A United Methodist professor of Christian ethics is taking a newly created position at the U.S. State Department, and his main task will be to reach out to religious groups around the world.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Aug. 7 formally introduced Shaun Casey as a special adviser who will lead the new Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives.
Casey is a professor of Christian ethics at United Methodist-related Wesley Theological Seminary and a member of Floris United Methodist Church in Herndon, Va. The Rev. Tom Berlin, the church's senior pastor, and others from the church attended the introduction ceremony.
Kerry praised Casey as "a deeply thoughtful person who cares about the place of faith in our public life."
The new office, he said, has the mission to "engage more closely with faith communities around the world, with the belief that we need to partner with them to solve global challenges." Those challenges include fostering peace, alleviating poverty and expanding religious freedom.
In describing the new office's efforts, Kerry invoked Mark 10:45 in which Jesus tells 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."
Casey, he said, will be engaging in a form of service.
Casey told those gathered that he and Kerry share the view that religion neither "poisons everything" nor "would save and solve everything." The reality, Casey said, is "somewhere in between."
Still, religion can play a key role in fruitful international relations, Casey stressed. "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," he said. "It's essential for the United States to understand them and to bring them into our diplomacy and development efforts."
Casey takes on his new role amid frequent criticism that the United States marginalizes religion and religious people in its foreign policy, reports the Washington Post. The office grows out of the recommendations of the State Department's Religion and Foreign Policy Working Group.
Casey, who will be taking temporary leave from Wesley, brings extensive experience as a scholar and activist speaking out about the role of religion in public policy. He has served as a consultant to the Project on Religion and Post Conflict Reconstruction at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and as a visiting scholar at the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning think tank.
He advised President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign and has advised other Democrats in reaching out to religious voters. In addition, he is the author of "The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy vs. Nixon 1960."
Kerry noted he met Casey in 2005, thanks to Mike McCurry, former press secretary to President Bill Clinton. McCurry is a United Methodist and served on Wesley's board of governors as well as on the commission of United Methodist Communications, which includes the United Methodist News Service.
The Rev. David McAllister-Wilson, Wesley's president, said the seminary is "glad a member of our faculty can serve the country in this way and play such a key role at the intersection of religion and public life."
Casey said he expected his experiences at Wesley to serve him well in his new office.
"Religion is a complex and multivalent force in international politics," Casey said. "My position at the State Department recognizes the growth of the importance of religious engagement in U.S. foreign policy. My work at Wesley offers a tremendous foundation for understanding faith and practice that I will use in support of Secretary Kerry."
*Shelton is the director of communications at Wesley Theological Seminary.
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