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Excerpt From "The New Evangelicals: Expanding the Vision of the Common Good"

new-evangelicals-cover Joel Hunter is an ordained minister and has a doctorate in Culture and Personality in Pastoral Care. He is presently senior pastor at Northland Church, in Longwood, Florida and in 2009-2010 sat on Obama’s Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Northland is “a church distributed,” meeting in several locations in mid-Florida to serve a widely dispersed community. This requires several pastors to work together, among them the soft-spoken Amer-Indian Vernon Rainwater, who after time in the military, got a degree in social work, then was ordained, and came to Northland in 1990.

The church was originally built in an old roller-skating rink. The growth of the congregation has allowed it to build a larger building next door, with airy hallways, offices, classrooms, conference rooms, café, book store, and sanctuary that seats 3,100 ... in addition to the thousands who attend online. Several screens throughout the church project the pastor as he preaches and they scroll the words to the songs that have replaced more traditional Protestant hymns—which creates something of a church karaoke. A twelve-voice choir and eight-piece band accompany. Additional services are offered on Saturday night and Monday evening, with about one thousand attending each.

The Sunday after Sept. 11th, Northland held a joint online service with a church in Egypt as a protest against polarization between Americans and Arabs. The church also provided volunteers to protect Muslim women from anti-Muslim attacks as they went around town.

In 2009, Becky Hunter, Senior Pastor Joel Hunter’s wife, stepped down from the presidency of Global Pastors’ Wives Network, where, “We get everything, from training women as public speakers to Muslim women who converted to Christianity and need to know what they should study--quickly.” About Northland she says, “No one is obliged to have any particular confession to pray or become a member at Northland--no denominational version--but agreement to historic creeds of the church are required. But if you do join, you are committing to have a ministry aspect, a service aspect, in your life. There’s no ‘pew gum’ here.”

Northland has ministries in: marriage counseling, divorce, grieving, substance abuse, cancer, applying Scriptural values to business, orphans, foster children, the homeless, free food and clothing distribution, the elderly, the deaf, and “people struggling with homosexuality.” Its prison ministry ranges from running prayer services to helping prisoners develop plans for their lives after release. The church has an employment network, several men’s groups, groups for both men and women post-abortion “without judgment,” and discussion groups on faith and science. One Heart, a Northland partner, works with city and county agencies to repair the homes of the area’s poor. The church also has a bowling club, soccer games, a motorcycle group, and classes for children, including a course in Mandarin.

Overseas, the church works with national and international organizations in Egypt, South Africa, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Argentina, China and the Ukraine. For Catholic or Orthodox Ukranians, the appeal of evangelicalism stems, according to Northland co-pastor, Dan Lacich, from evangelical hope and optimism. “The Ukrainians I’ve met view the Orthodox church as defeatist; it just hung on during the Soviet years—‘we’re going to circle the wagons’ rather than ‘we’re going to make a difference.’”

In South Africa, Northland partners with the Vredlust Dutch Reformed church to build a school and do community development in a small town in Swaziland. The project is run, as Lacich put it, “by people who instead of taking a vacation at the beach volunteer for Swaziland. What started out as two camp fires and a kettle is now several classroom buildings, a medical clinic, and we’re doing micro-loans for business start ups.” The funding comes in large part from a young Vredlust couple who earmarked what they needed each year to live and donate everything else they earn to a trust for ministry. Northland contributed an additional thirty to forty thousand dollars in 2009, and overall spends roughly $1.5 million a year on social justice projects, about 20 percent of church income. “We do not tell a community,” Vernon Rainwater notes, “that we know what their problems are and how to fix them. We try to find out what the perspective of the community is, and we often learn more than they do.” Compassion International, another Northland partner, began in 1952 to bring food, clothing and education to children orphaned in the Korean War; today it serves children throughout the developing world. Another partner, With This Ring, uses funds from the sale of jewelry (and other products) to dig clean wells in Africa. It estimates that it cost “one hundred and eighty thousand dollars to save the lives of thirty thousand people in Yendi. That’s six dollars a life—the cost of a latte and a cookie.”

Hunter recalls that he was the kind of kid whose formative religious experiences included getting caught stealing a “men’s magazine” and whose first church skill was coughing loudly enough to cover the sound of opening candy wrappers. At Ohio University, he became active in the Civil Rights movement.

JH: [I] assumed, as we all did, that if we just got the right power in office, we’d be alright. When Dr. King was assassinated, I was thrown into a crisis. The volatility and polarization of that time—we didn’t have graduation ceremonies because we had eight hundred National Guardsmen on campus—could get you caught up in politics without your knowing why you were doing it. I wanted a more stable foundation for political reform, an eternal reason, a deep kind of equality where all God’s children would be cared for because He cared for them. So I committed myself personally to follow Christ as a result of that search for foundational meaning.. I thought I’d go to seminary—though I was sure they’d throw me out as soon as they found out about me. I wasn’t exactly the religious type.”

JH: Dr. King is partially why I identify with Barack Obama. King integrated faith with social policy in a way that benefits the vulnerable—which is our job. That’s Jesus’ reading of his job description in Isaiah 61. My grandparents were always broke because they were always giving their money away. On the other hand, I lived in an all-white town. So my journey was religious and social; it was part of my faith to learn to understand the common good.

In the next ten years we’re going to see more cooperation between those who form public policy from a secular perspective and those who come to it from a religious one. This is part of the maturation of the evangelical movement and in a way a going back to our roots. Christianity started out as a compassionate movement. It grew because we responded to epidemics and catastrophes. We were for abolition, women’s suffrage, and child labor laws. In maturity, you define yourself by what you’re for, by how you can cooperate with those who aren’t like you. There’s an emerging constituency that, while not leaving behind earlier concerns, is putting a major amount of energy into climate change, poverty, justice issues, health issues. You’re seeing a new evangelical maturity.

The iteration of the 1970s was a political, alarmed reaction to the perceived decadence in our culture, like abortion and the extraction of prayer from the public schools. For a couple of decades, the evangelical movement got stuck in this combative—“we have to win”—stance. There were issues where I agreed with [religious right leader Jerry] Falwell, like being pro-life, but the tone was off-putting. There was a silent majority to the silent majority. There came a time when many people started cringing. The AIDS issue—shouldn’t these people be receiving the most compassion and understanding? There are twenty-five thousand children dying every day from poverty. What are we doing about that?

MP: Is this a generational change?

JH: Younger people are less ideological, care less about Democrat and Republican. They just want to get things done. But there’s a lot now that reminds me of the 1960s—inspirational, idealistic. I have lived a long time to see this come about again.

MP: Is it a response to the Bush years?

JH: Let’s say the Bush-Cheney years. Bush went in a compassionate conservative—at least that’s who some of us voted for. But I’m not sure he had the capacity to handle the issues. So he delegated to Cheney.

There is a sense now among evangelicals that we did not think independently; we did not examine or analyze. We went along with this self-protective mentality that says, ‘let’s get them before they get us.’ September eleventh [2001] reinforced this but there already was a good deal of fodder to shape into fear. We’ve developed a consumerist, self-centered culture. That feeds into pre-emptive war because we fear that ‘they’re going to take away what I have.’ Or ‘Government programs are going to take away my hard-earned dollars.’ There are remnants of that now, in right-wing talk radio-- Limbaugh, Hannity, Michael Savage—just awful.

Here’s what I think the enemy is: the luxury of being simplistic, of not understanding how complex problems are and how much cooperation is required to solve them. Evangelicals went through a period where we formed homogeneous affinity groups. You cloister together and think everybody else is the enemy. One reason I’m thrilled with Obama’s presidency is that he likes a broad spectrum of perspectives. Out of those he will glean a practical solution good for everyone. He’s got the intellectual capacity to handle the job.

MP: Is your congregation bi-partisan?

JH: We’re nearly half and half.

MP: If you want to contribute to society but not marry a political party, how does that work?

JH: If you’re a Christian and want to make a difference in the world you ask: what is the Biblical basis for what I do? What would Jesus do? We can’t bank on winning or losing political battles. That’s not what the kingdom of God depends on.

We, being the humans we are, will always be tempted to make spiritual progress by political means--to use power in order to make others have our values. But Christians have to be careful to exemplify what we believe is right and then let it go. There three hundred million people in this country. I am one voice.

What I saw on the religious right was a lot of religious arrogance. Those who are theocrats—the Reconstructionists who insist that Biblical mandates be law for everybody-- will always believe they’re losing if they don’t get their way. We believe we are winning if we have the freedom to give our opinion along with everybody else. We don’t need to have our way. God doesn’t call us to be “successful”; he calls us to be faithful.

MP: If you are one voice, how do you work with other voices?

JH: We have extensive partnerships in our work on poverty, medical clinics, AIDS, housing. We partner with governments all over the world. Locally, when we have convocations on torture, creation care, and poverty, I ask for broad leadership: the bishop of the Catholic church, the head of the Islamic Society, a rabbi. I ask them to explain, from the perspective of their Scriptures, why this issue is important. Everybody begins to understand that “they” have values like I do and that this issue is too big for any one group to solve.

I was on the board of Jobs Partnership of Central Florida. The state government offered the finances to train the unemployed, and individual church-people became volunteer sponsors for each unemployed person. The sponsors said, “If your kid gets sick, we’ll take him or her to the doctor. If your car breaks down, we’ll get you to work and fix the flat problem.” Since the business community was getting trained employees with backup support systems, they committed to taking the trainees into jobs where they could move into higher-paying ranks. Business people got what they needed. Church people were able to love like they needed to love. Government got people off of welfare into jobs.

Of course, there are still a lot of barriers to working together—not willful ones but we’ve gotten used to operating on our own realms. Having said that, we specifically invite the African American church, other churches and faith communities into much of what that we do. We have a few that are our long-time partners. Same is true for our missions in other countries. We want to form partnerships—long term partnerships with people who are different from they way we are. Westerners have a view of the Gospel that’s very different from someone in South America, China or Africa. We need that kind of cross-pollination.

MP: In cooperative projects, how do you handle the finances?

JH: A church cannot take government funds into the church’s general budget. So for instance, in our partnership with the county to renovate houses in poor areas, they buy the supplies and the churches bring in the [volunteer] craftsmen. The county pays for the materials; the money never comes to us.

MP: What could mess up this picture of inter-group and church-state cooperation?

JH: Militancy from one powerful group. If any group gets too much power, there is a tendency to suppress others. But as we continue listening with respect to multiple perspectives, we will begin to trust each other. I’ve been in conversations with organizations our government can’t even talk to—like Hezbollah. The enemy is never as scary or threatening up close.

What also can sabotage dialogue is a structure where voices present their case to the governing authority but never have to listen to others. If you have a president who says, “give me one group at a time,” the group comes in, presents its case, and if things don’t go down their way, they’re furious. But if all the groups sit together and hear what other people are saying, then they begin to see where others are coming from.

MP: How do you answer those who think churches don’t belong in political discussion?

JH: We could diffuse some of the alarm if we think in terms of cooperation rather than “religion against secularism.” Think more in terms of cooperation on projects rather than compromise on beliefs. We need to get away from the zero-sum game that says, if we allow them their voice, it will take away from what I have.

MP: What’s your response to those who say, “We don’t want to dialogue with certain religious groups, like those that commit honor killings.”

JH: You take care of destructive behavior by law. All law is codified values, of course. But every society must decide what protecting its citizens entails. Yet you don’t disenfranchise an entire faith group because of some of the people in it. You know the saying, you keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

The counter-intuitive wisdom here is that the very people you don’t want to talk to are the people you need to talk to the most. You start out by saying that this is going to be tough. But you never make any progress until you engage in those conversations. At least you’re building relationships and that enhances the probability of reaching consensus.

There’s a very important conversation to be had with secular authorities about Muslims not being able to wear certain types of dress or Christians not being able to wear a cross of a certain size. Dialogue is necessary no matter how tough it is. Boundaries are not just dividing points. They are connecting points. They are not where the conversation ends but where it begins.

Used with permission. By Marcia Pally Copyright 2011, Eerdmans Publishing

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Faith Leaders Urge Soul Searching

Screen shot 2011-01-13 at 12.33.07 PM In the wake of the tragedy in Tucson, Arizona, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faith leaders are weighing in. They are urging a time of reflection and "soul searching" when it comes to political dialogue. It's important to note that the letter doesn't suggest that politics or rhetoric prompted the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, 22, to launch his attack. However, the letter takes advantage of an opportunity to address the issue of civility in public debate.

Bishop T.D. Jakes, pastor of The Potter's House; the Rev. Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland Church; and the Rev. Sam Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference are among the 50-plus signatories.

Read the letter below:

Dear Members of Congress,

As Americans and members of the human family, we are grieved by the recent tragedy in Tucson, Arizona. As Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders, we pray together for all those wounded, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as she fights for her life. Our hearts break for those lives lost and for the loved ones left behind. We also stand with you, our elected officials, as you continue to serve our nation while coping with the trauma of this senseless attack.

This tragedy has spurred a sorely needed time of soul searching and national public dialogue about violent and vitriolic political rhetoric. We strongly support this reflection, as we are deeply troubled that rancor, threats and incivility have become commonplace in our public debates.

We appreciate the sacrifices you make and risks you incur by accepting a call to public service, and we urge you to continue to serve as stewards of our democracy by engaging ideological adversaries not as enemies, but as fellow Americans.

In our communities and congregations, we pledge to foster an environment conducive to the important and difficult debates so crucial to American democracy. In our churches, mosques and synagogues, we come together not as members of a certain political ideology or party, but as children of God and citizens called to build a more perfect union. We pray that you do the same.

Naeem M. Baig Executive Director Islamic Circle of North America Council for Social Justice

Dr. Carroll A. Baltimore, Sr. President Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.

The Rev. Geoffrey Black General Minister and President United Church of Christ

Bishop John R. Bryant Senior Bishop African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church

Dr. Zahid H. Bukhari President Islamic Circle of North America

Rev. Jennifer Butler Executive Director Faith in Public Life

Simone Campbell, SSS Executive Director NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Bishop Minerva Carcaño Desert Southwest Conference United Methodist Church

The Rev. Canon Peg Chemberlin President National Council of Churches

Rev. Richard Cizik President New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good

Nathan J. Diament Director of Public Policy Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America

Faithful America

Rev. Jan Olav Flaaten Executive Director Arizona Ecumenical Council

Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson General Secretary Reformed Church in America

Simon Greer President and CEO Jewish Funds for Justice

Dr. David P. Gushee Board Chair New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good

Rabbi Steve Gutow President and CEO Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Rev. Dr. Derrick Harkins Senior Pastor Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, Washington, DC

The Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson President Auburn Seminary

The Rev. Anne S. Howard Executive Director The Beatitudes Society

James E. Hug, SJ President Center of Concern

Dr. Joel C. Hunter Senior Pastor Northland - A Church Distributed

Bishop T. D. Jakes The Potter's House

Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon General Secretary National Council of Churches

Chris Korzen Executive Director Catholics United

Leadership Team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Eileen Campbell, RSM Anne Curtis, RSM Pat McDermott, RSM Mary Waskowiak, RSM Linda Werthman, RSM

Rabbi John A. Linder Temple Solel, Paradise Valley, AZ

Marie Lucey, OSF Associate Director for Social Mission Leadership Conference of Women Religious

Rev. Steven D. Martin Executive Director New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good

Brian McClaren Author/Activist

T. Michael McNulty, SJ Justice and Peace Director Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Rev. Peter Morales President Unitarian Universalist Association

Bishop Paul Morton International Presiding Bishop Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship

Muslim Public Affairs Council

Stanley J. Noffsinger General Secretary Church of the Brethren

Dr. Walter L. Parrish III General Secretary Progressive National Baptist Convention

Rev. Gradye Parsons Stated Clerk Presbyterian Church (USA)

Nancy Ratzan President National Council of Jewish Women

Rev. Meg Riley Board Chair Faith in Public Life

Dave Robinson Executive Director Pax Christi USA

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez President National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

Rev. Gabriel Salguero President National Latino Evangelical Coalition

Rabbi David Saperstein Director Religious Action Center

Dr. William J. Shaw Immediate Past President National Baptist Convention USA, Inc.

Dr. T. DeWitt Smith, Jr. Immediate Past President Progressive National Baptist Convention

Rt. Rev. Kirk S. Smith Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Arizona

Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed National Director, Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances Islamic Society of North America

Rev. Dr. Stephen J. Thurston President National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., Intl.

Rev. Jim Wallis President and CEO Sojourners

Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins General Minister and President Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Rev. Heyward Wiggins, III PICO National Network Camden Bible Tabernacle Church

Jim Winkler General Secretary United Methodist General Board of Church & Society

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Christian Leaders Sign 'Civility Covenant'

NOTE: Concerned over the alarming level of disrespect, personal attacks and even hateful rhetoric that is occurring among religious leaders, Dr. Hunter recently joined with 126 other Christian representatives from across the church to sign the Civility Covenant. You can participate by reading the covenant and then clicking the link below to sign on.


Come Let Us Reason Together

How good and pleasant it is when the people of God live together in unity.—Psalm 133:1

As Christian pastors and leaders with diverse theological and political beliefs, we have come together to make this covenant with each other, and to commend it to the church, faith-based organizations, and individuals, so that together we can contribute to a more civil national discourse. The church in the United States can offer a message of hope and reconciliation to a nation that is deeply divided by political and cultural differences. Too often, however, we have reflected the political divisions of our culture rather than the unity we have in the body of Christ. We come together to urge those who claim the name of Christ to “put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

1) We commit that our dialogue with each other will reflect the spirit of the Scriptures, where our posture toward each other is to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).

2) We believe that each of us, and our fellow human beings, are created in the image of God. The respect we owe to God should be reflected in the honor and respect we show to each other in our common humanity, particularly in how we speak to each other. With the tongue we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God …. this ought not to be so” (James 3:9, 10).

3) We pledge that when we disagree, we will do so respectfully, without falsely impugning the other’s motives, attacking the other’s character, or questioning the other’s faith, and recognizing in humility that in our limited, human opinions, “we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We will therefore “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).

4) We will ever be mindful of the language we use in expressing our disagreements, being neither arrogant nor boastful in our beliefs: “Before destruction one’s heart is haughty, but humility goes before honor” (Proverbs 18:12).

5) We recognize that we cannot function together as citizens of the same community, whether local or national, unless we are mindful of how we treat each other in pursuit of the common good in the common life we share together. Each of us must therefore “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Ephesians 4:25).

6) We commit to pray for our political leaders—those with whom we may agree, as well as those with whom we may disagree. “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made … for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

7) We believe that it is more difficult to hate others, even our adversaries and our enemies, when we are praying for them. We commit to pray for each other, those with whom we agree and those with whom we may disagree, so that together we may strive to be faithful witnesses to our Lord, who prayed “ that they may be one” (John 17:22).

We pledge to God and to each other that we will lead by example in a country where civil discourse seems to have broken down. We will work to model a better way in how we treat each other in our many faith communities, even across religious and political lines. We will strive to create in our congregations safe and sacred spaces for common prayer and community discussion as we come together to seek God’s will for our nation and our world.

+Click here to sign on to the Civility Covenant

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NEWSWEEK: White House Religion Panel "Gets It Right"

Screen shot 2010-03-15 at 4.00.05 PM By Lisa Miller | | Mar 10, 2010

There has been some bellyaching in recent months—including by me, and also especially in The Washington Post—over the relevance and influence of the task force of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (a god-awful mouthful of an administrative tag if ever there was one). This was a committee of about two dozen people, appointed by President Obama just over a year ago, asked to address some of the country's most important values issues and make recommendations to the president. Rumors persisted that relations within the council were acrimonious and, given that council members had such differing views on questions of faith—they were progressive and conservative and were at odds over the best government role inside churches and other faith-based institutions—there was no way to hammer out any but the lowest-common-denominator type of resolution. The most persistent complaint, and the one that I continue to hear, is the worry that their recommendations, which they offered to the president this week, would not get a fair hearing at the highest levels of the administration.

That would be a shame. The report addresses interrreligous dialogue, climate change, fatherhood, and poverty among other things. There are, certainly, some namby-pamby recommendations in the report—upholding fatherhood as a good thing, for example—but elements of the report have heft. Especially serious and provocative are the task force's recommendations on the subject of reforming the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships itself. Though bureaucratic and unsexy, these recommendations essentially demand that the administration clarify the muddy and inconsistent ground rules for religious groups seeking federal funds for charitable work. This has long been a legislative and administrative quagmire, characterized by misunderstandings, favoritism, and legal challenges. At this moment in time, when Boston's Catholic Charities has closed its historic adoption agency rather than take government money and so be required to adopt children to homosexual married couples, such clarification would seem necessary indeed.

Council members were able to agree that the constitutional separation of church and state is foundational and that recipients of government money be more clearly informed about what that means in terms of their activities—at the federal and at the local level. Most interesting, the task force asked the president to revise language that bars religious groups receiving federal aid from "inherently religious activities, such as worship, religious instruction and proselytizing" saying the word "inherently" allowed too much room for misunderstanding. "Explicitly," they said, would be a better word choice.

The task force was also able to agree that protecting the religious identities of religious institutions is crucial. They disagreed over things like whether a religious organization receiving government aid could perform social services in a room containing religious symbols, and whether churches receiving government money should be required to set up a separate corporation for those funds. In a political environment of gridlock and frustration, the clarity of these agreements—and even of the disagreements—is welcome.

The most difficult question, however, was left aside, for the Department of Justice to decide at another time. This is the question of whether faith-based organizations receiving government money should be able to hire and fire based on religion. This fight is a mini culture war in itself, for it goes to the question of religious and civic identity. The left sees it as a question of civil liberties, the right one of unwelcome government intervention in the lives of private institutions. Conservatives and liberals promise that this is a hill upon which they are willing to die.

Now the White House task force has disbanded, and a new one—along with new issues—has not yet been named. Which of the task force recommendations will be adopted, and when, remains the driving question; if the president delays, he will have squandered considerable goodwill. In the meantime, I will make my own recommendation. Please change the name of the faith-based office. Please.

Lisa Miller is NEWSWEEK's religion editor. Her book Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination With the Afterlife is due out from Harper in March.

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© 2010

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

Screen shot 2010-03-12 at 5.42.30 AM

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.”

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.

“The president said he wanted to reduce the need for abortions,” said Ashley Horne, federal issues analyst with Focus on the Family Action. “So, that topic would have been a natural fit for this group.”

“It’s one more strike against a president who, so far, has catered only to the pro-abortion agenda.”

Besides the abortion issue, the report has also been criticized for not including religious language. Council member Dr. Frank Page, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said he appreciated the work of the advisers but he wished the report expressed the motivation behind why faith leaders care about the issues.

Nevertheless, DuBois said that he is proud of the work the office and its first advisory council has done in the first year. The office under President Obama went directly to faith leaders and community leaders, through the council, and sought their advice on how best to partner, he said.

“The previous initiative largely had a dollar-and-cents vision of their office which caused a lot of controversy,” DuBois said to The Christian Post. “We’re seeking to communicate that when we partner with faith-based groups, it doesn’t have to be about finance. It could be about sharing information with them, about building their capacity, serving as a convener, and we think that will slowly but surely help turn this initiative around.”

The new faith-based advisory council will be installed sometime this spring or summer. Advisers serve one-year terms.

Some of the recommendations made by the council include:

  • Utilization of the knowledge, expertise, and on-the-ground experience of local faith- and community-based organizations to redefine the federal poverty guideline so that it more accurately measures and responds to the needs of low-income people
  • Support of faith-and community-based partnerships as a means to fill the gaps in providing essential services like transportation, housing, food assistance, job training, education, and healthcare for low-income families and individuals
  • Hosting of an annual Father’s Day Celebration at the White House to honor exemplary fathers and to highlight advances in father involvement resulting from the government’s interdepartmental working groups and the strategic partnerships formed at the quarterly roundtables
  • Formation of an Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Environmental Protection Agency and assignment of faith- and community-based liaisons to EPA regional offices
  • More partnerships with interreligious councils and women of faith networks to advance peace building and development
  • Placement of Faith-Based and Civil Society Engagement Officers in USAID missions
  • Reduction of barriers to obtaining 501(c)(3) recognition

Michelle A. Vu
Christian Post Reporter


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  •   Culture Wars, Poverty   •  

Learning From the Sin of Sodom

Screen shot 2010-03-03 at 3.34.42 PM Dear Friends,

There is a great article in today's New York Times by Nicholas Kristof, who has written about what a huge mistake it would be not to channel government money through faith-based organizations for international aid. Read below or at

Blessings, Pastor Joel


Learning From the Sin of Sodom


For most of the last century, save-the-worlders were primarily Democrats and liberals. In contrast, many Republicans and religious conservatives denounced government aid programs, with Senator Jesse Helms calling them “money down a rat hole.”

Over the last decade, however, that divide has dissolved, in ways that many Americans haven’t noticed or appreciated. Evangelicals have become the new internationalists, pushing successfully for new American programs against AIDS and malaria, and doing superb work on issues from human trafficking in India to mass rape in Congo.

A pop quiz: What’s the largest U.S.-based international relief and development organization?

It’s not Save the Children, and it’s not CARE — both terrific secular organizations. Rather, it’s World Vision, a Seattle-based Christian organization (with strong evangelical roots) whose budget has roughly tripled over the last decade.

World Vision now has 40,000 staff members in nearly 100 countries. That’s more staff members than CARE, Save the Children and the worldwide operations of the United States Agency for International Development — combined.

A growing number of conservative Christians are explicitly and self-critically acknowledging that to be “pro-life” must mean more than opposing abortion. The head of World Vision in the United States, Richard Stearns, begins his fascinating book, “The Hole in Our Gospel,” with an account of a visit a decade ago to Uganda, where he met a 13-year-old AIDS orphan who was raising his younger brothers by himself.

“What sickened me most was this question: where was the Church?” he writes. “Where were the followers of Jesus Christ in the midst of perhaps the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time? Surely the Church should have been caring for these ‘orphans and widows in their distress.’ (James 1:27). Shouldn’t the pulpits across America have flamed with exhortations to rush to the front lines of compassion?

“How have we missed it so tragically, when even rock stars and Hollywood actors seem to understand?”

Mr. Stearns argues that evangelicals were often so focused on sexual morality and a personal relationship with God that they ignored the needy. He writes laceratingly about “a Church that had the wealth to build great sanctuaries but lacked the will to build schools, hospitals, and clinics.”

In one striking passage, Mr. Stearns quotes the prophet Ezekiel as saying that the great sin of the people of Sodom wasn’t so much that they were promiscuous or gay as that they were “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49.)

Hmm. Imagine if sodomy laws could be used to punish the stingy, unconcerned rich!

The American view of evangelicals is still shaped by preening television blowhards and hypocrites who seem obsessed with gays and fetuses. One study cited in the book found that even among churchgoers ages 16 to 29, the descriptions most associated with Christianity were “antihomosexual,” “judgmental,” “too involved in politics,” and “hypocritical.”

Some conservative Christians reinforced the worst view of themselves by inspiring Ugandan homophobes who backed a bill that would punish gays with life imprisonment or execution. Ditto for the Vatican, whose hostility to condoms contributes to the AIDS epidemic. But there’s more to the picture: I’ve also seen many Catholic nuns and priests heroically caring for AIDS patients — even quietly handing out condoms.

One of the most inspiring figures I’ve met while covering Congo’s brutal civil war is a determined Polish nun in the terrifying hinterland, feeding orphans, standing up to drunken soldiers and comforting survivors — all in a war zone. I came back and decided: I want to grow up and become a Polish nun.

Some Americans assume that religious groups offer aid to entice converts. That’s incorrect. Today, groups like World Vision ban the use of aid to lure anyone into a religious conversation.

Some liberals are pushing to end the longtime practice (it’s a myth that this started with President George W. Bush) of channeling American aid through faith-based organizations. That change would be a catastrophe. In Haiti, more than half of food distributions go through religious groups like World Vision that have indispensable networks on the ground. We mustn’t make Haitians the casualties in our cultural wars.

A root problem is a liberal snobbishness toward faith-based organizations. Those doing the sneering typically give away far less money than evangelicals. They’re also less likely to spend vacations volunteering at, say, a school or a clinic in Rwanda.

If secular liberals can give up some of their snootiness, and if evangelicals can retire some of their sanctimony, then we all might succeed together in making greater progress against common enemies of humanity, like illiteracy, human trafficking and maternal mortality.

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  •   Culture Wars   •  

Come Let Us Reason Together: A Guide for Busy Pastors

pastor_guide_thumbIn early 2007, the Come Let Us Reason Together initiative was launched. It was an undertaking that few thought could be successful: finding common ground between centrist evangelicals and progressives on the most divisive cultural issues of our times. The heart of Come Let Us Reason Together is a Governing Agenda, released in January 2009. It represents the fruit of these labors and maps a joint path forward to heal a nation torn apart by the culture wars.

The most recent product of the Come Let Us Reason Together initiative is Come Let Us Reason Together: A Guide for Busy Pastors (developed with assistance from Pastor Hunter and other leaders). This user-friendly guide describes how pastors can embody this approach at the local church level and join a growing chorus of Christian leaders who are committed to finding a path beyond the culture wars to common ground.


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  •   Culture Wars   •  

What Would Jesus Do?

Screen shot 2010-01-29 at 12.05.39 PM By Bill Schneider, Distinguished Senior Fellow and Resident Scholar at Third Way

Will the culture wars ever end? We have now had three Presidents in a row who promised to unite the country. They all failed.

Bill Clinton said in 2004, ``If you look back on the sixties and, on balance, you think there was more good than harm in it, you're probably a Democrat. And if you think there's more harm than good, then you're probably a Republican.''

The sixties were a long time ago. That was when China had a Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and the United States had a Great American Cultural Revolution. China got over its trauma. The U.S. never did.

Why not? One word: religion. The United States experienced a ferocious backlash to the cultural changes of the 1960s. It's a backlash that happened nowhere else. It happened because of the uniquely powerful role of religion in American public life. Religious observance is now the defining political difference between Democrats and Republicans. Regular churchgoers vote Republican (55 percent for John McCain in 2008). Irregular churchgoers vote Democratic (60 percent for Barack Obama).

Can anyone heal the divide? A group of centrist evangelicals and progressives is trying. Their project is called ``Come Let Us Reason Together.''

A group of moderate evangelicals has joined forces with Third Way, a Washington think tank, (I should note here I am a Distinguished Senior Fellow & Resident Scholar at Third Way) ``trying to change the nature of our engagement in public debate in the United States,'' according to David P. Gushee, professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University and president of Evangelicals for Human Rights.

``There's a real weariness of the politics of division,'' Robert P. Jones, president of Public Religion Research says. ``This project is about trying to find a politics of common ground.'' Jones estimates that 54 percent of white evangelicals in the U.S. can be described as ``centrist" (40 percent) or ``modernist'' (14 percent). Among younger white evangelicals, the total rises to 61 percent. These are churchgoing Americans who, Jones says, ``have increasingly found that the most loud and public voices in evangelical life are not speaking for them.''

In the past leaders who have tried to heal the cultural divide have taken two paths: either compromise or avoidance. But cultural issues are not easy to compromise. They're about values, not interests. Interests can be compromised. Values -- matters of right and wrong -- can not. In 1992, Bill Clinton said abortion should be ``safe, legal and rare.'' Anti-abortion forces believe abortion is murder. Should murder be ``safe, legal and rare''?

Barack Obama has followed the path of avoidance for the most part. In his first year, Obama hasn't said much about God, guns and gays, although his supporters believe he will eventually deliver. Same with immigration reform. The President says he will deal with it -- eventually.

``Come Let Us Reason Together'' recommends a different approach: common ground. According to Rev. Joel Hunter, senior pastor at Northland Church in Florida, ``There's a world of difference between compromise and cooperation. On the one hand, you are somehow giving up your agenda. On the other hand, you are even more likely to achieve your agenda through things that you can still do together. Each side is getting part of what they always wanted.''

Jones argues that what makes this effort unique is that ``it has put the more difficult issues front and center and tried to see what kind of conversations we can have about those, rather than pretending they're not in the room.''

Is there really common ground on abortion? The project's guide for pastors talks about reducing the number of abortions by preventing unwanted pregnancies and by supporting pregnant women who want to give birth. Surely progressives and evangelicals can agree on that.

Is there common ground on gay rights? The guide talks about protecting gays and lesbians from employment discrimination and hate crimes. Nothing about same-sex marriage. In Dr. Gushee's view, ``Civil unions don't seem to be a solution that is satisfying to a lot of people in either the gay community or the Christian community, but to me, it seems like it could be a space for common ground.''

The project is not looking for dramatic breakthroughs. It's promoting the experience of working together for shared values. Maybe they'll like it. Maybe they'll learn to trust each other a little more. ``We now have entire industries and organizations that profit from polarization,'' Dr. Hunter observed.

Can evangelicals be drawn away from the path of militancy? Dr. Gushee thinks they can because of the nature of their faith. He calls militancy ``a violation of our own values . . . where commitment to a certain position on an issue has overridden core teachings of our faith and the example of Jesus.'' Rev. Hunter says, ``I would like to build into the evangelical part of the church a broader approach to controversial or divisive issues so that we can both be peacemakers and advance those values that we think are biblical values.''

Doesn't the Bible say, ``Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God''?

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