Last fall I wrote to Portland Mayor Sam Adams and then-Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler about ways local government could work in closer partnership with the faith community. Mayor Adams never responded but Chair Wheeler did.
As a minister in the United Church of Christ, I've often felt (and this is a widely shared feeling by many in the faith community) that local government only talks to faith leaders when local government wants something. The viewpoints of religious leaders are not necessarily welcomed by local officials. Mayor Adams, for example, not only ignored my suggestion to forge closer ties between local government and faith communities but also ignored repeated invitations to meet with faith leaders to discuss his economic agenda before and after he first took office. An opportunity was lost.
After Chair Wheeler responded, Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury took the lead in looking for ways local government could become a better partner with faith leaders. Her office has since worked closely with Multnomah County Commissioner Barbara Willer, Wheeler's former chief of staff, to seek out ways we can engage in collaborative work. Both Willer and Kafoury recently attended the Oregon Interfaith Summit on Homeless Children, Youth and Families. Since then Willer has begun conversations with a diverse group of faith leaders to seek out ideas on how government and religious organizations can work together in partnership. A good model for such an enterprise is the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Commissioner Kafoury and Commissioner Willer are to be commended for their efforts. Multnomah County's faith community plays an important role in so many areas - delivery of social services, support for youth and seniors, assistance for victims of crime and mentoring projects for those leaving the criminal justice system, critically needed support for public schools, etc. We ought to be working on these issues together as the faith community continues to prophetically lift up the needs of the least of these in Multnomah County and beyond.
Hopefully, one day the city of Portland will follow Multnomah County's lead.