New Director Offers Vision for Faith-Based Office
Washington — President Obama signed an executive order yesterday establishing a new faith-based initiatives office, setting out four specific priorities and creating a new advisory council.
The office will focus on reducing poverty, reducing the need for abortion, encouraging responsible fatherhood, and working with the National Security Council to foster interfaith dialogue around the world. Evangelicals on the 25-member advisory council include president of World Vision Richard Stearns, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention Frank S. Page, Florida megachurch pastor Joel C. Hunter, and president of Sojourners Jim Wallis.
Just a few hours after Obama signed the executive order, Christianity Today sat down with the office's new director, Joshua DuBois, a 26-year-old Pentecostal minister who handled religious affairs in Obama's campaign.
How were the four issues outlined in the executive order chosen?
The President picked them. These are priorities that are close to his heart and areas where faith-based community groups can really have a significant impact. These are some of the things he thinks we need to accomplish in our country and across the world, and he decided to do it.
Have you picked the whole advisory council?
Not yet. We still have to pull out 10 more names, and we're looking forward to doing that pretty quickly.
How did you pick the 15 already on the council?
These are folks who are at the top of their fields — both religious and secular that really represent diverse backgrounds and a range of political perspective. They're serving for one-year terms. So there will be a lot of folks over the course of this term — and God-willing, the next term as well — that will be able to plug into this. The council also allows you to form taskforces that are outside the 25 members, so we'll be able to engage a lot of people.
I know Saddleback pastor Rick Warren was involved in the inauguration. Was he on the list to be asked to join the council?
We're not excluding Pastor Rick from anything, so we look forward to working with him just generally.
Do you have any information about your budget yet?
No, a lot of those decisions are based in the agencies. We run the White House office, which is a lot smaller, and then you have Senate faith-based initiative and 11 agencies. Those budgets are determined by the cabinet secretaries, a lot of whom are just getting their e-mails up and running. They still have to work out some of those details. It will likely be very similar to the previous approach, though, in terms of budget.
Do you think the office will be bigger than it was under President Bush?
The one thing that has expanded is the creation of this council, a feedback mechanism where leaders can give us feedback as opposed to just a one-way street. In that sense it is bigger, though it doesn't cost a lot to stand up an advisory council. I would say it will be about the same in terms of hardcore staff structure.
How is this office different from what Bush set up?
There are three key ways it's different. There's a new sense of mission around the four topics you read. The previous initiative was largely focused on leveling the playing field and making sure these groups had access to federal agencies and federal resources, and that's really important. President Obama thinks that now it's time to set an overarching mission for the office, so that's one key difference.
The second difference is structurally, we're creating this new policy council. We heard a lot that in the previous office, information went out but there weren't ways to give formal feedback to the federal government, and that's what this council allows us to do.