Monday, February 24, 2014

  • Monday, February 24, 2014
  • Elder of Ziyon
From the US State Department website:

The Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives is the State Department’s portal for engagement with religious leaders and organizations around the world. Headed by Special Advisor Shaun Casey, the office reaches out to faith-based communities to ensure that their voices are heard in the policy process, and it works with those communities to advance U.S. diplomacy and development objectives. In accordance with the U.S. Strategy on Religious Leader and Faith Community Engagement, the office guarantees that engagement with faith-based communities is a priority for Department bureaus and for posts abroad, and helps equip our foreign and civil service officers with the skills necessary to engage faith-communities effectively and respectfully. The office collaborates regularly with other government officials and offices focused on religious issues, including the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, the Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, and the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Religion News Service has a little more about Casey:

Amid persistent criticism that the U.S. marginalizes religion and religious people in its foreign policy, Secretary of State John Kerry Wednesday (Aug. 7) tapped ethicist and campaign adviser Shaun Casey to lead the State Department’s new Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives.

Casey is a professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington and advised President Obama’s campaign and other Democrats on outreach to religious voters.

Kerry praised Casey as someone who understands how the U.S. can engage religious communities around the world to foster peace and development.

“In a world where people of all faiths are migrating and mingling like never before,” Kerry said, “we ignore the global impact of religion at our peril.”
So what has Casey been doing?

The only press release at the website is the announcement of this new office's launch last August.

Yet he did pop up recently - in PA-controlled areas - to speak to Palestinian Christians:

Mr. Shaun Casey, head of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives, visited Bishop Munib Younan and the Lay Preachers Academy on Friday, February 14th, to discuss the peace process and the role of the Lutheran church in peace.

Mr. Casey met Bishop Munib Younan in Jerusalem and asked Bishop Younan to speak on how the church sees its role as peacemakers in the Middle East.

Mr. Casey then traveled to Abrahams Herberge in Beit Jala to speak with the members of the Lay Preachers Academy and ask for their candid opinions on the peace process and to ask how Palestinian Christians view themselves and their community. Mr. Casey spent 90 minutes listening to the Lutheran Christian voices of Palestine on their concerns about the current peace talks and their hopes for the future.
During a meeting [Monday] with the Latin Patriarch, Mr. Casey revealed how John Kerry is aware of the power of faith in the peace process and how he has been attentive to the concerns of Christians in the Holy Land in the design of a peace agreement between the two parties. Kerry hopes even to put in place the framework of the agreement before the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land. “What is certain however is that speaking to the Pope during his next visit to the Vatican will be important to help the two peoples to move in this direction,” noted Shaun A. Casey.
There is nothing wrong with getting input from religious leaders on matters that are important to them involving negotiations.. What is worrisome is that this visit seems to have been done way under the radar; no press coverage and no State Department press releases. We don't know who else Casey visited or even what day he arrived and whether he is still in the region. Did he visit Muslim leaders - and if so, who? Did he visit Jewish religious leaders? Did he arrive via Israel or Jordan? Was there any discussion on matters such as the habitual Muslim usurping of Jewish holy places, as we saw yesterday? Were the Christian leaders he met with forthcoming about oppression by Muslims or did they spend the whole time talking about Israel? Is he in the region to buttress any ideas he already has or to actually learn something?

This lack of transparency from the State Department is troubling.

It is also troubling that Casey was originally hired by the Obama campaign to attract evangelical voters. I know that the tradition to reward people who help get presidents elected with cushy jobs (such as becoming ambassadors to friendly countries)  is a common practice, but what little we know of Casey indicates that he may not be the most qualified person to wade into Middle East politics. For example, in 2008 he was quoted to be politicizing the New Testament by saying that "Jesus was an illegal alien." 

There are a lot of unanswered questions here, and silently sending someone with unorthodox religious views into the Middle East as an amateur diplomat seems to be a recipe for disaster.

(h/t Donna)


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