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February 2009 Archives

February 5, 2009

Obama Announces White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships

THE WHITE HOUSE (February 5, 2009) -- President Barack Obama today signed an executive order establishing the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will work on behalf of Americans committed to improving their communities, no matter their religious or political beliefs.

"Over the past few days and weeks, there has been much talk about what our government's role should be during this period of economic emergency. That is as it should be -- because there is much that government can and must do to help people in need," said President Obama. "But no matter how much money we invest or how sensibly we design our policies, the change that Americans are looking for will not come from government alone. There is a force for good greater than government. It is an expression of faith, this yearning to give back, this hungering for a purpose larger than our own, that reveals itself not simply in places of worship, but in senior centers and shelters, schools and hospitals, and any place an American decides."

The White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will be a resource for nonprofits and community organizations, both secular and faith based, looking for ways to make a bigger impact in their communities, learn their obligations under the law, cut through red tape, and make the most of what the federal government has to offer.

President Obama appointed Joshua DuBois, a former associate pastor and advisor to the President in his U.S. Senate office and campaign Director of Religious Affairs, to lead this office. "Joshua understands the issues at stake, knows the people involved, and will be able to bring everyone together -- from both the secular and faith-based communities, from academia and politics -- around our common goals," said President Obama.

The Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will focus on four key priorities, to be carried out by working closely with the President's Cabinet Secretaries and each of the eleven agency offices for faith-based and neighborhood partnerships:

The Office's top priority will be making community groups an integral part of our economic recovery and poverty a burden fewer have to bear when recovery is complete.

It will be one voice among several in the administration that will look at how we support women and children, address teenage pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion.

The Office will strive to support fathers who stand by their families, which involves working to get young men off the streets and into well-paying jobs, and encouraging responsible fatherhood.

Finally, beyond American shores this Office will work with the National Security Council to foster interfaith dialogue with leaders and scholars around the world.

As the priorities of this Office are carried out, it will be done in a way that upholds the Constitution -- by ensuring that both existing programs and new proposals are consistent with American laws and values. The separation of church and state is a principle President Obama supports firmly -- not only because it protects our democracy, but also because it protects the plurality of America’s religious and civic life. The Executive Order President Obama will sign today strengthens this by adding a new mechanism for the Executive Director of the Office to work through the White House Counsel to seek the advice of the Attorney General on difficult legal and constitutional issues.

The Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will include a new President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, composed of religious and secular leaders and scholars from different backgrounds. There will be 25 members of the Council, appointed to 1-year terms.

Members of the Council include:

Judith N. Vredenburgh, President and Chief Executive Officer, Big Brothers / Big Sisters of America
Philadelphia, PA

Rabbi David N. Saperstein, Director & Counsel, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and noted church/state expert
Washington, DC

Dr. Frank S. Page, President emeritus, Southern Baptist Convention
Taylors, SC

Father Larry J. Snyder, President, Catholic Charities USA
Alexandria, VA

Rev. Otis Moss, Jr., Pastor emeritus, Olivet Institutional Baptist Church
Cleveland, OH

Eboo S. Patel, Founder & Executive Director, Interfaith Youth Corps
Chicago, IL

Fred Davie, President, Public / Private Ventures, a secular non-profit intermediary
New York, NY

Dr. William J. Shaw, President, National Baptist Convention, USA
Philadelphia, PA

Melissa Rogers, Director, Wake Forest School of Divinity Center for Religion and Public Affairs and expert on church/state issues
Winston-Salem, NC

Pastor Joel C. Hunter, Senior Pastor, Northland, a Church Distributed
Lakeland, FL

Dr. Arturo Chavez, Ph.D., President & CEO, Mexican American Cultural Center
San Antonio, TX

Rev. Jim Wallis, President & Executive Director, Sojourners
Washington, DC

Bishop Vashti M. McKenzie, Presiding Bishop, 13th Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church
Knoxville, TN

Diane Baillargeon, President & CEO, Seedco, a secular national operating intermediary
New York, NY

Richard Stearns, President, World Vision
Bellevue, WA

February 15, 2009

Obama plan will help the neediest, including the unborn

Passage of the Economic Stimulus package in Congress last week was a triumph not only for the new Obama Administration, but for the Catholic Social Tradition. After eight years of dramatic expansion in spending on weapons and war, approaching a trillion dollars annually, the new legislation prioritizes helping people. According to the New York Times, the $787 billion package provided for $500 billion in funding for social services and investment in infrastructure.

The package budgets an extra $20 billion for food stamps, an average of $63 per month for a family of three, which will make a dramatic difference in assuring that children are well nourished enough to learn in schools across the country. $2.1 billion are provided to expand Head Start early childhood support, and $2 billion to expand quality child care. Republican Arlen Specter championed a $10 billion expansion in research funding for the NIH to address a host of human diseases, and $87 billion were provided for expanded federal support of Medicaid health insurance for the poor.

In conservative religious circles, much has been made about the supposed pro-abortion policies of the new administration. But the reality is that progress against abortion, so substantial during the Clinton years, slowed significantly under President Bush. A raft of new studies has shown the effect that economic factors have on abortion rates, and the Bush Recession is likely to push significantly more women into having abortions over the next 2-3 years as joblessness rises, health insurance rates fall, and disposable income diminishes.

The Obama stimulus package may be the best hope for those who truly care about the unborn, addressing as it does the needs of young people and families. By helping limit the damage of the Bush Recession on the neediest in society (the most likely to pursue an abortion), it may be that more of the unborn will find their way into the world in the months and years to come.

February 18, 2009

Speaker Pelosi meets with Pope Benedict to discuss common concerns

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband met Wednesday with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican. The two had a chance to talk about a wide range of issues, and Speaker Pelosi's office issued a statement afterward that said, "In our conversation, I had the opportunity to praise the Church's leadership in fighting poverty, hunger and global warming, as well as the Holy Father's dedication to religious freedom and his upcoming trip and message to Israel."

Speaker Pelosi was traveling with a delegation in Italy just days after she successfully stewarded new economic stimulus legislation through Congress to help jumpstart the U.S. economy. Because economic factors have been so closely linked in recent studies with the incidence of abortion, many Catholics are hopeful that restoring economic health will help blunt the effects of the Bush Recession on abortion rates in the US over the coming months. The Pope shared his concerns about abortion with Speaker Pelosi, who has indicated on many occasions her determination to pass legislation that will help reduce the number of abortions.

February 25, 2009

In speech to Congress, President Obama turns the page on a decade of disaster

President Barack Obama delivered a nationally-televised address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night with, for the first time in American history, two Catholics poised behind him to hear this traditional speech. Vice President Joseph Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, second and third in the line of succession to the presidency, looked on approvingly as President Obama outlined the scope of the problems that lie before America and the world.

Catholics could be proud of more than just their continued political ascent in American government. Mr Obama outlined a legislative and budget program that addresses some of the most pressing moral priorities of our time. He declared the end of government approved torture, and the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison where it had taken place. He reaffirmed the intent to end the war in Iraq by next year, and to reap the savings from that military misadventure for meeting human needs at home. He outlined practical measures for making Americans more energy-efficient, and with them a moral model for ecologic sustainability.

Although he did not refer directly to the moral challenge of abortion, he cited a number of measures the administration has already taken to address root causes of unintended pregnancy. He said the recovery package would create 3.5 million new jobs. He talked about tax cuts for 95% of working families. He spoke of the education emergency related to the half of all young people who drop out of high school. He alluded to the one million additional Americans who have lost their health insurance in each of the last eight years. All four of these problems represent modifiable risk factors that have been shown to affect the risk for unintended pregnancy.

Citing three problems of particular concern--foreign energy dependence, soaring health care costs, and the lag in educational achievement--he framed the problem like this:
"We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy, yet we import more oil today than ever before. The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform. Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for. And though all of these challenges went unsolved, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both as individuals and through our government, than ever before.

In other words, we have lived through an era where too often short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity, where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future."

He had the opportunity to point to a string of early successes in dealing with these hard scrabble problems. He cited the new S-CHIP legislation that will insure 11-million children and bring them better health. He pointed to the $10 billion in additional funding for health research, championed by Republican Senator Arlen Specter. And he called for a unified effort to reform the healthcare system so that it serves all Americans.

Beyond the focus on energy and the life-saving benefits it could bring to address the global warming crisis, he also addressed the world of conflict that he inherited from the previous administration. "In words and deeds," he said, "we are showing the world that a new era of engagement has begun, for we know that America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America. We cannot shun the negotiating table nor ignore the foes or forces that could do us harm. We are instead called to move forward with the sense of confidence and candor that serious times demand."

In short, President Obama set out an ambitious agenda to reverse the wrong turns of the previous decade. Catholics and other people of faith will be energized by the growing sense that an era of fatalistic resignation to living with all these problems seems to have passed. Though the magnitude of the challenge appears to be immense and not party to simple solutions, there is a tangible optimism that the corner has finally been turned.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

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"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."

First Inaugural Address, President Barack Obama

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