WASHINGTON-President Obama named 12 new members to his advisory council for the Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Office on Friday evening, including the head of the Episcopal Church, Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, who in 2003 voted to approve the consecration of the church's first homosexual bishop, which was the catalyst for the church's split.
In 2006 Schori became the first female primate (or head) of the Episcopal Church, which is part of the global Anglican Communion, and she is theologically liberal, referring to "Mother Jesus" in her first sermon as the top bishop. She has said her mission is to heal the divisions in the church, but theologically conservative congregations have continued to leave the denomination in droves. Congregations have left because of the ordination of the openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson, Schori's installation as head of the church, and the continuing erosion of core theological commitments like belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The breakaway Anglican churches, about 800 congregations now, have formed the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), opening a global rift in the Anglican Communion, with theologically conservative Anglican archbishops in Africa agreeing to provide oversight for these breakaway churches. The ACNA also is in the midst of all sorts of legal disputes with the Episcopal Church over property ownership. Just last week a breakaway church in Pennsylvania agreed to a settlement that requires it to pay the Episcopal Church for its property and also sever ties with the ACNA, making it an independent church.
While Schori has been among the most divisive figures in American Christendom, the appointment of someone who is not a theologically conservative Christian is typical: The faith-based council has consisted of a range of individuals from different religions and nonprofit groups. The new appointees include Leith Anderson, head of the National Association of Evangelicals; Brian Gallagher, head of United Way; Bishop Mark Hanson, head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Archbishop Demetrios Trakatellis, head of the Greek Orthodox Church of America; and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld. Lynne Hybels, the wife of megachurch pastor Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, will also sit on the council. The president also named Rev. Nancy Wilson, who heads Metropolitan Community Churches, a denomination for the gay community. On the last council Obama appointed a gay activist, Harry Knox of the Human Rights Campaign.
Having named 12 new members, the president said in the announcement that he would add more members at some point. The last council had 25 members, and dissolved in March after issuing its report from almost a year of meetings. The advisory council delivers recommendations to the president on a host of issues, including the running of the faith-based office. Last year Obama signed an executive order based on the recommendations from the council.
Overall, evangelicals were relieved with his order: He declined to restrict hiring practices for religious groups receiving federal funds though Democrats had pressured him to, and he also didn't require religious groups to hide their religion when providing federally funded services. Many Democrats were shocked he kept the George W. Bush-created office open in the first place.