Still no sign of leader for White House faith partnership office

Marine One arrives on the South Lawn of the White House in 2009. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/DOD/C.M. Fitzpatrick

WASHINGTON (RNS) Since winning the election with strong support from conservative evangelical voters, President Trump has invited their leaders to the White House and banned government funding for groups that support or perform abortions overseas.

But he has yet to move on one item that many of them care about.

No one has been named to direct the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which since 2001 has linked government with a broad range of religious groups.

A link to the office’s webpage reads “Thank you for your interest in this subject. Stay tuned as we continue to update”

“I don’t know what the Trump administration’s plans are in this area,” said Melissa Rogers, who directed the office under the Obama administration from 2013 until Inauguration Day 2017.

The office has enjoyed the support not only of conservatives, but also many religious progressives like Rogers who believe faith-based charities are well-positioned to help the needy, and some get government contracts to do so with taxpayer funds.

Critics of the office are baffled by the delay in naming a director.

“It does seem odd that this position would still be unfilled, given Trump’s constant playing to the conservative evangelical base,” said Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Indeed, the ties between the administration and religious conservatives are close.

Evangelical leaders have visited the White House “on multiple occasions” and administration members have been “in near constant communication” with those advisers who aided him during his campaign, said Johnnie Moore, who served as a member of the Trump campaign’s evangelical advisory board.

“The administration hasn’t just spoken about giving a seat at the table to the faith community, they have — and are — actually doing it,” he said, adding that Trump staffers have held “multiple meetings with a diverse group of Christian and Jewish leaders especially as it relates to the Supreme Court.”

Evangelicals, in particular, are feeling welcome, he said.

“Some of us have actually been in meetings at the White House and State Department that began or ended in prayer,” he said. “Many evangelicals feel like the administration has an open-door policy.”

Creative Commons image by House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats

Rabbi David Saperstein, former ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

Just as Rogers’ former position remains empty, the post of the ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom has yet to be filled at the State Department. But Rabbi David Saperstein, who held that position at the end of the Obama administration, believes there will be a successor.

“This cause and office has such strong and bipartisan wall-to-wall support throughout both the Republican and Democratic components of the Congress,” said Saperstein, who returns to the Union for Reform Judaism as a senior staffer on Saturday (April 1). “In the meantime, there remains a very strong, dedicated, effective staff that continues their work every day on behalf of strengthening religious freedom across the globe.”

The Obama administration took more than a year to name Saperstein after his predecessor, the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook, resigned. But President Obama announced the Rev. Joshua DuBois as his first director of the faith-based office within weeks of his 2009 inauguration.

Rogers, who was DuBois’ successor, hopes the office she led as well as the faith-based offices at 13 federal agencies will continue work on efforts that have ranged from feeding nutritious summertime meals to children to fighting the Zika and Ebola viruses.

“The offices and the broader administration must demonstrate a steadfast commitment to welcoming all faith groups and treating them equally, respecting the independence of religious communities and promoting the common good, not theology,” said Rogers, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“I think we accomplished a great deal through these offices but they won’t succeed if they don’t have that kind of strong foundation.”

Stanley Carlson-Thies, a staffer for the George W. Bush administration’s faith-based initiative, said offices of at least some federal agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services, are continuing their work.

Rev. Jamie Johnson, Director of DHS Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnership. Photo courtesy of DHS

“The HHS Center, for example, remains a point of contact for faith-based organizations with questions and suggestions about grant programs from that department,” said Carlson-Thies, senior director of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance.

Earlier in March, Trump appointed the Rev. Jamie Johnson as director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Johnson, a broadcaster and Trump campaign worker, was vice president of the nonprofit World-Wide Missions for 11 years.

(Lauren Markoe contributed to this report)

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.


Click here to post a comment

  • The headline says “Still no sign of leader for White House faith partnership office”, but the last three words were completely unnecessary.

  • The Religious Right and Trump don’t care one bit about charity. They only care about religion as a way of control and forcing their ideologies on others. Supporting charities would require them to have a heart, neither of which do.

  • If a faith-based organization discriminates in hiring or providing services (anti-LGBTQ for example), or requires recipients to be of a certain faith or attend religious services, said organization should be barred from receiving any government funding.

    Same for hospitals run by religious organizations. If medical services offered are restricted based on dogma, they should not be approved for Medicare, Medicaid, or VA patients.

  • as opposed to all those drug-dealing rapist Corinthians they’re always sending us.

  • I agree with you about government funding. In fact, I would extend that withholding of public funds to cover all organizations, faith-based or not, which discriminate when hiring from the public (i.e., outside their congregations, cooperatives, or memberships) or when serving the public. As for organizations which exclusively hire from within their memberships and exclusively serve their memberships, I would deny them any exemption or protection from penalties and lawsuits resulting from discriminatory dealings, communications, or other interactions with the public. In other words, whenever organizations interact with the public, the public’s rules should apply.

    However, as a result of short-sighted (or worse) public planning policies, many communities across the country have no public or secular private hospitals, and are entirely dependent upon medical centers run by religious organizations. Until this oversight is corrected, I think those hospitals, including their entire medical- and non-medical staffs, should be required by law to serve those communities without discriminating and without restricting medical services; they can thereby retain medical- and business licenses as well as approval for Medicare, Medicaid, and VA patients. As far as I’m concerned, if those medical centers want to discriminate while serving the public — and if such discrimination is to be allowed at all, let alone for local monopolies — then they should pay full price for that “privilege”, by financially and politically supporting the creation and retention of public or secular private hospitals in their communities.

  • I’m surprised there hasn’t been more carping here about the putative separation of church and state so beloved of the anti-theists with respect to the fact that there are faith based offices staffed at 13 federal agencies. Actually, I’ve come to accept that fact that the Church is better off without linkage to the State, though I am not sure the same could be said of the State.

  • Why would you include an evil economic system with actual religions?
    Just sayin,

  • And your source of proof for their lacking a heart is what? And what is your source for proclaiming that President Trump et al don’t care about charity? You need to look at reliable information which compares Republican and democrat charitable giving and then apologize to the readers of this website.

    Just sayin,

  • “And your source of proof for their lacking a heart is what?”

    -Attacks on WIC, SNAP and VA benefits by Republicans.
    -Attacks on clean air and clean water regulations.
    -The last attempt to increase tax burdens on working people while reducing them for the wealthy
    -The last attempt to take away healthcare coverage for about 10% of Americans
    -Trump’s charitable foundation was used to pay off personal debts
    -Constant appeals to racism and other forms of bigotry by Trump and supporters

    I can go on. 🙂

    Republicans are big on giving to charity while at the same time attacking one’s means of basic survival. All the big noise conservative christians make about charity is a pile of crap. Donations to a church are not really charitable donations. Most money does not even go to the needs of the poor. Besides Republican policies are the ones reducing people to the need to rely on charity.

  • Yes, I’m sure you can go on and on and on ad infinitum. Yet none of what you say has any variation of the truth to it — all your comments are based on hearsay and innuendo– nothing verifiable. They are your thoughts on what you want to hear and/or think you heard.
    Besides, giving to Christian churches is done for the (most part) purpose of spreading the Gospel of mankind’s salvation through Jesus Christ — period.

    Just sayin,

  • I am just saying you are full of crap.

    most of what I am taking what I say directly based on what Congress has in front of them at the moment. The Trump Foundation thing was reported extensively a few months ago. Everything I listed is not only very easily verifiable, it has been/is being widely discussed through various news sources. Real journalistic sources, not partisan wingnut websites.

    “Besides, giving to Christian churches is done for the (most part)
    purpose of spreading the Gospel of mankind’s salvation through Jesus Christ”

    Thank you for the admission it is not a charitable donation. It is for self-serving sectarian advancement purposes.

    When you made the claim, “You need to look at reliable information which compares Republican and democrat charitable giving”, you were obviously also referring to donations to churches. They are the largest part charitable giving by conservatives. But by your own admissions, it does not really have a charitable purpose.

  • To be honest, there really is no legitimate purpose for the agency to exist. If it withers due to lack of interest, it really doesn’t bother me very much.

    But it seems ironic for a president so beholden to reactionary religious politics to let a faith based agency die in such a way. Then again reactionary religious politics and charity are practically antagonistic ideas these days.

  • TBC, I think you have confused giving to religious entities (churches, synagogues. mosques. et. al.) with other types of charitable giving (hunger, shelter, clothing, etc.).

    Just sayin,

  • What I said in my top post (of this string) was talking about charitable giving – period. It was another “poster” who brought religion into the discussion. I stick by my original statement.

    Just sayin,

  • To all and sundry: Many churches, and specifically parachurch organizations, are supremely generous in giving to the poor and needy to meet practical ends, including housing, job training programs, food banks, clothing banks, drug and alcohol programs, and assorted other ministries aimed to meet the needs of the less fortunate…oh and by the way, they also share the gospel as a function of those efforts. Anyone who claims that they can find no evidence of this hasn’t been looking very hard.

  • I’m talking about law-abiding, US citizens of the Muslim faith – who the hell are talking about?

    Charity is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. They need to be included for fairness.

  • Numbers, stats, data, please. How many people do those churches help, with what, for how long & how much do they cost? Then we can do a comparative with what state & federal safety nets provide to people outside of the church, the neighborhood, different religions & skin colors. I’ll wait.

  • Your whole comment is based on hearsay & innuendo. Example: ” giving to Christian churches is done for the (most part) purpose of spreading the Gospel of mankind’s salvation through Jesus Christ”
    If there isn’t data for it, it IS hearsay and innuendo.

  • What is the main (in many cases, the only) purpose of Christian Churches? To spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The data is contained in the mission statements of (almost) all Christian Churches. That is the purpose of giving to these churches. If I’m mis-interpreting your comment, I apologize.

    Just sayin,

  • “Some of us have actually been in meetings at the White House and State Department that began or ended in prayer,” he said. “Many evangelicals feel like the administration has an open-door policy.”

    This office was created by President George W. Bush for the purpose of supporting poverty and substance abuse rehabilitation programs–in other words, “what can the government do to SUPPORT the good work that churches and charity non-profits are undertaking in their efforts to alleviate the social pathologies in partnership with the government’s secular efforts.”

    Obama took this office in a totally different direction. He had filled the position with a black liberal Democrat (redundancy?!) who he felt could help organize church and community support for his election. Any intelligent person would conclude that Obama’s objectives were focused on exploiting this great platform that his predecessor built, to get him elected president!

    This would be the right time for President Trump to abolish the Office of Faith-Based and
    Community Partnership. Doing so would remind evangelical pastors and their followers that their main job is preaching the Gospel of the transforming power of Jesus Christ! It would make a tremendous statement about the president’s support for the separation of church and state, while honoring the place of spirituality and religious principles in conducting the government’s business for the people. The preident who spoke inartfully of “2-Corinthians” during his presidential campaign, shows support for the spiritual element and religious principles in a way that leaves open the door to the influence of spirituality and religious principles in his conduct of the people’s business. The ACT of “beginning and ending meetings at the White House with prayer, certainly beats all the pretty, exploitive lip service to religion by his predecessor!

  • It took awhile to figure out where your quote originated — the last in the list in the column from the URL you posted (I thank you for that). Now, that said, Joel Osteen and his ilk are really in this church business more for the profit of their own purses than for the saving of souls. I have never considered them as Christian (because they preach what people want to hear rather than what they need to hear). To that end, I did not consider them in my previous comment and ask you to reconsider my previous statement in that light. AND remember, my original statement was about charitable giving, not necessarily church offerings only.

    Just sayin,

  • And the other four “pillars” are what: take his head, take his head, take his head, enslave Him? When push comes to shove, where does the “law abiding muslim” put his allegiance? I think the other four is more descriptive of a religion of the sword.

    Just sayin,

  • Naturally, to compile a comprehensive list or data base would take more effort than I’m prepared to extend in an internet forum. I am not a statistician. However, I’ve tracked a number of ministries for years as a function of determining where my own alms should be distributed. Meanwhile there are a number of worthwhile agencies that do track such numbers. Among the most well known is the ECFA, which stands for the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability. There are other tracking agencies and a simple Google search will procure them.

  • There is nothing to support your theory about the Obama Administration’s use for the office. After all one expects a president to fill a position with people from their party and political alignment. You aren’t going to complain about the number of Republican Conservatives in the cabinet under the same pretenses? Of course not. But Obama did make efforts to keep that office from being associated with sectarian based discrimination. If anything he didn’t do enough to combat such things by religious groups working with the government.

    “This would be the right time for President Trump to abolish the Office of Faith-Based and
    Partnership. Doing so would remind evangelical pastors and their
    followers that their main job is preaching the Gospel of the
    transforming power of Jesus Christ! It would make a tremendous statement
    about the president’s support for the separation of church and state,
    while honoring the place of spirituality and religious principles in
    conducting the government’s business for the people.”

    Agree with you on the actions. There is little legitimate purpose for the office anyway and it comes too close to violating separation of church and state in most things.

  • Spuddle, this was no THEORY about Obama’s use for the office! It was a FACT that’s very hard to dispute! With my “own lyin’ eyes” I saw a middle-aged black female pentecostal preacher stand at candadate Obama’s side most all the campaign stops that were televised. This underscored both his appeal to both women and black voters, and also to the communities of faith. She–no doubt, was his “warm-up act,” any time he was speaking to a religious audience!

    Additionally, it’s no accident that he chose someone who’s the leader of an evangelical denomination. Presumably most all the mainstream Protestant church leaders were already supporters of the Democrat candidate. Selecting such a church leader from from one of the most die-hard denominations like a Pentecostal church, leaves one little doubt this was a cleverly-designed move by this candidate to make inroads into what has always been a traditional Republican constituency!

    Thanks for concurring on the action I’ve suggested!

  • In the spirit of Passover next week I must ask, “In what ways was this appointment different from all other political appointments….by a new president from a different party. “

  • Just post the links, I didn’t ask for your own statistical research. here’s how it works on online discussions: When you make a claim presented as fact & then challenged, it is up to you to provide your basis. Like when challenging someone on a word in Scrabble, it is up to the challengee to prove the word, not the challenger.
    See how that works? But it will check the ECFA because that’s the kind of debater I am.

  • Unfortunately, my computing skills do not rise to the level of posting links, as pathetic as that may sound. But do not attempt to tutor me as to how “it works” in online discussions, I’ve seen and experienced any manner of methodologies that do not meet your preferred criteria. I’m under no obligation to “prove” anything, I have a point of view based on my own researches from a wide variety of sources, the onus is equally upon you, if you are curious, to find the answers on your own.

  • When you put forth your opinion as fact & then challenged on it, the onus is on you to cite your sources. If you can’t copy & paste, you haven’t done research on anything beyond what the Kardashian’s are doing. Ugh. I just wasted 2 minutes of my life on you.

  • My, what a costly effort for you. In fact there are a number of reasonably available resources to verify my claims, it is a function of your unwillingness to do a modicum of research on your own to verify my argument that is lacking. You do not set the rules. Still, I have spent several years contributing to and verifying to my own satisfaction the efforts within the Christian community to provide the resources and benefits that I have averred. In fact, even among the Church’s harshest critics there is typically a willingness to acknowledge such efforts however marginally they may be viewed by such critics. Additionally, one must live a very insular life, dominated by a dependence on electronic media, if one has not received notice of the activities of church and parachurch ministries both here and abroad. I receive testimonies monthly on a regular basis from the beneficiaries of such efforts. World Vision, Mercy Ships, Far Corners Missions, Compassion International, Union Gospel Mission, Portland Rescue Mission, Frontier Missions, Food for the Poor, the Christian Appalachian Project, Prison Fellowship, etc. all provide not only the written Gospel to the spiritually and materially bereft, but all the material ministerial services I cited earlier: Food, clothing, beds, medical services, drug and alcohol services, and housing. Only the most ill informed and lazy could fail to verify this. Google the ministries listed above or the ECFA, or other tracking organizations to verify it. There, I have invested, not wasted, 3 minutes on you.

  • Yeah, the ECFA is much like drumpf, it only does a perfunctory check on an organizations submitted taxes & allows them to use their name as “As approved by.” For their $3 MM income for 2014, they don’t seem to be doing to much “outreach.”
    Personally, I don’t care about churches, synagogues or mosques. They should all pay at least land taxes. Do whatever you want, but don’t tell others what to do. IOW, MYOB.

  • The point of the article and my original comment related to the charitable works of the church and parachurch organizations. You have obviously not done enough research. Plus you have drifted from the point, typical of those who cannot sustain their argument with facts. And as you are obviously outside the church, you might heed your own final advice.

  • Facts as related to the measurable, quantifiable acts of the faith community relative to the good works and charitable measures they employ on behalf of others.