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Progressive Revival

As Barack Obama appoints his cabinet there is one area upon
which the president-elect and his aids, as well as the media have been largely
silent – the President’s Council for Faith Based and Neighborhood
Partnerships.   In a speech on
Faith Based Initiatives
given on July 1, 2008 in Zanesville, Ohio, Obama said
that that
faith and values can be “the foundation of a new project of American renewal.” 
Obama reached out to religious
communities and individuals during the campaign and, aside from white evangelicals,
he carried every religious grouping in America. The president elect enjoys substantial good will among
these groups who are waiting to see how our multi-faith coalition will be
leveraged to work for the common good in his administration.

This is especially pressing during this economic
crisis. Living in Princeton just 15
minutes from Trenton, New Jersey, I am aware that religiously based charities
such as The Crisis Ministry, Trento Area Soup Kitchen, and St. Francis Inn are in
dire need of resources as the cupboards are bare just as more people are coming
for help every day.  As part of
Obama’s push towards economic recovery, it is essential that he move swiftly to
enlist and support religious allies: not only in helping the most vulnerable of
our society, but also to provide a moral compass for the national agenda so
that the poor are not forgotten in our haste to assist the middle and upper
classes.

In addition to offering direct services to those in need,
The President’s Council for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships also has
the potential to model inter and intra religious cooperation.  Most agree that the religious freedom
enjoyed in America is unparalleled and that our county is a great place to
practice faiths of all persuasions. 
The Council can be case-in-point number one for the President to promote
the benefits of a religiously pluralistic society to skeptics both domestically
and internationally.  The Council should
be staffed with people from a range of religious traditions and encourage joint
projects between faith communities that offer new and effective programs to
serve the poor and educate our youth. 
The President’s council can be the place where the torn fabric of our
society is woven back together even stronger by including the enduring threads
from all of the religious traditions that thrive here.

There are still some difficult questions facing the
President’s Council for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.   This initiative will have to be
depoliticized so that all religious groups feel equally valued within the White
House.  This means maintaining
relationships with worthy current beneficiaries while forging new contacts with
the entire range of religious groups who can effectively reach the most
vulnerable.  Using the monies from
President’s Council to reward political partisanship must stop, and not merely be
mirrored towards Democratic leaning religious groups.   Perhaps most
sticky of all is the question of non-discriminatory hiring.  If a group maintains their right not to
hire say, a Muslim or a homosexual, then the President will have to draw on his
time as a constitutional law professor to either draw the line, or at least make
sure that there is equitable outreach to the Muslim and gay religious
communities to make sure that they realize that the Council is a resource for
all Americans.  Of course, none of
these problems are insurmountable for a religiously sensitive, fair and pragmatic
administration.  

There is enormous enthusiasm and hope in America right now,
even within this difficult time.  The
religious community is praying for you Mr. President Elect.   All hands are on deck as you
requested.  We are waiting.    

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