Obama’s faith-based diplomacy

(BuzzFlash) From its counterinsurgency strategy to Drone strikes, from paying off tribal leaders to training local security forces, from increasing troops to decreasing troops, the Obama Administration has tried almost every conceivable strategy to “successfully” end the war in Afghanistan. Will the State Department’s newly created faith-based office help turn the tide in Afghanistan and in other areas of violent conflict? Will it promote religious freedom for all, including minority religious groups? Will it treat non-believers with respect? Will it become a politicized money-pit for a chosen few religious organizations and institutions?

In its introduction to a wide-ranging discussion titled “Engaging religion at the Department of State,” The Editors of the blog The Immanent Frame pointed out that while “There is great excitement in some quarters about the prospects for new partnerships …. this initiative also raises concerns regarding the intersection of religious freedom, religious establishment, and foreign policy.”

During the opening days of the Bush Administration, the White House Office of Community and Faith-Based Organizations and Centers for FaithBased and Community Initiatives was established with great fanfare. Faith based offices were set up at the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, Justice, Education, and Housing and Urban Development, and later, six more agencies established centers, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Agency for International Development, and the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Small Business Administration.

During Bush’s reign, his faith-based initiative, which was at the heart of his “compassionate conservatism” domestic agenda, delivered hundreds of millions of dollars to faith-based organizations, politicized agencies through the leadership of ideologically-driven officials, saw directors of the Office come and go, and was generally dogged by controversy. In his 2006 book, Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction, the late David Kuo revealed how the Bush Administration totally politicized the Faith-Based Initiative.

One question Team Bush kept avoiding was: Did faith-based organizations deliver services more effectively and efficiently than government agencies?

Now, in a move once again reminiscent of the Bush Administration, the U.S. State Department recently named Dr. Shaun Casey to head up its new Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives within the State Department. In making the announcement, Secretary of State John Kerry told State Department workers: “I want you to go out and engage religious leaders and faith-based communities in our day-to-day work. Build strong relationships with them and listen to their insights and understand the important contributions that they can make individually and that we can make together.”

Casey, a professor of Christian Ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary and an expert on religion and politics, supported then-candidate Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008. [More]