The White House has named a former staff member with the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations to chair the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The Rev. Jennifer Butler, who served the Presbyterian Ministry at the UN from 1998 to 2005, began her official duties with the council last week.

“The president has asked us to advise him on addressing poverty in America and ensure that we are creating opportunities for everyone to succeed in this country,” she said. “We are going to be asked to make recommendations based on our own experiences in addressing poverty.”

Butler is the founding CEO of Faith in Public Life, a strategy center working to advance faith in the public square as a powerful force for justice and compassion. In addition to serving with the Presbyterian Ministry at the UN, she has mobilized religious communities to address the AIDS pandemic, has been an advocate for women’s rights, and was a media strategist for the “Nuns on the Bus” campaign led by Sister Simone Campbell. 

Butler credits her time with the Presbyterian Ministry at the UN with helping prepare her for this new role.

“We were trying to address the global AIDS pandemic and knew there was a real hunger for religious voices to step forward and end the stigma that made AIDS spread so quickly,” she said. “The faith community was moved to a central role, and the more we could apply our great Presbyterian tools of biblical criticism and analysis, the better able we were to address the cultural problems and roots of the pandemic.”

Butler says the council has a daunting task ahead, but she’s confident members will be able to make solid recommendations.

“There is already a ton of progress being made. One of the key issues in addressing inequality is fixing our broken criminal justice reform system,” she said. “Already in the past several months, bipartisan legislation has begun to move forward, so there is consensus that we need to fix the system.”

The council also includes Dr. Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at Catholic University of America; Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs; the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World; and 14 other prominent faith leaders.

Butler invites Presbyterians to get involved with the council work at the grassroots level by reaching out to the various ministries and agencies within the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

“We used the ministry at the UN as a platform for grassroots voices to really bring the spotlight on international policy,” said Butler. “I would love to do that with the council through the local churches that are on the front lines of these issues, getting their hands dirty while addressing the needs of low-income communities.  I would love to hear from members through the channels of the church, whether through the ministry at the UN, Peacemaking, and Office of Public Witness, or any program addressing these issues.”

With just over one year left in the administration’s term, the council has little time to waste getting started.

“We have to move fast, so the sooner we make recommendations, the faster they can be implemented and in place,” said Butler. “We will meet a lot in the next several weeks and hope to begin making several recommendations this winter.”