President Biden on Sunday signed an executive order re-establishing a White House faith-based office dating back to the Bush and Obama eras that will “promote partnerships with religious and secular organizations to better serve people in need,” according to a Biden administration fact sheet.
President George W. Bush established the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and President Obama re-tooled it as the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. President Trump launched a different office that had similar goals and named it the Faith and Opportunity Initiative.
The fact sheet labeled it a “bipartisan initiative” that is needed during “a time of great challenge and opportunity.”
It will use the Obama-era name: the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
The office’s initial tasks will be to:
- "address the COVID-19 pandemic and boost economic recovery."
- "combat systemic racism."
- "increase opportunity and mobility for historically disadvantaged communities."
- "advance international development and global humanitarian work."
- "strengthen pluralism."
The office will respect “our cherished guarantees of church-state separation and freedom for people of all faiths and none,” the fact sheet said.
Melissa Rogers will serve as the office’s executive director and as senior director for Faith and Public Policy in the White House Domestic Policy Council. She was executive director of the office during the Obama administration. Josh Dickson, White House senior advisor for public engagement, will serve as the office’s deputy director.
The office will “be an essential part” of the administration’s “plan to bring people of all backgrounds and beliefs together to meet our challenges, perfect our union, and restore the soul of our country,” the fact sheet said.
Biden expressed hope that the office could help unite Americans.
“There are not Democrats or Republicans dying from this pandemic, or losing their jobs, going hungry and facing eviction in this economic crisis, or facing the sting of systemic racism or the brunt of the climate crisis,” Biden said. “They are fellow human beings. They are fellow Americans. And this is not a nation that can, or will, simply stand by and watch the suffering around us. That is not who we are. That is not what faith calls us to be. That is why I’m reestablishing the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships to work with leaders of different faiths and backgrounds who are the frontlines of their communities in crisis and who can help us heal, unite, and rebuild. We still have many difficult nights to endure. But we will get through them together and with faith guiding us through the darkness and into the light.”
A “key” part of the office’s task is to embrace pluralism, the fact sheet said.
“At its best, the United States is not only a country with remarkable peace across our religious differences, it is a nation where people of diverse faiths and beliefs regularly make common cause. When Methodists and Muslims, Buddhists and Baptists, Sikhs and Secular Humanists serve together, we strengthen one another and we strengthen America,” the fact sheet said.
“As part of this commitment, the Partnerships Office will work to protect the right to practice faith without fear, implementing promises President-elect Biden made about safeguarding faith communities that are at risk of discrimination, harassment, and hate-based acts of violence and vandalism,” the fact sheet added.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Pool
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.