WASHINGTON — Melissa Rogers, a Baptist church-state expert on the faculty of Wake Forest University School of Divinity, has been named director of the White House’s Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Rogers, director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at the divinity school, will succeed Joshua DuBois, who resigned last month as director of the organization which forms partnerships between government and non-profit organizations to more effectively serve Americans in need.
“I’m honored to be able to serve President Obama by forging and promoting a wide range of effective partnerships with faith-based and secular nonprofits that help people in need,” said Rogers in a statement released by the White House.
A nonresident senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, Rogers teaches courses on church-state relations and Christianity and public policy in the divinity school. Previously she served as executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and as general counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.
In 2009, President Obama appointed Rogers chair of the Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships’ first advisory council. Two years ago she was named to a subgroup of the State Department’s religion and foreign policy working group.
Rogers has co-authored a case book on religion and law for Baylor University Press, Religious Freedom and the Supreme Court. She also helped develop “Religious Expression in American Public Life: a Joint Statement of Current Law,” which addresses a range of issues, including whether religious groups can participate in the debate of public policy issues and what restrictions the Internal Revenue Code places on political activities of tax-exempt organizations such as churches.
Rogers graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Baylor University and earned her law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
“I am so happy for Melissa, and proud of her, too,” said Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee. “Her leadership in the church-state field — as the BJC’s general counsel and as chair of the task force charged with reforming the office — has made her the perfect choice to fill this important position in the Obama administration.
“Melissa possesses a keen understanding of the First Amendment’s religion clauses and is sensitive to practical issues of their application,” Walker said.
BJC general counsel K. Hollyn Hollman, who succeeded Rogers, said she looks forward to Rogers’ leadership in the White House office.
“Since the opening of the faith-based office, the Baptist Joint Committee’s focus has been safeguarding the standards that make private-public partnerships successful and consistent with constitutional standards that protect the religious liberty of individuals and social service providers,” Hollman said. “As a proven leader and expert on church-state law, Melissa is the most knowledgeable and capable person I can imagine to lead at this time.
“I am hopeful she will be able to provide leadership throughout the implementation of the Obama administration reforms as well as offer thoughtful consideration for any additional reforms,” she added.
Rogers is a member of Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church, Va. Her pastor, Jim Baucom, described her as both a “cherished and committed parishioner” and a good friend.
“I cannot imagine anyone better suited to this role than she,” Baucom said. “Melissa is that rare follower of Jesus who possesses in equal measure an evangelical heart, an open mind and a generous spirit.”
Baucom said Rogers is one of the first people he turns to when he needs help thinking clearly about complex issues of the day. “She is one of the most gifted bridge-builders I know, and I look forward to watching her steward this role well," he said.
Robert Dilday ([email protected]) is managing editor of the Religious Herald. Jeff Huett, director of communications for the Baptist Joint Committee, and Bob Allen, managing editor of Associated Baptist Press, contributed to this story.