White House Faith-Based Director on Successes, Misunderstanding

The White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiative's acting director, Jedd Medefind, spoke to The Christian Post last week just ahead of the official release of the FBCI's final report that reflects on the Initiative's past eight years.

Before becoming the OFBCI acting director, Medefind was the deputy director of OFBCI and also worked in a number of government positions in the state of California. His most recent book is called The Revolutionary Communicator, which takes a look at how Jesus effectively communicates and leads.

CP: How does someone who seems to have a great interest in the Christian faith make the decision to work for the government rather than for a ministry or faith-based non-profit? How did you weigh the opportunities to work in government versus in a Christian organization?

Medefind: I believe we are called to all kinds of different engagements and for me that has been in government. There is tremendous good we can do laboring in this field and I'm so thankful to have been part of the Faith-Based Community Initiatives for President Bush.

CP: What is FBCI's proudest achievement in its 8 years?

Medefind: We're proud of the way the Initiative has transformed government's approach to human needs, making it more creative and compassionate and personal. We're also very proud of the way it has leveled the playing field for faith-based organizations. But most of all we're thankful for the way it has lifted millions of lives across the country and around the world for the downtrodden and hurting.

CP: The report noted that some states are replicating the OFBCI. Do you think every state should set up such an office?

Medefind: The Faith-Based and Community Initiative is increasingly emerging as an effective strategy for addressing human needs. And so I think every governor that has a commitment to addressing the needs would be very interested in growing the strategy within their own state.

CP: Have you heard of any states that will be establishing such an office in 2009?

Medefind: You know right now 36 states have offices or liaisons. We don't know about the other 14 at this point. What I would add is every state in the union has initiatives funded by President Bush working with faith-based and other community non-profits to solve pressing needs. So even in states without formal offices this vision is alive and well.

CP: What area(s) do you feel the office was least able to address?

Medefind: As you'll see in our final report, the initiative has taken on everything from prisoner reentry, addiction, and homelessness in the United States to global AIDS and malaria in Africa. And the success in these areas is largely due to the faith-based and community non-profits that have been effectively serving all over the world.

CP: What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome while head of OFBCI?

Medefind: Many people have misunderstood the heart of the Initiative. And more than anything else the President intended it as a determined attack on needs, and that is just what it has done – addressing pressing needs from at risk youths to AIDS orphans and solving them in a creative and compassionate way that government hasn't always done in the past.

CP: You mentioned there were misunderstandings about the Initiative. What is the most common misunderstanding about this Office?

Medefind: That it is exclusively about faith-based organizations or primarily about government funding. It is a part, but it's about more effectively addressing human needs.

CP: Some critics, both Christian leaders and some secular reporters, have said the faith-based initiative did not do enough. How would you respond to this criticism?

Medefind: We would just need to look at the results. When you see 100,000 children of prisoners matched with caring mentors; when you see homelessness cut by 30 percent in the United States; when you see more than 10 million impacted by AIDS cared for, you recognize that this has an impact of far beyond of what most people understand.

CP: Have you been in contact with President-elect Obama's transition team?

Medefind: Yes we have. We've done all we can, as President Bush has directed, to help the President-elect's team hit the ground running. And pass forward all the information and make his efforts a success.

CP: So from your communication with the transition team does it seem like President-elect Obama wants to continue this Office?

Medefind: That's correct. President Bush has created a tremendous foundation for the incoming administration to build on and the President-elect has expressed that he intends to do that.

CP: What recommendations or advice would you give to the incoming Obama administration regarding this office and working with faith-based organizations?

Medefind: Number one, I would encourage him to keep the focus on human needs and building effective response to it. And number two, I would encourage him to honor the unique character of faith-based organizations and ensure it is protected.

CP: What would you like to see improved at the OFBCI under the new administration?

Medefind: The Obama administration has a whole array of successful models that has been proven effective for addressing needs. I'm excited to see his team build on those to continue bettering lives across the country and around the world.

CP: What do you think is the biggest obstacle for the Obama team in dealing with faith-based organizations?

Medefind: One thing I'll say is the last eight years of the Initiative have been a very entrepreneurial time. Models of partnership between government and non-profits have been tested and some have worked tremendously well while others need to be retooled.

And I think it will be a tremendous challenge for the Obama administration to draw upon the various models and expand them. It's a tremendous opportunity but it will be very demanding to learn the lesson of the past and build on the very best of it.

CP: Do you think the financial crisis will have an effect on the office? Many non-profits have reported decreases in donations; do expect to see them reach out more to the Initiative for funding?

Medefind: That definitely could be the case. Any time a nation goes through a difficult time, the faith-based organizations and other community non-profits play an increasingly critical role in meeting their neighbors' needs.

Medefind: The report really lays out the record of the last eight years and it gives an account of the Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to the organizations across the country that has partnered with the Initiative to address needs. We want these organizations to feel a deep sense of pride in the tremendous work they have been a part of and accomplished together. So that's the purpose of this report.

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