Obama creates faith-based office with wide mission
By YAHOO NEWS
Added: Thu, 05 Feb 2009 00:00:00 UTC
Thanks to Rob Singleton for the link.
WASHINGTON – Declaring that "there is a force for good greater than government," President Barack Obama on Thursday established a White House office of faith-based initiatives with a broader mission than the one overseen by his Republican predecessor.
Obama said the new office, which he created by executive order, would reach out to organizations that provide help "no matter their religious or political beliefs."
Obama said the office would work with nonprofit organizations "both secular and faith-based" and would help them determine how to make a bigger impact in their cities, learn their obligations under the law and cut through government red tape.
In a time of economic crisis, the president said, it was important for the government to help distressed Americans but added that "the change that Americans are looking for will not come from government alone."
Obama said the top priority of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will be "making community groups an integral part of our economy recovery and poverty a burden fewer have to bear when recovery is complete."
To lead the office, Obama appointed Joshua DuBois, a 26-year-old Pentecostal minister who headed religious outreach for Obama's Senate office and his presidential campaign. He also named 25 religious and secular leaders to a new advisory board.
Obama said the office would also work to reach out overseas "to foster interfaith dialogue with leaders and scholars around the world."
Obama's order expanded and redefined a similar office established by President George W. Bush. Focused primarily on faith-based initiatives, the Bush office sparked constitutional questions about whether the separation of church and state would be preserved, particularly if groups receiving tax dollars sought to hire on the basis of religion.
Before signing the order at the White House, Obama told the annual National Prayer Breakfast that the program would not show favoritism to any religious group and would adhere to a strict separation of church and state.
Addressing the gathering of lawmakers, dignitaries and world leaders, Obama spoke of how faith has often been a divisive tool, responsible for war and prejudice. But, he said, "there is no religion whose central tenet is hate."
"There is no god who condones taking the life of an innocent human being," he said, and all religions teach people to love and care for one another. That is the common ground underlying the faith-based office, he said.
In personal terms, Obama talked about the role of faith in his life, from his Muslim-born father and a mother skeptical of organized religion to his own embrace of Christianity as a young man.
"In a world that grows smaller by the day, perhaps we can begin to crowd out the destructive forces of zealotry and make room for the healing power of understanding," he said. "This is my hope. This is my prayer."
Dogged throughout the presidential campaign by rumors that he was a Muslim, Obama described his background in a household that wasn't religious.
"I had a father who was born a Muslim but became an atheist, grandparents who were non-practicing Methodists and Baptists, and a mother who was skeptical of organized religion, even as she was the kindest, most spiritual person I've ever known. She was the one who taught me as a child to love, and to understand, and to do unto others as I would want done," he said.
Obama's advisers want to be certain tax dollars sent to the faith-based social service groups are used for secular purposes, such as feeding the hungry or housing the homeless, and not for religious evangelism. The administration doesn't want to be perceived as managing the groups yet seeks transparency and accountability.
Obama pledged during the campaign to allow taxpayer-funded religious institutions to hire and fire based on religion — but only for the activities run on private funding.
One question is whether the faith-based office will issue grants under the Bush rules while the hiring policy is worked out.
Associated Press writers Eric Gorski in Denver and Tom Raum in Washington contributed to this report.
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