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State Department starts religious outreach

| Saturday, July 27, 2013, 8:30 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The State Department announced last week the first office dedicated to outreach to the global faith community and religious leaders.

The project, born in part of recommendations by its working group on religion and foreign policy, will be headed by Shaun Casey, a United Methodist member and professor at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington.

Casey, an activist and scholar, said he expects the office to focus on three areas: religion and development, international religious freedom, and conflict prevention and resolution.

“I'm not naive,” Casey said. “I understand that this territory is fraught. But having said that, I think we ignore the political impact of religion at our peril.”

Secretary of State John Kerry called Casey, who has served for many years as an adviser to the former senator from Massachusetts, the “perfect” person for the role.

The State Department said the new office “will focus on engagement with faith-based organizations and religious institutions around the world to strengthen U.S. development and diplomacy and advance America's interests and values.”

Melissa Rogers, the new director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said in a statement: “Shaun's appointment is part of a larger State Department strategy.”

For years, religious activists have called on the State Department to deepen its relationships with and understanding of religious people and leaders around the world. Douglas Johnston, president of the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy, said that because “85 percent of the world's population derives their reason for being from religion,” an increasingly globalized world demands an American foreign policy that includes faith in its toolbox.

“It's all about trying to make religion part of the solution to some of these intractable identity-based conflicts,” Johnston said.

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