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Last July 1, when he announced that he would continue President Bush’s faith-based office in the White House on bigger and better terms, Barack Obama said:

But what we saw instead was that the Office never fulfilled its
promise. Support for social services to the poor and the needy have
been consistently underfunded. Rather than promoting the cause of all
faith-based organizations, former officials in the Office have
described how it was used to promote partisan interests. As a result,
the smaller congregations and community groups that were supposed to be
empowered ended up getting short-changed.

Well, I still believe it’s a good idea to have a partnership between
the White House and grassroots groups, both faith-based and secular.
But it has to be a real partnership – not a photo-op. That’s what it
will be when I’m President. I’ll establish a new Council for
Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The new name will reflect a
new commitment. This Council will not just be another name on the White
House organization chart – it will be a critical part of my

So, at a time when the poor and needy are more at risk than they’ve been in decades, why does Obama’s new Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (OFANP) seem to be missing in action? Three reasons suggest themselves:

1. Laws governing faith-based social service provision–including on employment–have turned out to be more complicated than the Obama apparat realized.

2. After eight years of George W. Bush, it has gotten harder to bring together those of diverse religious views on a common faith-based agenda.

3. Since the summer, the economic woes of the poor and needy have far outstripped the capacity of even a beefed-up White House faith-based office to deal with.

So President Obama rushed the promised office into place in time for the National Prayer Breakfast; watered down its mission by internationalizing it; installed his religious outreach guy at the top; created three-fifths of an advisory board; and waved the tough questions in the direction of the lawyers. And then got down to the real business of rescuing the economy.