WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Wednesday the formation of a new Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives in the U.S. State Department, as well as his first appointee as overseer.
“I’m very proud today to announce the creation of the Office of Faith-based Community Initiatives here at the State Department. Its mission is as clear as it is compelling,” Kerry stated at a press conference outlining the new department. “It is to engage more closely with faith communities around the world with the belief that we need to partner with them to solve global challenges.”
“I have met with people of all religions and of all life philosophies and belief systems. And that experience has only reaffirmed my belief that there is much more that unites us, and should unite us, than divides us,” he stated. “[T]here is common ground between the Abrahamic faiths, and, in fact, between the Abrahamic faiths and all religions and philosophies, whether you’re talking about Hindu or Confucianism or any other of the many of the world’s different approaches to our existence here on the planet and to our relationship with a Supreme Being.”
During the conference, Kerry introduced his first overseer of the department, Shaun Casey, a professor at Wesley Theological Seminary and former adviser to Barack Obama during his 2008 presidential election campaign.
“One of my favorite passages from the Scripture sums up what Shaun and I think this effort is really all about,” Kerry said during his introduction. “It’s a familiar Gospel of Mark [passage] in which Jesus says to his disciples, ‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for the many.’”
“Mr. Secretary, several years ago, you and I started a conversation about the rich, diverse, and complicated public implications of religious belief and practice,” Casey stated after taking the podium. “At that time, some were claiming that religion poisons everything, while others were saying that religion would save and solve everything. You knew, however, that the reality was somewhere in between.”
However, some are expressing concerns about Casey in regard to statements that he has made in the past in asserting that he is “glad American civil religion is dying.”
“There is also a negative underside to that history with respect to slavery, manifest destiny, to war, you know, to empires, so I, frankly, am glad American civil religion is dying,” Casey said during a 2012 event held by the Center for American Progress. “But it does raise the practical question, what does bind us together in some way as a country?”
“We need some substitute for that and I don’t think we’ve found it yet,” he stated.
Casey will be working in conjunction with other departments in the Obama administration, including the White House Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives, led by Melissa Rogers.
“These leaders play key roles in promoting sustainable development, providing humanitarian assistance, advancing pluralism, protecting human rights like the right to religious freedom, and countering violent extremism,” Rogers told reporters about the creation of the new State Department Office.
Casey is a member of the United Methodist denomination.