A Closer Look at the President’s Faith-Based Advisory Council
The introduction of 15 of 25 members of the President’s Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships last week has generated much publicity and discussion, but little detailed information about the backgrounds and policy positions of the Council members themselves. As a service to those who work in or closely follow religion and politics, we’ve collected publicly available information about each Council member appointed so far, including their professional backgrounds, religious affiliations, and views on political issues. Online resources including Nexis, organizational web sites and search engines turned up abundant information on some members and scant background on others. This compilation isn’t definitive, but we hope it’s helpful.
President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships
Diane Baillargeon, President & CEO, Seedco, a secular national operating intermediary
New York, NY
Baillargeon is the president of Seedco (Structured Employment Economic Development Corporation), a national non-profit organization that helps low-income people and communities move toward economic prosperity. Seedco oversees multi-partner initiatives focused on innovation, best practices, and outcomes. With New York City’s Office of the Mayor and non-profit organizations, Seedco and its community partners are implementing Opportunity NYC, a pilot conditional cash transfer initiative.
Seedco’s Policy & Research department, which works with its program department to craft recommendations for national policymakers, recently published reports making recommendations for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Before coming to Seedco, she was the Deputy Commissioner for Policy Management for the New York State Department of Social Services as well as the Deputy Director of the Substance Abuse Strategy Initiative and the Deputy Administrator for Policy and Program Development at the New York City Human Resources Administration. She has also served on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Commission on Economic Opportunity, Governor Eliot Spitzer’s Policy Advisory Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, and the National Advisory Panel on Job Quality.
Dr. Arturo Chavez, Ph.D., President & CEO, Mexican American Cultural Center
San Antonio, TX
Chavez is head of the Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC), a department of the Archdiocese of San Antonio. MACC”s mission is to empower and educate leaders for service in a culturally diverse church and society. Chavez holds a Ph.D. in religion and social change and has worked as a community organizer, activist, scholar, and religious leader addressing immigration reform, poverty, youth and family ministry, and Catholic social thought.
Before coming to MACC, he contributed to the founding of San Antonio organizations such as JOVEN, a youth services organization; the Peace Center; the Peace Initiative; Merced Housing, which develops and manages single- and multi-family affordable housing; and the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a nonprofit research organization improving public policies and private practices to better the economic and social conditions of low- and moderate-income Texans. Chavez also serves on the board of Pax Christi, a Catholic peace movement organization.
Chavez, who cites his Catholic faith for opposing abortion, says the Catholic faith also calls him to be engaged in “the marketplace.”
Fred Davie, President, Public / Private Ventures, a secular non-profit intermediary
New York, NY
Davie is President of Public/Private Ventures, a national nonprofit organization seeking to improve the effectiveness of social policies and programs, with a particular emphasis on workforce development issues. He also has experience in community development and organizing, housing and youth employment issues. At Public/Private Ventures, he spearheaded a national prisoner reentry initiative called Ready4Work: An Ex-Prisoner, Faith and Community Initiative.
An openly gay man, Davie was married in Massachusetts to his partner, Michael Adams, who is the executive director of an organization that supports GLBT elders.
Davie is a Presbyterian minister, holds a Masters in Divinity from Yale Seminary and has served at Presbyterian Church (USA) organizations. He also previously served as a program officer for Faith-Based Community Development at the Ford Foundation, where he managed a portfolio of grants to programs in the US and southern Africa.
Pastor Joel C. Hunter, Senior Pastor, Northland, a Church Distributed
Hunter is pastor of Northland, a Church Distributed in Florida, which has average weekly attendance of more than 10,000 people. Hunter has called for action on global warming, comprehensive immigration reform, and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. He was a signatory to the Evangelical Climate Initiative and was named by Grist magazine as one of the top 15 religious leaders in creation care, along with Pope Benedict XVI and the Dalai Lama. He has a history of interfaith work, having served as a delegate to the US-Islamic World Forum held in Doha, Qatar, where he sought to build a dialogue between Muslim and Christian communities to ultimately eradicate terrorism.
Hunter is pro-life and opposed to same-sex marriage. He has been a vocal advocate of common ground approaches to reducing abortion — preventing unintended pregnancies (including comprehensive sex education) and supporting women who want to keep their babies — and has been outspoken about working with the pro-choice community and Democrats on the issue. Hunter is a registered Republican, but gave a benediction at the 2008 Democratic National Convention and prayed with Obama by phone on election night (along with fellow Council member Rev. Otis Moss Jr).
In 2006, he was selected to lead the Christian Coalition, but declined because he was interested in broadening the organization’s agenda to include issues like poverty and the environment, which the board of the Coalition rejected.
Bishop Vashti M. McKenzie, Presiding Bishop, 13th Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church
McKenzie is the first woman bishop in over 200 years of African Methodist Episcopal Church history. McKenzie currently presides over the 13th Episcopal AME District, which encompasses Tennessee and Kentucky. Between 2000 and 2004 she served as chief pastor of the 18th Episcopal District, overseeing Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana and Mozambique, Africa.
She draws on womanist theology and has worked in pursuit of gender equity. McKenzie has authored several books and in one of them she outlined “Ten Womanist Commandments for Clergy,” including, “Thou shall not compromise your femininity for the sake of the pulpit,” and “Thou shall not be intimidated by those who question your call and your right to be a woman and a minister.”
McKenzie has been outspoken on cultural and social issues and ideological exploitation of them. She has said, “The country as a whole has been engaged in selective morality…And so in doing that, we have a great polarization. And so we have decided, then, that gay and lesbian unions, that’s immoral, but a pre-emptive strike against a government, looking for weapons of mass destruction and becoming a weapon of mass destruction, that’s not immoral…Wasting a budget in just a few years–We had a surplus; now we have a deficit; that’s not immoral. So I think we’re engaging in selective moralization, and those who are at the bottom of the ladder are still at the bottom of the ladder.”
She has a history of working with the government to better serve those in need, leading her congregation in a bid to contract with the Maryland government on a welfare-to-work program. She also worked for the uneducated, unemployed, and those suffering from AIDS.
McKenzie interview, National Public Radio, Tavis Smiley, 11/29/04
Rev. Otis Moss, Jr., Pastor emeritus, Olivet Institutional Baptist Church
Rev. Moss is a pastor and civil rights leader. Before becoming pastor at Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio in 1975 he served as co-pastor with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr. at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. He currently serves as a national board member and trustee for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change.
Moss has long focused on issues of social justice, including improving public education and providing universal health care.
Moss was a strong supporter of President Obama in the 2008 Election and on election night, prayed with President Obama by phone (along with fellow Council member Joel Hunter).
He was honored in the U.S. Senate in 2007 by Sen. Voinovich (R) after his retirement from Olivet Institutional Baptist Church. Sen. Voinovich noted his important role in civil rights and social justice causes. He was a special guest of President Clinton’s at the signing of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty.
Dr. Frank S. Page, President emeritus, Southern Baptist Convention
Page was elected President of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2006 in what the Associated Baptist Press reported was “a major upset…over two candidates closely tied to the conservative power structure of the SBC…Page’s election signaled a defeat for the SBC’s powerbrokers, who have hand-picked all but one president since 1979.” As president, Page expressed a commitment to upholding conservative principles of the SBC while also distancing himself from the image of pastors like the late Jerry Falwell and insisting that “for too long, Baptists have been know for what they are against” rather than what they are for.
Page has called for responsible environmental care and urged fellow Christians to be good stewards of God’s good creation. Asked about immigrants, Page has said: “We’re going to do everything we can to help them and we don’t care who they are.” Page is opposed to same-sex marriage and favors overturning Roe v. Wade. “I have to be a realist,” Page has said. “A lot of people like to paint everything in blank and white. The truth is, we live in a world where the reality is that abortions are, in some ways, legal. That’s the way it is right now. I certainly desire to see the reduction.”
Eboo S. Patel, Founder & Executive Director, Interfaith Youth Corps
Patel is an Indian-American Muslim who leads Interfaith Youth Corps, an interfaith organization that “builds mutual respect and pluralism among young people from different religious traditions by empowering them to work together to serve others.” His work builds upon principles of shared goals and common objectives, pluralism and religious freedom, and public and community service. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, where he earned a doctorate in the sociology of religion. He serves on the boards of various interfaith networks.
Melissa Rogers, Director, Wake Forest School of Divinity Center for Religion and Public Affairs, and expert on church/state issues
Rogers is a visiting professor of religion and public policy at Wake Forest University Divinity School, as well as the founder and director of Wake Forest’s Center for Religion and Public Affairs. Previously, Rogers served as executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, an advocacy organization that promotes religious liberty and church-state separation.
She has done extensive research on religious liberty and church-state separation, including co-authoring with E.J. Dionne a report published in December 2008 called “Serving People in Need, Safeguarding Religious Freedom,” which provided recommendations for the faith-based initiatives office. Rogers has taken issue with the Family Research Council for claiming that arguments against Chief Justice Roberts were inherently anti-religious, and on other issues.
Rogers has called for church involvement in serving the hungry, advocating for just economic policy, reforming the criminal justice system and pushing for sound environment polices. She is part of the New Baptist Covenant, which espouses religious liberty and caring for those in need and was formed to counter the public image of Baptists as predominantly tied to conservative politics.
http://www.brookings.edu/papers/2008/12_religion_dionne.aspx http://bjconline.org/about/index.htm http://www.neilrogers.com/news/articles/2005080919.html http://www.tompaine.com/articles/2006/01/11/religious_freedom_for_all.php
Rabbi David N. Saperstein, Director & Counsel, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and noted church/state expert
Saperstein has served as Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), representing the national Reform Jewish Movement to Congress and the administration for more than 30 years. Saperstein teaches seminars on Jewish law and church-state conflicts at Georgetown University Law School in Washington. He currently co-chairs the Coalition to Preserve Religious Liberty and serves on the boards of the NAACP and People For the American Way.
Saperstein’s issue areas of focus at the RAC include health care, poverty, torture, immigration, the environment, the death penalty, marriage equality for same-sex couples, reproductive health and separation of church and state. Saperstein, who is pro-choice, has said: “I know no one who, like me, is an abiding supporter on have a woman’s right to choose in Roe v. Wade that doesn’t want to cut the number of abortions. I think where we can find common ground is to say there are a number of things that can be done in America to cut the number of abortions in half, more than that in America.” In opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment he stated: “We call on Senators to overwhelmingly reject this effort to enshrine homophobia, intolerance, and inequality in our Constitution and instead focus on legislation and policies that will foster healthy, loving, caring, and committed relationships and families.”
He vocally opposed President Bush’s version of the faith-based office, claiming it was unconstitutional and insisting that faith-based organizations that receive federal funding not be able to discriminate in hiring. He also testified before Congress in opposition to “charitable choice.”
Saperstein interview on CNN, “Inside Politics,” 6/16/05
Dr. William J. Shaw, President, National Baptist Convention, USA
Shaw leads the National Baptist Convention, USA, the largest black Baptist denomination in America. He is also pastor of White Rock Baptist Church in Philadelphia.
He has spoken out against the war in Iraq, poverty and hunger, vocally criticized the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, and expressed support for issues ranging from immigration reform to addressing global warming to gay rights. In opposition to a federal ban on gay marriage, Shaw has said, “Marriage is threatened more by adultery, and we don’t have a constitutional ban on that.” Shaw has advocated for a comprehensive pro-life stance – arguing that the right to be born without the right to live has been used as a tool of injustice.
During Shaw’s nine years of leadership, the National Baptist Convention has played a key role in the New Baptist Covenant, which espouses religious liberty and caring for those in need and was formed to counter the public image of Baptists as predominantly tied to conservative politics.
Father Larry J. Snyder, President, Catholic Charities USA
Snyder is President of Catholic Charities USA, one of the country’s largest social service providers and a recipient of government funding which “serves those in need because of our faith not theirs.” Catholic Charities is a national advocate for the most vulnerable in the U.S., including children, the elderly, the disabled, immigrants, and those who live in both rural and urban communities. During Snyder’s tenure, Catholic Charities USA launched E Pluribus Unum: Spiritual Exercises “to form a more perfect union,” a project addressing the overlapping issues of poverty and racism.
Catholic Charities USA is an official Catholic organization, and its mission is rooted in the seven principles of Catholic social teaching, which include life and dignity of the human person and opposition to abortion.
Richard Stearns, President, World Vision
Stearns is an evangelical Christian who left a high-powered and lucrative position as a corporate CEO to run World Vision, a Christian relief organization serving close to 100 million people in nearly 100 countries around the world. World Vision received federal grant money under the Bush Administration.
While he believes abstinence and chastity are important virtues to stress in international development, he takes issue with those in his community who think condoms play no part in stemming the HIV/AIDS pandemic. He has said that, “condoms play a role in high-risk groups, and they will slow the spread of the pandemic.”
He has demonstrated a commitment to helping those most in need, saying that he is “certain that [God] calls us to stop, show compassion, comfort them, bind up their wounds and see that they and their children are cared for.” He has also spoken out on environmental issues, urging action on global warming, and participated in the Evangelical Manifesto, a self-critical statement by Christian leaders condemning the over-politicization of Christian faith and calling for reform.
Judith N. Vredenburgh, President and Chief Executive Officer, Big Brothers / Big Sisters of America
For the past ten years, Vredenburgh has served as President and CEO of Big Brothers/Big Sisters, a mentoring program for youth. She has overseen its significant expansion, in terms of matches between mentors and mentees, funds and overall capacity. BBBSA reaches over a quarter million youth and children, more than double the number served when Vredenburgh came on board.
Vredenburgh spent six years at the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, where she served as senior vice president responsible for revenue development and marketing. She was drawn to the March of Dimes because of their support for her daughter, who was born prematurely. Previously, Vredenburgh worked in the retail industry, serving as president & chief executive officer for Chess King, and prior to that, executive vice president for Sizes Unlimited/Lerner Woman, women’s casual clothing stores designed for sizes 14 and higher.
Rev. Jim Wallis, President & Executive Director, Sojourners
Wallis is the president of Sojourners, a progressive evangelical organization that works for poverty reduction, peace and the environment. His best known book, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, was on the New York Times bestseller list for 4 months.
A frequent critic of the religious right, Wallis says, “Jesus didn’t speak at all about homosexuality. There are about 12 verses in the Bible that touch on that question … [t]here are thousands of verses on poverty.” Wallis has worked to end U.S. and global poverty for more than 30 years. While Wallis’ major focus is poverty, he is pro-life and has long encouraged Democrats to set forth proposals that aim to reduce the number of abortions in America.
Wallis was a part of President Bush’s original formulation of an office of faith-based initiatives, but he criticized the ways he felt the Bush administration used the office for political ends. He has also said that the program wasn’t well-funded and that it became a substitute for good social policy instead of an addition. Wallis has said, “The lack of consistent, coherent and integrated domestic policy that benefits low-income people makes our continued support for [Bush's] faith-based initiative increasingly untenable.”