Thursday, April 09, 2009

Faith in Faith-Based Initiative

I've been following with keen interest the emergence of the White House's new office related to faith-based efforts for the well-being of Americans. Here's a taste from the Religion News Service :

WASHINGTON -- Advisers tapped to help guide the White House's revamped faith-based office say their role is still evolving as the initiative expands its portfolio and tries to find its footing in the young Obama administration.

Initial members of the council, who were named in February, opened a two-day meeting with White House officials on Monday (April 6). An additional 10 members, who will round out the 25-member council, were also announced Monday.

The overhaul of the office centers on an expanded mission to go beyond matching faith-based groups with government funds, advisory council members said in recent interviews. One of the biggest changes is asking religious leaders to help shape policy on a number of hot-button social issues, including abortion.

While some viewed the Bush administration's efforts mostly as a one-way directive on how to expand the reach of faith-based groups, Obama's unpaid advisers report more of a two-way dialogue. And the discussion centers on a broader array of issues that allows for more input from beyond the Beltway.(Read the whole thing here)

I'm reminded of Baha'u'llah's description of the socio-spiritual priorities that religion and religious leaders should have:

"The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men. Suffer it not to become a source of dissension and discord, of hate and enmity. This is the straight Path, the fixed and immovable foundation. Whatsoever is raised on this foundation, the changes and chances of the world can never impair its strength, nor will the revolution of countless centuries undermine its structure. Our hope is that the world's religious leaders and the rulers thereof will unitedly arise for the reformation of this age and the rehabilitation of its fortunes. Let them, after meditating on its needs, take counsel together and, through anxious and full deliberation, administer to a diseased and sorely-afflicted world the remedy it requireth..." (Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 215)

God willing this new White House Office and Advisory Council will embody these words of Baha'u'llah and be a powerful force for social welfare and well-being. Time will tell.


  1. This is very interesting. The UK government is putting more and more time and resource into interacting with faith communities and faith-based organizations. This has long been a two-way thing and I spend a significant proportion of my working hours in stakeholder groups and accountability forums contributing to UK government policy discussions.

    For example, I chair an informal group called the Religion and Belief Consultative Group on Equality, Diversity and Human Rights (on which I represent the UK Baha'i community). As chair of the RBCG I sit on the Government Equalities Office's Senior Stakeholder Group, which discusses aspects of the new Equality Bill that will soon be introduced into Parliament. The advice of the NGOs that are represented on the Senior Stakeholder Group is taken very seriously and we meet from time to time with relevant Government ministers.

    I'm also part of the Attorney General's Equality Advisory Group and serve on the Crown Prosecution Service Community Accountability Forum.

    There are other examples and other forums which show the UK government's interest in engaging with faith communities and faith-based organizations.

    Of course, not all is sweetness and light. There are challenges and the relationship can feel somewhat one-sided at times. After all, government is big and powerful and will do things that really do not sit well with faith communities.

    But it is much better than the situation in which faith is ignored or in which everything comes from the top down.

    The quotation from Baha'u'llah in your post is absolutely to the point. Let's hope the Obama administration acts on it or acts as if it has read it and taken it to heart!

  2. Barney, sounds like you have my dream job(s)! We shall thing how things unfold once I secure my Ph.D but I hope to do research, teaching, and practice related to religion and social work. Inshahallah!