Faith-Based Advisers: We Found 'Meaningful Common Ground'

WASHINGTON – We have different opinions, admitted the White House's faith-based advisers on Tuesday when they presented their recommendations. But we were able to find "meaningful common ground," they added.

After a year of work, the 25 members of the first Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships presented a report that included more than 60 recommendations for six issues - economic recovery and domestic poverty, fatherhood and healthy families, environment and climate change, inter-religious cooperation, global poverty and development, and reform of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The proposals provide suggestions on how the government can better work with faith-based and community groups to tackle major social issues.

"We are a diverse group," stated Melissa Rogers, chair of the council, at the onset of the event for the report's release. "We differ on matters of faith. We differ in our political perspectives and our philosophical approach. We differ in matter of theology even within our particular faith traditions."

2 photos(Photo: The Christian Post)Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, shares her thoughts after hearing recommendations from the President's Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships on Tuesday, March 9, 2010 in Washington, D.C.

Yet despite their diverse and strong opinions, she said, the advisers "really listened" to one another and found "meaningful common ground" that went beyond the "lowest common denominator."

Rogers' sentiments were echoed by Pastor Joel C. Hunter, an adviser on the taskforce for inter-religious cooperation.

Hunter, who sits on the board of directors for the World Evangelical Alliance and the National Association of Evangelicals, told The Christian Post frankly that he is not usually attracted to such interfaith dialogues.

"I'm a conservative evangelical," Hunter stated matter-of-factly. "I kind of always shied away from general ecumenical, let's-all-just-be-nice-to-one-another, kumbaya stuff. Well, that's not this. This is [about] 'How do we maintain our distinctions, make them even more clear, but at the same time cooperate in a way that makes the world safer?'"

The Florida megachurch pastor said these types of conversations are essential to national security because they marginalize the violent extremists among the people of America and give people who want to be fully engaged in their faith an alternative.

Throughout the event, high-level members of the Obama administration joined the panel for the presentation related to their department. The officials listened to the report and then gave feedback on recommendations and how they plan to use the report.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius joined for the report on the economic recovery and domestic poverty recommendations. In her response, she shared about how schools serve as feeding sites for needy children during the school year. But a current problem the country is facing is how to provide meals for the children during the summer. Sebelius said she would like to work with churches and other community organizations to make sure children have somewhere they can receive meals during the summer.

"It (the report of recommendations) won't just be a document on a shelf," said Sebelius. "I promise you this document will become an active action plan in the Department of Health and Human Services."

Though the report, in general, has escaped any big controversy, there have been questions on why the council did not address the hot-button issue of abortion reduction, which President Obama last year said he would like the advisers to work on.

Joshua DuBois, the director of the office, said the council members have been involved in conversations about abortion reduction but did not create a task force for the issue because the president would like to extend the discussion to include the Domestic Policy Council.

Still, pro-life groups such as Focus on the Family say they are disappointed that the council did not present a plan to reduce abortions.

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