WASHINGTON—Secretary of State John Kerry has tapped a Wesley Theological Seminary professor to lead the new office of faith-based community initiatives at the State Department.
Kerry introduced Shaun Casey, a professor of Christian ethics, at a Wednesday news conference, lauding him as a “deeply thoughtful person” who is well-equipped to help address the “problems that plague our faiths today.”
“We need to recognize that in a world where people of all faiths are migrating and mingling like never before … we ignore the global impact of religion at our peril,” said Kerry, a 28-year veteran of the U.S. Senate. “It’s not really enough just to talk about a better dialog. I think we have to stand up and deliver a better one.”
In his brief remarks, Casey stressed the importance of religion around the world and the need for communication. Casey said he will work with Suzan Johnson Cook, ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, and collaborate with the “immense talent” already at work for the State Department: “We’re seeking to multiply the engagement that already exists.”
Casey’s work will serve as a rough international equivalent to what Melissa Rogers does on a domestic level. Rogers, head of the White House office of faith-based and neighborhood partnerships, appeared with Kerry and Casey on Wednesday and said it is critical to understand the ways religion can be used for violence, but “religion is not an inherent source of violence or extremism.”
Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told me he doesn’t know Casey but is looking forward to meeting with him. Duke said he’s encouraged that the State Department is seeking to better understand the role of religion in the world—particularly radical Islam.
“I applaud the State Department for recognizing that the part of Islam that is at war with the modern world is motivated not just by political but also religious beliefs,” he said. “I see the potential for something very positive there.”
Rogers outlined three major objectives for Casey’s new position: Promote sustainable development, protect religious freedom, and help prevent, mitigate, and resolve religious-related conflicts around the world. It’s unclear how much of Casey’s time will be spent selling climate change to faith communities as part of promoting “sustainable development,” but he told The Washington Post: “There are fruitful ways for us to engage with some of those faith groups to see if we can’t have a multiplying effect on persuading other governments, and even perhaps people in our own society, that we need to do more to engage on rolling back global climate change.”
Kerry, who first met Casey in 2005, said he chose Casey for the job because he exemplifies the kind of servant leadership spoken of in Mark 10:45: “For even the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”