A Closer Look at the President’s Faith-Based Advisory Council, Part II
The final ten members of the President’s Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships were introduced yesterday afternoon, and as a service to folks who work in or closely follow religion and politics, we’ve collected publicly available information on their professional backgrounds, including their advocacy on various issues.
It’s a diverse group with wide ranging views on the issues — spanning the religious and ideological spectrum.
Our research on the 15 previously introduced council members is here.
Online resources including Nexis, organizational web sites and search engines turned up abundant information on some members and little on others. This compilation isn’t definitive, but we hope it’s helpful.
Bishop Charles Blake, Presiding Bishop, Church of God in Christ
The Bishop Charles E. Blake serves as the Seventh Presiding Bishop of the six million-member Church of God in Christ, the largest black Pentecostal denomination in the United States. He is the pastor of West Angeles Church of God in Christ, which has more than 24,000 members. His church provides more than 80 programs for the psychological, social, and economic enhancement of the community.
Blake founded and is CEO of Pan African Children’s Fund (PACF), including the Save Africa’s Children program, which supports more than 200,000 children in 400 orphan care programs in more than 23 African nations. He has said that “African-Americans must be for Africa what Jewish-Americans have been for Israel” and that “the thought of millions and millions of children without mother and father on the continent of Africa ought be something that would motivate not only African-Americans, but people all over our nation and across the world.”
On the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Bishop Blake organized a summit to support black inner-city American children and children affected by AIDS in Africa. He also worked to increase African-American enrollment in schools and colleges.
Blake believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman. While he thinks homosexuality is a sin, he thinks it is one sin among many, and preaches tolerance, respect, and mercy around this issue. Speaking about abortion at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, he said, “Senator Obama, and all of us, should follow up and elaborate on his stated intention to reduce the number of abortions, by providing alternative programs which will by various approaches result in the prevention of unwanted pregnancies; and to provide viable alternatives in the event of an unwanted pregnancy.”
Bishop Blake was the founding Chairman of the Board of Directors for C.H. Mason Theological Seminary. He has served as an Executive Committee member on the Board of Directors of the Interdenominational Theological Seminary. He has served as Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of Oral Roberts University, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the International Charismatic Bible Ministries.
Bishop Blake has also formerly served as an Advisory Committee Member of the Pentecostal World Conference. He serves as the Chairman and Founder of the Los Angeles Ecumenical Congress (LAEC), an interdenominational coalition of religious leaders and pastors. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Religious Advisory Committee.
Anju Bhargava, Asian Indian Women in America
Anju Bhargava is the founder of Asian Indian Women in America, an organization dedicated to career development, acculturation, health, education and general welfare to aid in the growth of vibrant Asian/ South Asian American communities. She is also a principal director at Global Synergy Associates, an international management consulting firm. Bhargava has worked at and consulted for diverse companies including BB&T Bank, IBM Global Services, Fleet Bank, NatWest USA, Chase Manhattan Bank, Johnson & Johnson family, Healthcare Entities, Bear Stearns Asset Management, Booz Allen, MONY, and US government agencies. She developed the first Indian professional network with Executives in Corporate America. Partnering with Rutgers, she has developed the Women in Leadership program for Indian/Asian/Minority Women. As the U.S. partner, she is working with Forum for Women in Leaders (WILL) in corporate India to develop global leaders through training, mentoring and coaching. She is on the mentoring council of their Executive Coaching Program for Women Executives, which builds leadership skills for high-potential women executives in Indian companies and multinational companies operating in the region.
In addition to her background in banking and consulting, Bhargava is also a community activist and was the only Indian-American to serve in the Community Builder Fellowship, a Clinton White House initiative. She conducted the first comprehensive assessment of immigrant need in New Jersey, which became the foundation for many government and community organizations programs. She is a founding member of NJ Corporate Diversity Network, an initiative formed with Partnership for New Jersey to “maximize effectiveness of diversity initiatives to enhance business results and positively affect our communities and the economy.” She is a co-founder of the Leadership Institute of South Asian American Women (LISAAW), a coalition of South Asian professional women.
Bhargava is a graduate of Stella Maris College, Madras University, India, and Rutgers University (MBA), with training at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, American University, Kellogg Graduate School of Management and Dale Carnegie Institute. She volunteers at St. Barnabas Pastoral Care Department and Livingston, New Jersey’s Interfaith Clergy Association, and she was one of the first Hindu woman priests in New Jersey. She also advocates for Indian women who are victims of domestic abuse and other human rights violations.
Noel Castellanos, CEO, Christian Community Development Association
Rev. Noel Castellanos is the CEO of the Christian Community Development Association, whose mission is to “inspire, train, and connect Christians who seek to bear witness to the Kingdom of God by reclaiming and restoring under-resourced communities.”
Rev. Castellanos has worked in full-time ministry in urban communities since 1982. He has served in youth ministry, church planting, and community development in San Francisco, San Jose, and Chicago. After serving on the Board of the Christian Community Development Association for many years, he established the new CCDA Institute, which works to equip emerging church leaders in the philosophy of Christian community development. Rev. Castellanos founded and was president of the Latino Leadership Foundation, and is the founding pastor of La Villita Community Church in inner-city Chicago. Under his leadership, La Villita Community Church offered adult tutoring, after-school programs for kids, a food pantry, clothing distribution, housing assistance and a health care arrangement to its Hispanic congregants.
Rev. Castellanos is an evangelical Protestant and a member of Red Letter Christians, a network of progressive Christian communicators urging an open, honest and public dialogue on issues of faith and politics. He is on the board of the John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation and Development, whose purpose is to advance the principles of Christian community development and racial reconciliation throughout the world.
He has said that his barrio in Chicago is “amazing” but in need of Shalom, which he defines in four key areas: peace, love, justice, and fiesta.
He is an outspoken advocate on behalf of immigrants and Latino communities who has written that “Like the religious leaders and fear-filled individuals who walked past and around the man who was laying on the side of road in Jesus’ good Samaritan story, too many of us in this country who claim to follow Jesus are doing the exact same thing – by ignoring the plight of our immigrant neighbors.” He has consistently advocated for comprehensive immigration reform, teaching workshops for young activists, speaking at press conferences and providing support for immigrant families. He signed onto an interfaith statement calling for a renewed and just federal Gulf Coast recovery policy to put all Gulf Coast communities, regardless of race, ethnicity or income, on the path to an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable recovery. He has also spoken at Promise Keepers events to give motivational speeches on responsibility.
“$4.2 Million Land Donation Unites Boulder Jews,” Rocky Mountain News (Colorado), 9/9/00
“Promise Keepers come together in Alamadome,” San-Antonio Express News, 8/6/99
“Talent on tap at Planteen center,” Tampa Tribune, 4/13/96
Rev. Peg Chemberlin, President-Elect, National Council of Churches
In November 2009, Peg Chemberlin will become president of the National Council of Churches, an organization of 35 communions with 45 million constituents across the nation. She is currently the executive director of the Minnesota Council of Churches, which she has led for thirteen years. Under her leadership, membership has grown 30 percent, half of which is from historically African-American churches. She is an ordained minister in the Moravian Church in America.
Rev. Chemberlin has advocated for environmental protection, worked to combat poverty and racial discrimination, spoken out against the war in Iraq, and advocated for immigrants and refugee housing. She has said that the Minnesota Council of Churches will continue to work with its member judicatories, and its more than 2000 local congregations, reaching out to the 1.12 million Protestant, Orthodox, and Historic Black Church adherents to seek the common good on immigration reform.
She has also spoken about the economy as a moral issue (and budgets as moral documents) and chastised those who “drew a circle and said, ‘These issues are the moral issues.’” According to Chemberlin, “…there are a lot of other people who consider themselves moral who say, that is just not a broad enough circle. Just from a Christian perspective, Jesus talks about economics a lot more than personal morality; concern for the poor is found throughout his public ministry.”
On the stem cell research, she has said, “I have never fit well in either camp on this political issue. The questions are just too large for me to see an absolute answer. Every question brings on another, an equivocating ‘on the other hand’ perspective…Two things I will say unequivocally if the president rescinds this ban: 1) ethical guidelines need to be established and the larger community needs to be engaged in that conversation, and 2) these embryos cannot become commodities for the selling and the buying.”
After the 1-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, Chemberlin quickly organized an interfaith prayer service and she has an extensive record of ecumenical and interfaith work. When Gov. Pawlenty created a state council to help faith-based social service organizations compete with secular groups for state and federal grants, Chemberlin said, the council has “a ‘positive potential’ to strengthen Minnesota’s long tradition of religious groups working with the state to provide food, shelter, health care and other services to the needy, [but that it must be careful not to establish] a state religion or [promote] one religion [and to] accommodate the religious diversity of the state.” On partnerships between faith-based groups and government, Chemberlin has also said, “The private sector and the public sector need to work together. Churches simply do not have the resources of the federal government and the scale of these issues is beyond us. Government often does not have the grassroots capabilities to be as efficient in communities as local charities do, nor does it have the ability to transform the entire person and lift people up in more than simply material ways.”
Rev. Chemberlin co- hosts a radio program, Considering Faith: Common Ground for the Common Good, which is sponsored by the Minnesota Council of Churches. The program focuses on the moral and political issues of our day and the values and faith basis for those morals. Chemberlin was director of Minnesota FoodShare before becoming executive director at the Minnesota Council of Churches.
Nathan Diament, Head of Washington Office, Orthodox Union
Nathan J. Diament is the Director of the Institute for Public Affairs of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (the nation’s largest orthodox Jewish umbrella organization), where he develops and coordinates public policy research and initiatives on behalf of the Jewish community. He is an honors graduate of Yeshiva University and Harvard Law School and the co-editor of Tikkun Olam: Social Responsibility in Jewish Law and Thought and the author of many essays on issues of public policy from the Orthodox perspective.
He has called for an expansion of investment in education, specifically for a federal education tax credit. Diament has also written about ways President Obama can address religious voters’ concerns around issues from abortion to gay rights to the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. On abortion, Diament says Obama “should make good on his stated commitment to find common ground by proposing new programs relating to health care, education, and other social welfare initiatives designed to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies in the first instance, and provide services to support mothers’ decisions to keep and raise their children, including pre- and post-natal health care, child care support, and job training and other educational services. Obama should also provide greater support for adoption programs. In such a context–with Obama actually working to make abortions rarer–he can support pro-choice policies without alienating pro-life supporters.”
Diament urges the president to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, with a religious exemption. And he calls for the faith-based council, of which he is now a member, to have “real impact on policies affecting religious communities.” He says the government should support and partner with faith-based social welfare organizations while ensuring that the religious liberties and character of these organizations are protected. In Senate testimony, he cautioned that government should not unduly rely on faith-based service providers to shirk government’s responsibility to address social needs, but he has called for a government grants to be ‘faith-blind.’
Diament has expressed religious liberty concerns about gay rights and same-sex unions, worrying that religious institutions could lose their tax-exempt status because of their views on homosexuality. Along with other religious leaders, Diament signed a letter, published in the New York Times, decrying the “violence and intimidation being directed about the LDS church” in the wake of the Proposition 8 decision in California.
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America is opposed to same-sex marriage, has a strong policy of support for Israel, advocates for school vouchers and strong religious liberty and anti-discrimination laws, and a robust role of faith in public life, including federal funding for faith-based social service providers.
Prior to joining the IPA in 1996, Mr. Diament practiced law in New York City with the firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and served as a law clerk to Judge I. Leo Glasser of the United States District Court.
Harry Knox, Director of Religion and Faith Program, Human Rights Campaign
Harry Knox has been Director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith Program since 2005. In that position, Knox has led the creation of a national speakers’ bureau and a weekly preaching resource that provides scriptural commentary to ministers and lay people interested in an ecumenical gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender perspective on the Bible. He has also been instrumental in creating a national network for 22 progressive state clergy coalitions around the country.
Describing his work at HRC, Knox has said, “One of our tasks at the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith Program is to help candidates and elected officials explain, if it’s true for them, that it is in part their own faith that motivates them to work and vote for GLBT civil rights. It’s God’s call to justice and compassion for everyone that moves them to support hate crimes protections. The sacred nature of work and the fact that they see God present in everyone are strong motivators for their support for workplace protections for GLBT people.”
He was an outspoken critic of President Obama’s choice to have Rick Warren to give the introductory prayer at his inauguration.
Knox served previously as executive director of Georgia Equality, which under his leadership obtained domestic partnership benefits for employees at Coca-Cola, BellSouth, Delta Airlines, Atlanta Gas Light and Cingular Wireless, as well as secured passage of the state’s first GLBT-inclusive legislation.
Knox’s prior management and advocacy experience includes having held the position of business manager for patient services and comprehensive school health programs for the American Cancer Society, Georgia Division.
Knox was the recipient of the 2000 Cordle Award for Promotion of God’s Diversity and Lancaster Theological Seminary’s 2005 Robert V. Moss Medal for Excellence in Ministry. Denied ordination because he is gay, Knox has taken his ministry outside the Church, speaking out for those who have been marginalized and forsaken. Knox is a former licensed pastor in the United Methodist Church.
Dalia Mogahed, Senior Analyst and Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies
Dalia Mogahed is a Senior Analyst and Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, a nonpartisan research center dedicated to providing data-driven analysis on the views of Muslim populations around the world. With John L. Esposito, Ph.D., she is coauthor of Who Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think, the result of 50,000 interviews by Gallup in 40 countries with predominantly Muslim populations or significant Muslim minorities.
Mogahed leads the analysis of Gallup’s unprecedented survey of more than one billion Muslims worldwide, including Muslims in the West. She also directs the Muslim-West Facts Initiative, through which Gallup, in collaboration with The Coexist Foundation, is disseminating the findings of the Gallup World Poll to key opinion leaders in the Muslim World and the West. As a researcher, she has helped find the points of commonality between Americans and those in Muslim countries and has been quick to point out the difference between mainstream Muslims and fringe terrorists. She has said not to call these terrorists Islamic because “by handing over that legitimacy to (terrorists), you take it away from the (Muslim) mainstream and offend more than a billion people.” She has also spearheaded extensive research into Muslim attitudes towards the West and has said, “The imposition of Western values alienates both men and women, because it is strongly associated with colonialism, like the British policies of unveiling in Egypt.” She has also advocated for the importance of women in the Muslim faith tradition and for gender equity.
Mogahed is a member of Women in International Security (WIIS), serves on the leadership group of the Project on U.S. Engagement with the Global Muslim Community, and is a member of the Brookings Middle East Crisis Task Force.
Mogahed was born in Cairo and grew up in the United States. Previously, she was Director of Outreach at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh. She earned her master’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in strategy from the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh. She received her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering.
Anthony Picarello, General Counsel, USCCB (official representative of the US Council of Catholic Bishops)
Anthony R. Picarello Jr. is the General Counsel for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Upon his hiring in 2007, USCCB General Secretary Msgr. David J. Malloy called him “a champion of the disadvantaged and of all those whose rights have been infringed upon, especially in the area of religious freedom.”
As general counsel, Picarello recently filed the USCCB’s comment opposing the Obama administration’s proposed rescission of the Bush administration’s last-minute “conscience clause” regulations. Picarello has also raised concerns about the IRS’s involvement in monitoring religious organizations’ activities to ensure that they meet the standards for tax-exemption.
Before coming to the USCCB, Picarello served as Vice President and General Counsel of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. At the Becket Fund, Picarello, among other things, argued for the constitutionality of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, a law that in part protects prisoners’ religious rights and practices. He also argued on behalf of the Prison Fellowship Ministries and their Inner Change Freedom Initiative, a comprehensive faith-based prisoner rehabilitation program. Picarello also argued for religious freedom in Afghanistan, for the rights of students attending parochial schools to access public services (like transportation to the Christian school for a disabled student), and for the right of a Catholic school to fire a teacher who publicly supported abortion rights.
While at the Becket Fund, Picarello said he observed a new trend of preaching against “immoral acts,” including homosexuality, being counted as hate speech or incitement. When asked about the seriousness of coming conflicts over religious liberty stemming from same-sex marriage in 2006, Picarello said, “The impact will be severe and pervasive. This is going to affect every aspect of church-state relations.” Picarello edited and wrote the introduction to a book released in 2008 entitled Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts, which argues that legalization of same-sex marriage threatens the civil liberties of religious Americans who oppose homosexuality.
At the Washington law firm of Covington and Burling from 1996 to 2000, Picarello developed expertise in both environmental and employment law. He participated in an administrative challenge to the Federal Election Commission audit and in a post-conviction appeal of a death sentence in Mississippi. Picarello is a member of the Bar of the U.S. Supreme Court and almost all federal Courts of Appeals.
Picarello graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1991. At Harvard he was President of the Harvard-Radcliffe Catholic Student Association in 1990, and served as a tutor in an inner-city tutoring program. He graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was Essays Editor for the Virginia Law Review, in 1995. Between college and law school, he earned a masters’ degree in Religious Studies from the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Nancy Ratzan, Chair of the Board, National Council of Jewish Women
Nancy Ratzan was elected president of the National Council of Jewish Women in March 2008, after serving as an NCJW vice president for six years. NCJW is a volunteer organization, inspired by Jewish values, that works to improve the quality of life for women, children and families, and works on issues of reproductive choice, religious freedom, violence against women, safety nets for children, and contraceptive access. The organization has also encouraged every eligible voter, especially women voters, to take part in the American electoral process.
Ratzan chaired NCJW’s judicial nominations campaign, BenchMark: NCJW’s Campaign to Save Roe. In 2003, she represented NCJW on an interfaith mission to China to investigate family planning practices. On behalf of NCJW, Ratzan has advocated for access to contraceptive and reproductive services, expanded health care, funding for international family planning, and comprehensive, medically-accurate, age-appropriate sexual education. She has advocated against the Bush administration’s expansion of the “conscience rule.” She was present at the White House for the signing of the order to lift the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, along with fellow Jewish members of the council, David Saperstein and Nathan Diament. She was also present for the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Additionally, she pushed for the creation of an Office of Women to address gender inequities.
In a co-authored op-ed, Ratzan called rising food insecurity for many Americans a moral failure and she has advocated for the expansion of the state children’s health insurance program. She has also joined other religious leaders in calling for an end to American-sponsored practices of torture, a review of U.S. policy on landmines and cluster bombs, safe gun protections in Washington, D.C., and protection for Haitian immigrants to the U.S. Ratzan has also spoken out for the rights of disabled Americans.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Ratzan criticized both McCain’s and Obama’s proposed plans for faith-based initiatives.
In addition to her NCJW experience, Ratzan was the second woman to serve as president of Temple Beth Sholom, a 1,100-family Reform Jewish congregation in Miami Beach. An attorney, Ratzan was a partner in the Miami law firm of Steel, Hector & Davis, where she specialized in appellate, first amendment, and higher education law. She has served on the board of Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPYUSA), a parent involvement, school readiness program that helps parents prepare their three-, four- and five-year-old children for success in school and beyond.
Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins , Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Rev. Watkins is General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada. Elected in 2005, she is the first woman to hold this post. She is one of only two women serving as heads of communion among the major mainline Protestant denominations today. The Disciples of Christ is a 700,000-member denomination.
Rev. Watkins delivered the sermon at the National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral the day after President Obama’s inauguration, the first woman ever chosen to do so. She has spoken out against torture and the war in Iraq and in favor of children’s health insurance and education reform.
The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) allows decisions about gay unions to be left up to individual congregations. It also allows individual churches to take divergent positions on issues such as abortion and the death penalty.
Prior to serving in her current post, Watkins was a pastor of Disciples Christian Church in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, for eight years. She holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Phillips Theological Seminary, a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, and a Bachelor’s Degree in French and Economics from Butler University. She is a member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches based in Geneva, serves on the WCC’s Permanent Committee for Consensus and Collaboration, and is also on the board of Sojourners. She served for two years as a missionary in the Congo, working on adult literacy programs. In 2007, she visited several Middle East countries, focusing specifically on the plight of Iraqi refugees.