Established in 2006, Faith in Public Life (FPL) is a tax-exempt charity which was originally launched to strengthen the progressive evangelical movement. Its founding mission was to counter what it describes as the modus operandi of President Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign, in which “faith was often deployed in service of a narrow and partisan agenda.”
While 40 religious leaders throughout the United States played some role in FPL’s founding, the principal founders were Jim Wallis of Sojourners; Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Melissa Rogers, director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University; Rev. Dr. Jim A. Forbes, Jr., founder of Healing of the Nations Foundation; Ricken Patel, co-founder and executive director of Avaaz.org, which is a project of Moveon.org and Res Publica; and Sister Catherine Pinkerton, a NETWORK lobbyist who gave the closing benediction at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
FPL’s sister organization is Faithful America, which is also affiliated with Res Publica and True Majority. While FPL has hundreds of affiliates throughout the United States, its primary partners are the Episcopal Public Policy Network, Interfaith Worker Justice, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the National Council of Churches, Sojourners, and Vote the Common Good.
FPL also has a close relationship with John Podesta‘s Center for American Progress (CAP). Two of CAP’s senior fellows, Fred Rotondaro and Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, currently serve on FPL’s board. Another FPL board member, Tom Chabolla, is the assistant to the president at the Service Employees International Union, and he previously served as associate director of programs for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
Other noteworthy groups affiliated with FPL include ACORN, the Center for American Values and Public Life, the Children’s Defense Fund, the Interfaith Alliance, Pax Christi USA, People for the American Way, and People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO).
A number of prominent leaders in the progressive movement serve as speakers and organizers for FPL. Among these are Greg Galluzzo, national director of the Gamaliel Foundation; Kim Bobo, founder of Interfaith Worker Justice; Sister Simone Campbell, national coordinator of NETWORK; and Rabbi Jonah Presner of the Industrial Areas Foundation.
FPL’s major programs include the following:
Strategic Communications and Rapid Response: Closely monitoring the news cycle, FPL assists its partners with such tasks as writing and distributing press releases, crafting op-eds, designing media campaigns, building tailored press lists, pitching and booking spokespeople to broadcast media, and reaching out to online media.
Narrative-setting Campaigns: FPL identifies “moments of opportunity when a targeted event or campaign can effectively broaden or shift the values debate.” For example, in April 2008 the organization sponsored a televised “Compassion Forum” where then-presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton met with a coalition of faith leaders to answer questions about such issues as climate change, torture, poverty, AIDS and human rights. Sixteen months later, when the healthcare debate was in full swing across the United States, FPL worked with more than thirty religious organizations and denominations to sponsor a national call-in event with President Obama.
Capacity-Building Tools: To maximize the power of the Internet, FPL “provides online tools to enhance and amplify the work of faith community activists, and [to] connect journalists and academics to faith community leaders, facts and trends.”
Like hundreds of its affiliated members, FPL is an open-borders advocate. In 2007, along with Kim Bobo and Interfaith Worker Justice, FPL helped to found the New Sanctuary Movement (NSM), which provides sanctuary for illegal immigrants facing deportation and seeks to create sympathy for radical immigration reform.
In the 2008 election season, one of FPL’s top priorities was to reverse the widespread perception that evangelicals constituted a monoithic conservative voting bloc. As FPL’s Faithful America petition stated, “The presidential primary exit polls, sponsored by ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox and the AP, must stop stereotyping people of faith.” In February 2008, FPL partnered with the Center for American Progress Action Fund to commission a poll in two “Super Tuesday” states, Missouri and Tennessee, which found that evangelicals were an important part of the Democratic base. The poll results allowed Jim Wallis to declare that “evangelicals are leaving the Religious Right in droves.”
FPL also poured its organizing efforts and financial resources into portraying Democratic politicians as advocates of religious faith. On April 13, 2008, FPL – along with the ONE Campaign, Oxfam America, and Messiah College – organized the Democratic Candidates Compassion Forum in which CNN anchor Campbell Brown and Newsweek editor Jon Meacham hosted an evening with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and a number of faith leaders. During that FPL forum, Jim Wallis took the opportunity to address then-Senator Obama and successfully solicit his “new commitment” to “economic justice.” “As you reminded us a week or two ago,” said, Wallis, “when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed 40 years ago, he wasn’t just speaking about civil rights. He was fighting for economic justice.”
In 2009, FPL took a leading role in advocating for President Obama’s health-care reform initiative. Lamenting that town-hall meetings — where many citizens were expressing their opposition to reform — had “degenerated into armed shouting matches,” FPL staged a counter-effort in the summer, entitled “40 Days for Health Reform.” Working through its affiliate groups – Sojourners, PICO, and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good – FPL produced and aired cable television ads and hosted a webcast call-in program with President Obama and faith leaders, in an effort to “reframe the debate” regarding healthcare. FPL also generated 20,000 (pro-healthcare reform) phone calls to Congress, as well as 100 visits to Congressional offices, in a single day.
To advocate against the use of enhanced interrogation procedures on suspected terrorists, FPL applied pressure on the Obama administration through lobbying groups like the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. According to the Washington Post, these efforts had a direct effect on White House policy in 2009 and early 2010: “[P]rogressive faith campaigns had an influence on everything from Obama’s signing of executive orders reducing torture, to his cautious wording about public funding for abortions in his health care proposals.”
FPL’s contempt for the Tea Party movement of 2009 and 2010 mirrored its disdain for the town-hall meetings concerning health care reform. In May 2010, Wallis criticized the Tea Party Movement and derided the values upon which the movement was based: “The Libertarian enshrinement of individual choice is not the pre-eminent Christian virtue. Emphasizing individual rights at the expense of others violates the common good, a central Christian teaching and tradition.”