In this interview that we found at the Federal Way Mirror, reporter Andy Hobbs asked Rich Stearns about his work for the President.
Mirror: How do you see your role on the advisory council, and how do you see World Vision's role changing or growing?
Rich Stearns: A lot of this remains to be seen. What President Obama has said is that he wants this council, which is very diverse, to dig into four issues. Those four issues are making abortions less frequent in America; number two is assisting in the economic recovery — how can faith-based and neighborhood organizations assist in the economic recovery because in a time like this, more people are homeless, the food banks need more food, the soup kitchens need to serve more meals. Even things like drug addiction programs become more important as people are driven into economic dire straits.
Number three is responsible fatherhood, which includes things like how do we reduce teenage pregnancies and how do we strengthen families, especially for the poor. President Obama's got a particular penchant for that, I think because he sees the problem with intact families and fathers in the African American community in particular.
The fourth is a kind of a broad international religious cooperation and understanding.
What do you mean?
To say it a different way, how can faith-based organizations better promote international religious harmony? There's one task force of the council that will be focused on interfaith religious dialogue. There's another task force that will be focused on international development in the world of faith-based organizations in what we do, relief and development.
How will Obama's approach to faith-based partnerships and initiatives compare to George W. Bush's along those lines? Do you see any differences or similarities?
I think in some ways it's continuing. When President Bush announced his faith-based initiative, one of his goals was to — he called it leveling the playing field, so that faith-based organizations could compete for government grants on a level playing field with non-faith-based organizations. In many places in government, faith-based organizations were either not welcome, or the red tape was such that it was really too difficult for faith-based organizations to get their act together to apply for grants because they required quite a bit of administrative red tape — difficult for small organizations in particular to fill out all the forms and comply with all the reporting requirements.
Initially it was to look at every department of the government and say: Are you friendly to faith-based organizations, and do they have a legitimate opportunity to partner with the government and receive government grants?
So I think President Obama wants to continue that part of it. When we met with him in the Oval Office, he said something like this: I was a community organizer in Chicago in the neighborhoods, and he said, I saw the effectiveness of local and faith-based organizations. And he said, you were the folks who always took care of folks who fell through the cracks. And he said, you didn't care whether they were Muslim, Christian, Atheist, Jewish — if they needed help, you were there to help them. And he said that's what makes America strong, the vitality of our faith communities, the vitality of our neighborhood organizations. He said, I want to support that, I want to help that, I don't want to hinder it. Because it's kind of the safety net below the safety net.
So I think he's sincere about how we help faith-based organizations be more successful in the delivery of social services. How can the government facilitate that? It's not always monetary. There are probably other ways the government could facilitate partnerships. It might be something like allowing access to some of the public schools or the prisons. There are things for the government to facilitate partnerships that don't involve money, maybe just lowering barriers and giving access to faith-based and neighborhood organizations.