WASHINGTON (CNS) – Even though its report was issued only in late October, the chair of a presidentially convened panel on faith-based initiatives said that a third of its recommendations have already been implemented.
Although it is not solely the White House that is responsible for considering and implementing the recommendations, “the White House already did a lot of it. It sort of put its clout behind the recommendations,” said the Rev. Jennifer Butler, a Presbyterian minister who chaired the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
The 72-page report, “Strengthening Efforts to Increase Opportunity and End Poverty,” was released Oct. 27. It contained more than two dozen recommendations to address race, justice and poverty; to increase economic opportunity; and to strengthen government approaches and programs for addressing poverty and inequality.
One instance where the panel and the White House were on the same page, according to Rev. Butler, was on policing. “President (Barack) Obama had appointed a task force on 21st-century policing. Those recommendations were brought to our attention,” she said. “We added some suggestions for them to look at. We’ve all been working at the local level to implement those.”
Recommendations on community policing and data collection guidelines are being implemented, as are those on providing training on “implicit bias,” she said, “looking at how race colors our implementation of government policies.”
Also being implemented are recommendations on clemency issues and “pardoning those who had a sentence that was disproportionate to the crime committed,” Rev. Butler said, adding, “Obama has issued more clemencies than any other president in history.”
Some recommendations require more time and effort to implement.
“One of the things I’m really proud of in the report we recommended to implement the (United Nations Development Program’s) Sustainable Development Goals in America and eliminate extreme poverty in America by 2030,” Rev. Butler said. “That’s entirely doable in America. We know what works. Can this administration set achievable goals, and is there political will to do it?”
Other goals revolve around “transforming government,” she added. “It really calls us to have a holistic view of government: How can they partner with local communities, less as delivering services but building communities, and having a holistic approach to problems? I think that’s eminently doable, but it requires a shift in mindset — thinking about the role government plays and can play.”
A Donald Trump presidency does not necessarily consign the report and its recommendations to the dustbin of history, Rev. Butler told Catholic News Service in a Nov. 10 telephone interview. “We want to work with the future administration on the recommendations that we made. We’ll make a good-faith effort to do that,” she said.
The panel’s sole Catholic member was Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, Washington, and an associate professor of politics there.
The advisory council first met last November, then quickly divided into three working groups which met weekly to focus on specific areas. The full panel met quarterly to be updated on the working groups’ progress. Its mandate concluded in November.
“We probably had the shortest term of service” because of the approaching end of the Obama presidency, Rev. Butler said. Two previous reports from similar faith-based panels had been compiled earlier for the Obama White House, “to their credit, they wanted to squeeze in one more because the time of the administration was drawing to a close,” she added.
“I really admired the way the administration has embraced diverse religious communities,” Rev. Butler told CNS. “We will continue to work together,” she said. “I think the great thing about these presidential councils is that have built great relationships between churches and community groups. There are a number of ways we can implement these recommendations.”
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