Following on talk of earlier plans to create a new “office of religious engagement,” the Department of State has formally launched the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that he has selected Shaun Casey, a professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary of Virginia, to head the new office.
Over at Religion Dispatches, Austin Dacey has some questions for the new office:
We are left with two big questions about the State Department’s project. First, what is the rationale for restricting engagement to religion when it could encompass all of civil society? In fact, the original white paper put forward the option of a more inclusive Office of Non-Governmental Engagement and Partnerships.
Second, if the project can be restricted to religion, is it about engaging religions or about engaging the religious? One expects the diplomatic impulse to favor religions as interlocutors, since in practice this means knowing whom to invite to the next panel or luncheon (four out of five people being mediocre public speakers at best). But perhaps the more profoundly bureaucratic impulse would be to admit that there might be nobody at the top, that there are just lots of people whose differing, contested versions of their identities are at least as crucial to American interests as their confessional commonalities.
For more perspectives on the new office, read TIF’s recent off the cuff exchange here. For more on the topics of U.S. foreign policy, religious engagement, and the politics of religious freedom, browse two extensive TIF discussions on religious freedom here and here.