New Faith-Based Initiatives Report: 'Serving People in Need, Safeguarding Religious Freedom'

01/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I have long supported effective partnerships between government and faith-based organizations. Unfortunately, during the years of the Bush administration these partnerships were often used for political ends. Two former staff members of the Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives -- John DiIulio's letter in Esquire magazine and David Kuo's book, Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction -- provided ample evidence of that.

During this presidential campaign, Barack Obama strongly supported the principle of such partnerships. In a July speech in Zanesville, OH, he said:

... while these groups are often made up of folks who've come together around a common faith, they're usually working to help people of all faiths or of no faith at all. And they're particularly well-placed to offer help. As I've said many times, I believe that change comes not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up, and few are closer to the people than our churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques.

That's why Washington needs to draw on them. The fact is, the challenges we face today -- from saving our planet to ending poverty -- are simply too big for government to solve alone. We need all hands on deck.

Today, I attended an event at the National Press Club where two expert scholars on this issue, E.J. Dionne of the Brookings Institution and Melissa Rogers of the Wake Forest University Divinity School's Center for Religion and Public Affairs, released a set of recommendations for the new administration -- Serving People in Need, Safeguarding Religious Freedom. It is a thoughtful and balanced look at the issues and questions involved. They write in their introduction:

We would hope that the next administration will see partnerships with faith and community groups as part of a larger effort to lift up the poor, and that this will be a more central purpose of government than it has been in the recent past. ...

We do not pretend here to address or resolve all the questions involved in this discussion, but we do take on many of the difficult issues and suggest solutions. The challenge, as we see it, is to find constitutional ways for government to foster the good work done by religious and other community-based organizations -- and to do this without so dividing Americans across religious and political lines that the work itself is jeopardized. This will not be easy. But good things often aren't, and we believe that in this area especially the effort to find common ground will.

The 15 specific recommendations in the report are thoughtful and offer that effort to find common ground. I urge you to read the report.

Jim Wallis is the author of The Great Awakening, Editor-in-Chief of Sojourners and blogs at