President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Sunday (Feb. 14) reestablishing the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, undoing former President Donald Trump’s efforts to reshape an agency that went largely unstaffed for most of his tenure.
In a statement accompanying the announcement of the executive order, Biden echoed his recent remarks to the National Prayer Breakfast, bemoaning widespread physical and economic suffering due to the coronavirus pandemic, racism and climate change. He added that those struggling “are fellow Americans” and are deserving of aid.
“This is not a nation that can, or will, simply stand by and watch the suffering around us. That is not who we are. That is not what faith calls us to be,” he said. “That is why I’m reestablishing the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships to work with leaders of different faiths and backgrounds who are the frontlines of their communities in crisis and who can help us heal, unite, and rebuild.”
He added: “We still have many difficult nights to endure. But we will get through them together and with faith guiding us through the darkness and into the light.”
The White House announced the appointment of Melissa Rogers, a First Amendment lawyer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution to oversee the office, as Rogers did in former President Barack Obama’s second term. Rogers will also serve as senior director for faith and public policy in the White House Domestic Policy Council.
The office’s deputy director will be Josh Dickson, who ran faith outreach for the Biden-Harris campaign. Trey Baker, who worked as the National Director of African American Engagement on Biden’s campaign, will serve as the White House office’s liaison to Black communities, a role that includes Black religious groups.
Besides fighting the pandemic and racism and assisting with economic recovery, the office will focus its efforts on helping disadvantaged communities, advancing global humanitarian work, strengthening pluralism and protecting “cherished guarantees of church-state separation and freedom for people of all faiths and none.”
From the White House statement:
Twenty years ago, President George W. Bush established the first White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. As President Bush said, government cannot be replaced by the efforts of religious and other community organizations, but government “can and should welcome [such organizations] as partners.” In 2009, the Obama-Biden administration continued this initiative, while also putting its own stamp on its name, practices, and policies. For example, this office helped prevent foreclosure amidst the housing crisis by sharing information with more than 50,000 faith-based and community stakeholders on mortgage refinancing and scam prevention; increase the number of summer meals served to kids for a total of more than 1.2 billion summer meals served; assist communities in responding to and recovering from disasters; and train diverse faith leaders on protecting their houses of worship.
At a time of great challenge and opportunity, the Biden-Harris administration is re-launching this bipartisan initiative. The Partnerships Office’s initial work will include collaborating with civil society to: address the COVID-19 pandemic and boost economic recovery; combat systemic racism; increase opportunity and mobility for historically disadvantaged communities; and strengthen pluralism. The office will also support agency partnerships that advance the United States Government’s diplomatic, international development, and humanitarian work around the world. All of this work will be done in ways that respect cherished constitutional guarantees.
And there’s this:
The announcement that the office would be reestablished comes nearly a month after 50 faith organizations signed an open letter urging Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to reestablish the office.
“A fully functioning faith-based office (whatever the name) with appropriate funding is critically important to facilitate fruitful partnerships with faith and civil society organizations, and to ensure that members of your Administration have substantial and timely communication with the faith community,” they wrote.
Among the Catholic organizations that signed the open letter were the Catholic Labor Network, Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, Franciscan Action Network, Jubilee USA Network, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Network, Lobby for Catholic Social Justice and Pax Christi USA.