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State Department Establishes Office for Religious Engagement

State Department Establishes Office for Religious Engagement
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Secretary of State John Kerry has appointed a professor of Christian ethics as the first director of the State Department’s Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives. The new office is the outgrowth of an initiative by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said it was important to engage foreign religious groups. She paid her respects at a Sufi shrine near Islamabad when she visited Pakistan in 2009.

At Wednesday’s ceremony, her successor John Kerry followed up on that point - by mentioning his recent meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah. Kerry said the king recognizes that Islam has in large measure been hijacked by people who distort the faith.

“We ignore the global impact of religion, in my judgment, at our peril,” he said.

Kerry chose Christian theologian Shaun Casey to lead the new office for religious engagement. “As religious leaders and faith communities shape their environments, they also have an influence and shape our own foreign policy concerns here in the United States. It’s essential for the United States to understand them and to bring them into our diplomacy and development efforts.”

There was considerable controversy when the Bush administration created offices for faith-based initiatives at other government agencies. Now there are again worries that such an office at the State Department could blur the line between church and state.

Kerry promised to respect that constitutionally-mandated line. “But what we are doing is guided by the conviction that we have to find ways to translate our faiths into efforts that unify for the greater good. That can be done without crossing any lines whatsoever,” he said.

Casey said he would work with the state department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, which monitors the mistreatment of religious groups abroad.