil. Politics and religion are legitimate social events, human actions can reference that maintains or transform the society – and the other one is based on your goals.

    February 5, 2009 at 7:33 pm |
  17. William of Iowa

    Appease. The Bush administration created the Faith Based Initiative to accomodate two principles: to give political sanction and voice to conservative religious leaders whose support elected him and reduce the role of the federal government during times of national calamity. Why else would the speed dial be set to Karl Rove's office? He was Bush's political advisor. How noble their cause. The American people are without arguement the most charitable on this planet. Why not turn to them during times of national crisis through spiritual organizations that supposedly are on point – at point – of great need. Such as Katrina. Localize emergency action and funding through faith based organizations and if they fall short, as determined by government agencies such a FEMA, then the fed will come in support. It did not work. Secular dispute, ineffective distribution of appropriated funds and an inability to act with any immediacy creates more suffering that it curtails. This is one element of our federal bureaucracy that should be cut. Now is a good time.

    February 5, 2009 at 6:52 pm |
  18. Annie Kate

    The Read More link does not work – it gives you a 404 page not found error.

    For a board that is suppose to be inclusive where are the Mormons, the Catholics, and some of the other faiths represented or is this just for evangelical groups? I'm not really sure I see the need for something like this – we're suppose to keep church and state separate and this sure doesn't sound like its being kept separate.

    February 5, 2009 at 6:12 pm |