- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 5, 2009

President Obama on Thursday will roll out the names of a long-anticipated “faith advisory council” of more than two dozen religious leaders who will advise him on policy issues.

The group, which will be announced at the National Prayer Breakfast, is geared to give ministers more input into policy decisions than previous administrations have allowed them to do.

“We’d like to see the faith community as a resource on policy issues,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners and part of the new group. The new president wants a “robust partnership” with religious people, he added, and the council will be a mainstay of that arrangement.

“This would not just be on religious liberty but on issues that impact us directly,” he added. “Who knows the streets and neighborhoods in our poorest cities than the faith community?”

The official announcement that Joshua DuBois will be Mr. Obama’s new director for the White House faith-based office, renamed the Council for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, is also expected Thursday. He also will oversee the council.

Washington was buzzing Wednesday with the names of possible members, many of whom are heads of groups that worked with the presidential transition team. They included Rabbi David Saperstein, head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism whose office refused to comment on the record about the prospect.

An Orthodox rabbi who heads up a similar agency in the District also told The Washington Times he was on the list but did not want his name mentioned.

A list amassed by the Associated Press includes the Rev. Joel Hunter, a Longwood, Fla., pastor who is friends with the president; African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Vashti McKenzie; the Rev. Frank Page, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention; and Judith Vredenburgh, president and chief executive officer of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America.

Mr. Hunter confirmed he and Mr. Page are on the list.

“I think we will meet as a group two to four times a year,” he said. “Between that time, we will be a sounding board to the president and assist Joshua and encourage him in the exercise of his office. It’s a pretty broad array of religious leaders.”

During a July 2 speech in Zanesville, Ohio, Mr. Obama said a faith-based office would be the “moral center” of his administration.

Former President George W. Bush had a similar theological Kitchen Cabinet.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State put out a statement Wednesday, saying the faith-based office needs to be reformed, not expanded to include a ministers council.

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