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March 3rd, 2009
10:16 AM ET

A faith-based fix

Can Obama’s makeover of Bush’s faith initiatives speed the economic recovery?

The Root
Dayo Olopade

The first month of Barack Obama’s presidency brought change to all parts to Washington—none more sweeping than the passage of his American Recovery Act, designed to shock the U.S. economy out of its slump. A notable portion of the $787 billion should be coming to communities of color that have been particularly hard hit by the downturn. And one of the key vehicles for getting the money to needy citizens will be Obama’s brand-new Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The president “wants one of the functions of that office to be the implementation of the Recovery Act,” said Melody Barnes, director of Obama’s Domestic Policy Council, where the faith office will be housed. “He’s outlined a few different ways in which he hopes the office will initially be quite helpful, one of them being the connection between the bill and the reality.”

Though the specifics of the distribution have yet to be filled in, lawmakers in heavily black districts are already expressing hope about the boost to religious-based organizations. "There are huge numbers of faith-based organizations that have nonprofit groups that are serving communities, especially in this time of crisis,” said Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards of Maryland following the Congressional Black Caucus’ first White House meeting with the president. “I think the administration has taken recognition of that.”

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Filed under: Economy • Faith • President Barack Obama • Religion
February 6th, 2009
06:59 PM ET

For President Obama, faith counts

President Obama announced Thursday that he is changing the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

President Obama announced Thursday that he is changing the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

Eboo Patel
Interfaith Youth Core

Two things struck me about President Obama’s Faith-based office yesterday: this matters to him, and he expects it to get things done.

I’ve been asked to serve on the Advisory Council for the Office , and had the honor of being part of a 30 minute Oval Office meeting with the President yesterday. He set out our charge pretty quickly: cooperate to serve others during this time of need in America, and be a positive example of interfaith engagement in a world torn by religious conflict. He spoke about the importance of engaging talented young people, of reaching out to the Muslim world, of working across religious diversity and also the secular / faith divide. The focus isn’t so much what happens in churches, synagogues and mosques – it’s what all those Christians, Jews and Muslims do in the world together.

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Filed under: Eboo Patel • Faith • President Barack Obama • Raw Politics
January 30th, 2009
12:44 PM ET

Obama Used the Word Muslims Want to Hear – Respect

Deepak Chopra
On Faith
The Washington Post

When President Obama offered to reach out to the Muslim world for the mutual interest of both parties, he was saying nothing new. The West and the Arab oil-producing nations have teetered on an uneasy alliance for decades, the one depending on the other. As much as we grumble about being dependent on Arab oil, it serves our mutual interest to keep a steady flow of fuel coming our way and a glut of dollars in return. But when he added "mutual respect," Obama supplied a key missing piece, one that Muslims have longed for.

No doubt it's because of his diverse background - and in no small part because he had to forge an identity in the black community - that Obama knows what respect means to outcasts and the down-trodden. In a way, it's everything. The Muslim world, despite its windfall oil profits, feels like one of the great losers in the march of history. Muslims dwell on the glory days of Sunni culture, which kept science, mathematics, and philosophy alive while that knowledge was lost in Europe during the Middle Ages. The Ottoman Empire once embraced almost the entire Mediterranean basin and marched to the gates of Vienna. When World War I left Islamic power in ashes, a decline in confidence set in that has been deeply corrosive to Muslim identity and deeply humiliating, too.

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Filed under: Faith • Islam • President Barack Obama
January 13th, 2009
03:58 PM ET

Barack Obama: Faith and Community

Eboo Patel
On Faith
Washingtonpost.com

George Stephanopolous revealed his roots as a preacher's son when he asked President-elect Barack Obama if he missed being a part of a faith community.

Obama's answer revealed his roots in the south side of Chicago.

After a brief reference to his own spirituality, Obama went straight into the community dimension of religion, pointing out that DC (like Chicago) is really two cities – one for the well-heeled people who work in government and government-related industries, and the other for everyone else, including some of the poorest people in America. He wanted those two cities more involved with one another.

When it comes to faith, Obama's first instinct is to respond by trying to bridge communities.

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Filed under: Barack Obama • Faith • Religion
October 28th, 2008
09:36 AM ET

Faith-based groups fight foreclosures

Chuck Afflerbach
CNN San Francisco Producer

On stage at the parish hall, Rosario Frisse told the assembly to close their eyes and count to ten. The five hundred people packed into the auditorium—working class men and women, mothers holding babies, school kids doing homework—all did as she asked.

“In the time it took us to count to ten,” Frisse said, “another family in America has lost their home.”

Their concern showed on their faces, their demands were printed on the paper pennants they waved. Families First. 34% for Housing. Salve Su Casa, Spanish for Save Your Home.

The Monday night meeting had been organized by PICO National Network, a collection of religious congregations across the country tackling the foreclosure crisis on behalf of homeowners caught in the collapse. They came to Holy Rosary Parish in Antioch, California, a blue-collar suburb midway between San Francisco and Sacramento. This town has been hit hard; almost 8% of the homes here have been foreclosed…so far.

One by one the speakers came to the podium to tell their stories. Serefino Leon lost his Antioch home, only to see it sold at auction for half of what he had paid, at a price he could have afforded. Marian Youngblood was a loan officer in Kansas City, trained to falsify income amounts on applications. The borrowers would fall behind by the second loan payment. “As a Christian, it broke my heart,” she said. So she quit.
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Filed under: Economy • Faith
April 11th, 2008
11:53 AM ET

West Point – Eastern Faith

Five years after seeing images of the US military inside Iraqi cities, the idea of observing the US Army inside a mosque in Jersey City, New Jersey seemed novel. 

A year ago, I saw an article in a newspaper about West Point cadets visiting a mosque and other areas in multi-ethnic Jersey City. I was too late to do the story, West Point authorities said. After a year of waiting, the opportunity came up again.

It was called “Winning the Peace”  -  30 cadets touring a mosque, a Hindu Temple, the 9/11 memorial in Jersey City; a synagogue, and a Coptic Christian church.

The most interesting aspect of the two-day shoot was the interaction between the cadets and the Islamic faithful. Some of the conversation was over dinner, Egyptian cuisine. One cadet asked if the shaving of a beard of an Islamic man meant he was more likely to be a suicide bomber. The response: “No, the beard had no relevance.”

One Muslim woman asked a female cadet if she knew, “Why do Muslim women cover up their heads?” The cadet responded, “I assume to be modest."  The woman explained it is to show herself only to her husband. She said at home she would not have the hajib headwrap on her body.

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Filed under: Faith • Islam
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