Wednesday, April 08, 2009

White House Faith Based Office

So, while I was in Canada, the White House announced the final members of its 25-person faith based and neighborhood council office. Here's the list:

Diane Baillargeon, president and CEO, Seedco, New York City, N.Y.
Anju Bhargava, founder, Asian Indian Women of America, New Jersey
Bishop Charles Blake, presiding bishop, Church of God in Christ, Los Angeles, Calif.
The Reverend Noel Castellanos, CEO, Christian Community Development Association, Chicago, Ill.
The Reverend Peg Chemberlin, president-elect, National Council of Churches, Minneapolis, Minn.
Dr. Arturo Chavez, president and CEO, Mexican American Catholic College, San Antonio, Texas
Fred Davie, senior adviser, Public/Private Ventures, New York City, N.Y.
Nathan Diament, director of public policy, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of AmericaWashington, D.C.
Pastor Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor, Northland, a Church Distributed, Longwood, Fla.
Harry Knox, director, Religion and Faith Program, Human Rights Campaign, Washington, D.C.
Bishop Vashti M. McKenzie, presiding bishop, 13th Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Knoxville, Tenn.
Dalia Mogahed, executive director, Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, Washington, D.C.
The Reverend Otis Moss Jr., pastor emeritus, Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, Cleveland, Ohio
Dr. Frank S. Page, president emeritus, Southern Baptist Convention, Taylors, S.C.
Eboo S. Patel, founder and executive director, Interfaith Youth Core, Chicago, Ill.
Anthony Picarello, general counsel, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C.
Nancy Ratzan, national president, National Council of Jewish Women, Miami, Fla.
Melissa Rogers, director, Wake Forest School of Divinity Center for Religion and Public Affairs, Winston-Salem, N.C.
Rabbi David N. Saperstein, director and counsel, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Washington, D.C.
Dr. William J. Shaw, president, National Baptist Convention, USA, Philadelphia, Pa.
Father Larry J. Snyder, president, Catholic Charities USA, Alexandria, Va.
Richard Stearns, president, World Vision, Bellevue, Wash.
Judith N. Vredenburgh, president and CEO, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America, Philadelphia, Pa.
The Reverend Jim Wallis, president and executive director, Sojourners, Washington, D.C.
Dr. Sharon Watkins, general minister and president, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)Indianapolis, Ind.

The additional ten people include my friend and colleague, Harry Knox from the Human Rights Campaign, and Nancy Ratzen, whom I do not know but represents the National Council of Jewish Women, a solid supporter of sexual justice issues. That brings the number of people on this committee who stand publicly with the President's public commitments on sexuality issues to perhaps 20 percent. At least seven of these people are publicly anti-choice, and I'm guessing a few more of them probably are more quietly. It's hard to imagine how the Obama administration composed this committee with only one third women, only three of them women clergy. Only two of these people are openly gay.

This would all matter much less if the committee wasn't charged with addressing several sexual justice issues, including reducing unintended pregnancies and teenage pregnancy, and promoting the responsibilities of fatherhood. Yet, only a handful of the people on this list have ever worked on these issues. And it's not because the Obama administration didn't know who to pick from -- I know that several women's organizations provided the names of many women candidates, including women clergy, (yes, including me) to choose from.

Frances Kissling did a wonderful job over at Religion Dispatches addressing what's so wrong with this Council. I encourage you to read it. She said in part:

That leaves a majority of religious leaders on the Council who are likely to lead the nation down a road in which respect for women’s rights will be as absent from their recommendations for government policy and funding as they are in the religious institutions they represent.

For me, and for many feminists, President Obama’s Council on Faith based and Neighborhood Partnerships will be about as respected as President Bush’s Council on Bio-ethics. As with that Advisory group, the majority presence will drown out the minority and in this case, it will not be junk science that prevails but junk religion. I am so sorry that I have to draw this conclusion.

It's hard to imagine how this group -- which ranges from many highly conservative members who are by their own writings anti-choice, anti-gay and opposed to sexuality education, to a handful of people who are progressive on sexual justice in their public commitments, and many who have until now not dealt publicly with these issues -- will reach any meaningful consensus or common ground on how to achieve its stated goals. They surely will have intense discussions, although compromise statements beyond encouraging teens to wait to have intercourse and services for pregnant women and incentives for fathers to be involved seem unlikely.

I suppose I can pray to be surprised.


windrev said...

Thanks Debra,
Several of us from the Planned Parenthood clergy Advisory Board wanted to nominate you to be on this board. It was very hard to find our how people were getting on it, especially with so many people who do not have a positive sacred view of sexuality. I am sorry that we were not able to succeed.
Rev. jane

nihilix said...

I know Peg Chemberlin from Minnesota - she seems pretty cool; the Council of Churches is more your liberal MLK-loving type of church, and Moravians (she's Moravian) seem kinda cool. I can't find anything that says she's pro-choice, but there's certainly no anti-choice evangelizing going on in the organization.

I was thinking about this story - this is pretty much the Obama method, a little of this and a little of that. I wonder if he's acknowledging the organized power bases, kind of; the rightwing churches have been better organized than us on the left.