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Adventist, other faith representatives share ideas to bolster relationship between religious groups, government

Recommendations headed for 'serious consideration,' White House spokesperson says

Washington, D.C., United States | Elizabeth Lechleitner/ANN

A Seventh-day Adventist Church representative joined other faith leaders at the White House this week to share ideas on inter-religious cooperation with a government office launched last year to give community organizations -- including faith groups -- a voice in policy decisions.

Faith groups can be "credible and reliable partners" in helping governments achieve goals within the sphere of appropriate church-state relations, the Task Force on Inter-Religious Cooperation's report to the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships stated.

A year after the Council's launch, United States President Barack Obama welcomed the "time, talent and wisdom" task force members demonstrated in their recommendations, a March 10 White House press release stated. The release commended the "respect and civility" of task force members as they worked through "some of the toughest issues we face as a nation."

A White House spokesperson later stated that the council's findings "will be given serious consideration across government."

The task force's recommendations fell under three broad categories: the role of religion in global affairs, advancing multireligious cooperation, engaging Muslim communities and integrating and valuing America's religious diversity. Each recommendation hinges on the idea that faith groups can partner with each other and the government to achieve common objectives without muddying their distinct characteristics.

"The intersection of faith and government is complex and fraught with pitfalls, but ignoring [them] doesn't make them go away," said James D. Standish, a task force member who also directs United Nations relations for the Adventist world church's department of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty.

"Our goal was to provide thoughtful guidance to the president on ... means he may want to employ to improve the way the government relates to faith," said Standish, who wrote the religious liberty section of the report.

Standish lent the task force an expert grasp on "the role that church-state separation and religious freedom play in keeping faith independent and vital," said Melissa Rogers, council chair and director for Religion and Public Affairs at the Wake Forest University Divinity School.

The Task Force on Inter-Religious Cooperation is one of six task forces that reported to the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships this week on issues ranging from economic recovery to climate change.

"I think this task force really brought people together and broke down differences. We may not always have agreed with each other, but we certainly came to a better understanding of our differences," said Councilmember Anju Bhargava, president of the Asian Indian Women in America and founder of Hindu American Seva Charities.

Carrying that message of solidarity in purpose despite diversity to the local level poses a formidable challenge, she said. However, Bhargava said she's encouraged by what she sees as the Obama Administration's commitment to "consider very closely" the task force's recommendations. Even if finances and resources slow their implementation, "each one of us can become an ambassador of the change we want to see in our communities," she said.

Some of the recommendations made by the Task Force on Inter-Religious Cooperation include:

• Partner with faith communities and other organizations that work across faith lines to expand respect for religious pluralism and freedom of religion or belief

• Increase partnerships with interreligious councils and women of faith networks to advance peace building and development

• Utilize the expertise of faith- and community-based organizations to train education and media professionals on Islam and Muslim communities

• Help build social cohesion by supporting efforts to ensure that Americans have opportunities to understand America's increasingly diverse religious society

Click here to access the council's full report, including all recommendations.