Religion & Public Life With Mark Silk

Last Friday, the White House rolled out
the first dozen names of those who will serve on the second iteration
of the 25-member Advisory Council of the Office of Faith-Based and
Neighborhood Partnerships (OFANP). Given that the last Council wrapped
up its work a year ago, you wonder why not just wait for the full 25.
But the wheels of nomination grind exceedingly fine in the Obama
administration, and an unofficial body with no designated task to
perform is not going to be way up on the vetting agenda.

So far, the list is very strong on prominent Protestants, including
the top bishops of the Episcopalians and the Lutherans (ELCA) plus the
head of the National Association of Evangelicals. The White House also
scored the Greek Orthodox archbishop. A couple of semi-prominent Jews
are thrown in as well.

There’s no sign yet of
non-Judeo-Christians, however. And the absence of major Catholic figures
is getting embarrassing. Last time around, the Council counted
the head of Catholic Charities and the legal counsel for the
USCCB–institutional players, to be sure, but hardly the kind of
prominent cleric rounded up from other religious bodies. The only
official Catholic on the new list is Sr. Marlene Weisenbeck, a
Franciscan nun who once headed her order and served as president of the
Leadership Council of Women Religious. If the Obama White House can’t
round up a single Catholic bishop for this Council, it should be ashamed
of itself. (Indeed, the administration’s inability to establish decent
relations with the Catholic hierarchy represents its single biggest
faith-based failure.)

Exactly what the new council will do is
another question. The first body, supplemented by other religious and
social service types, was organized into task forces that came up with a
long list of policy recommendations. The most important of these, on
reforming the office itself, usefully rectified some of the inadequacies of the Bush faith-based effort. Something new will have to whomped up for this round.

Nothwithstanding WaPo blogger Jacques Berlinerblau’s smack
of last week, the Obamaites have done a reasonably good job of
transforming the Bush effort from a largely misguided and contentious
policy initiative to a non-controversial exercise in
government-sponsored do-goodism–as regularly cataloged on the OFANP blog.
This has been made possible in no small measure by the Advisory
Council, which has drawn the bulk of such media coverage as there has
been, and succeeded in dressing the effort in the cotton-wool of
ecumenical good cheer. But to keep the thing going, there’s got to be
something for the advisors to appear to be doing.

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