Religion and Diplomacy Conference

CASEY: Good morning, everyone. AUDIENCE: Good morning. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE CASEY:
My name is Shaun Casey, and I’m the Special
Representative for Religion and Global Affairs here
at the State Department, and I want to welcome you to
our conference on religion and diplomacy. Thank you for taking time
out of your busy schedules to join us today. We have been hard at work in the
Office of Religion and Global Affairs these past few
weeks, putting together what we hope will be a rich
experience for all of you. I could just sit here for
several minutes picking out all my friends and acquaintances. I hope we have time to
touch base and catch up over the course of the day. But it’s an honor
to be with you. I think this is testimony to the
depth of interest and concern in our issue area. So welcome, thank
you for your support, and thank you for
your partnership. We have two days of
interactive programming planned in which we’re going to
showcase many lines of effort in our office. We’re also going to highlight
several arenas of ongoing work. We’re going to spend
some time looking over the horizon to division
areas of future work at the intersection of
religion and global affairs. Here at the outset, I
want to take a moment and set the stage
for what we’re going to be covering over the
course of these two days. As you can see from the
list of participants in the various sessions,
it’s fair to say that there has been a shift in
the United States government in how it approaches
religion and global affairs. The White House understands
the importance of this work. We’re going to hear from Denis
McDonough and Melissa Rogers later. The Secretary of State
certainly gets the importance of this work. But most importantly, staff here
in Washington across the U.S. government understand
the importance of religion and global affairs,
as they’re engaging more on the subject, they’re
connecting more to expertise, and the demand for
greater understanding of religion and
diplomacy has never been higher in Washington, D.C. Last spring, Secretary
Kerry gave a speech on religion and policy. And he said, “The more we
understand religion and better we are able as a result to
engage religious actors, the more effective
our diplomacy will be in advancing the interests
and values of our people. He went on to note
in that speech that religion is pervasive. It motivates billions of
people around the planet to do an amazing
array of things. He added that it’s
consequential, influencing people to the
deepest level of their being on scores of issues, and
it’s complex in that most religious traditions
are internally diverse, they produce multiple
schools of thought, they vary by
geographical region, and they all have
complicated histories. He also observed that
historically, the Department of State has tended to
downplay the role of religion, or it pays attention
only when religion is deemed to be a problem,
a threat, or a challenge. We have not traditionally
had the resources or made the necessary commitment
to systematically analyze the importance that
understanding religion holds for the success or failure
of our foreign policy. Secretary Kerry launched
our office three years ago to begin to rewrite
this history. Our purpose over
these two days is to demonstrate how
far we’ve come, and how some of those
attitudes that he identified have evolved and changed. As you glance at
the schedule, I want to highlight several
things for you. First of all, there’s
simply the question, why have this
conference, and why now? As many of you know, for many
years in academic circles there’s been a robust
debate about whether or not the United States government
should devote more resources to understanding the
diplomatic implications of religious belief
and practice. I want to make clear,
we are not here today to debate that question, should
the government do it or should it not. It’s our belief
that Secretary Kerry has told us the answer to that
question is, yes, we should be. We should be doing
this work if he’s giving us the
institutional resources to begin doing that work. So the question we’re
pursuing is not why, or if, but how the State
Department should be engaging religious actors in
assessing religious dynamics. The bulk of the conference
is dedicated to showing how we’re doing this work. I think this represents
a new stage in the wider academic and public
debate, and we’re indebted to Secretary Kerry
for his vision and his support in launching our office. Second, it’s our belief that
to do this work correctly, it has to be done
collaboratively. There are over 80 people
presenting, leading, and participating in the various
sections over these two days. If you scan that
list, there are people who come from inside
the U.S. government, there are people who come
from academia, people from think tanks, others from
nonprofit and non-governmental organizations, religious
groups, and organizations. This reflects a
fundamental commitment in our office to working
inclusively as we know how. In three short years, we have
engaged literally thousands of actors all across the globe. It’s our hope that you will
get a good sense of the extent of that collaboration here. Many of you, as I look
out across this audience, have worked with us in various
arenas in various ways. And we’re thankful
for your interest. We’re think for the
wisdom and the brainpower you bring to the
State Department to make our work more effective. Now, I should be quick
to add that we have not answered every conceptual
or pragmatic question that might be raised in this space
of religion and diplomacy. We do, however, believe
that we made a good start, and we’re deeply
indebted to many of you in this room who come from
outside the U.S. government. In our ongoing dialogue
with you and others, we believe that we can tackle
the thorniest questions that await us in this space at
the intersection of religion and global affairs. Again, I want to thank all
of you who partnered with us and have found ways to engage
us these last three years. We hope that these
relationships develop. We hope they deepen. We hope they evolve,
and at the end, produce a more robust and
effective U.S. foreign policy. Third, we hope that you will
note the wide variety of issues we are addressing, the diversity
of specific geographical locations around the
world where we engage and the variety of
methods that we employ. Religion is exceedingly complex. It is subject to
multiple interpretations, and often fraught with risk. Brian Hehir famously
said a few years ago that “U.S. policymakers need
to learn as much as possible about religion, and
incorporate that knowledge into their strategies.” But then he said this
work is akin to brain surgery– a necessary task,
but fatal if not done well. Our staff reflects this, as we
have over 20 graduate degrees in religion or a cognate field,
and we have a vast reservoir of global experience in
interpreting religion in local and regional contexts. As we have hundreds of partners
who help sharpen our thinking and understanding, we believe
we have the necessary resources to continue. Finally, I see a lot of friends,
partners, and supporters in the audience today. It’s gratifying to me
to see all of you here. I often joke that as a graduate
professor all those years, I never built anything
larger or more permanent than a 12-person graduate
seminar that lasted 13 weeks. I have a better story to tell
now after these three years. If you’re here,
it probably means you’ve come to know the work of
our staff, this remarkable band of 30 who I’ve come to love
and respect and admire. Our success is a combination
of talent and partnership, so let me express both my
thanks to our hardworking staff. I’m going to call some
people out later in the day and thank them for
their amazing work. But they put in a
lot of extra hours to pull this
conference together, and I also thank
you, our guests, for your support
and collaboration. I hope you will take a
very good and deep and long look at the breakout sessions. We have put together 12
of those, where we planned a lot of interactive work. I ask that you do show up to the
ones you’re pre-registered at. Space is at a premium today. Some of our stations
are oversubscribed. We ask that you go to the ones
you’ve pre-registered for, and we ask frankly that you stay
in those spaces for the hour. [LAUGHTER] There’s not a lot of
space to move around in the Marshall Center. And you’ll find, as you
back and forth here, it’s going to be cozy,
to put it mildly. So we ask that you
come to the sessions you pre-registered
for, and that you stay in them for the duration. We are extremely fortunate
to have White House Chief of Staff Denis
McDonough with us this morning to deliver
our keynote address. I met Dennis a
little over a decade ago under circumstances
that reveal something of his character. So I’m going to
tell a quick story. This was in the early
days of the Iraq War, and I took a group of
seminary students to the Hill to discuss the ethics
of the war with a House staffer I had recently met,
Tommy Ross, who then worked for Congressman David Price. When we arrived at
the room after we’d gone through security
in the Capitol, there was Tommy standing
outside the room with another person,
someone I didn’t know. But there was this tall,
wiry, intense-looking guy standing next to him. So Tommy introduced
me to Denis and he said, when I told Denis who
I was meeting with today and what the topic
was, he asked me if I could join the conversation. I hope you don’t
mind his joining us. Now, I remember
thinking to myself I’d never had that experience
with a Senate staffer who showed up for a meeting they
hadn’t been formally invited to. And I thought, this is
going to be interesting. For Denis to join a
class of grad students for a discussion on the
ethics of the Iraq War in those early days made
a huge impression on me. Suffice it to say,
we had a lively hour. And that’s when I saw a man of
passion, a man seeking justice, a keen mind, and dare I
say it, an Irish attraction to argumentation. [LAUGHTER] So I will say that
Denis understands the power of religious actors
to shape world affairs. We in the Office of
Religion and Global Affairs here at the State
Department owe our existence in no small part to his
pioneering work at the White House, and I’m grateful for
his foresight in helping to launch our office. Denis is currently serving as
President Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff, a position
he assumed in 2013. Prior to assuming
his role, he served as Deputy National Security
Advisor from October 2010 to January 2013. He also served as Chief of Staff
to the National Security Staff, and as the Deputy
National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications. Prior to arriving
at the White House, he served as Senior Advisor
on Foreign Policy Issues on the Presidential
Transition Team, and on President
Obama’s 2008 campaign. Prior to that, he
was a Senior Fellow at the Center for
American Progress. Denis also worked in
Congress, including as a foreign policy adviser to
Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle. Please join me in
welcoming White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. [APPLAUSE] CHIEF OF STAFF DENIS MCDONOUGH:
Well, good morning, everybody. And thanks, Shaun, for that
very kind introduction. Jim, it’s nice to see you. I’m particularly glad to be in
the William J. Burns Conference Hall. I didn’t know that until I
just walked past the sign. What a terrific patriot and
national treasure Bill is. I want to thank Shaun
for your leadership in elevating engagement
with religious leaders and communities as a priority
of our foreign policy. I read last night, actually,
that Secretary Kerry called you a pilgrim. That seems right for me,
for you have not just the zeal of your faith but
you retain that tirelessness of a hungry seeker. And that’s something
that is obviously vital to this important work and
embodied in this event today. It needs your tirelessness
and the tireless of your staff and your team. I’m also relieved
that you didn’t tell a different story,
which is I’m kind of sheepish here at an event about
religion and foreign policy a week after the President told
the world in the Vanity Fair that he’s disappointed that he
swears as much as he swears, but he’s only grateful
that he doesn’t swear as much as his Chief of Staff. [LAUGHTER] So I’m a little– shall
we say, sheepish today. So I want to just
say thanks, too, to the Office of Religion
and Global Affairs for hosting not only
an important program, but letting me be part of it. We’re pleased that
Secretary Kerry established the office in 2013, creating
new capacity at the State Department to engage
on these issues. And I’m grateful
for the opportunity to say a few words about
why the President believes this work is so important. So let me just
begin by repeating one of Secretary Kerry’s
mantras, which is simply that religion matters. Religion matters. On a personal level,
like so many of you, I feel this every day. For me, it’s my
Catholic faith that’s always provided me guidance,
comfort, challenge, and community. My mom made sure of that. When my parents
moved from Boston to Stillwater, Minnesota, she
had two criteria for selecting our new home– one, that it had
to be near a school, and two, it had to be near the church. Some of my fondest memories
are of my childhood at that home parish. Alongside my parents
and 10 siblings, we would participate
in festivals, play games, attend
meetings, go to classes. Today, I carry those memories
with me wherever I go. And I’m forever grateful to the
teachers who shaped me there at St. John’s University
and at Georgetown. Now, I share my
experience with religion not because it’s
unique– in fact, I share it precisely
because it’s not unique. Today, it’s estimated
that more than eight in 10 people in the world
affiliate themselves with some religion. Religious beliefs provide
a source of identity and a sense of community. They play a fundamental role
in inculcating moral codes and in molding worldviews. As such, religious beliefs are
a powerful force in our thinking and in our work. The President’s view
is that each person is made in the image of
God, therefore possessing inherent dignity– a
thought and a belief that informs his decision-making
and which is itself informed by his faith. But religious beliefs are a
powerful global force too, not just a domestic force. And inasmuch as our
job in foreign policy is to understand the world so
as to advance our interests that much more ably, we
need to understand faith and how faith drives
decision-making by governments and by individuals. That is another way that, as
Secretary Kerry would say, religion matters. Just as religion
in and of itself can powerfully impact our
lives, so too, of course, can religious leaders. And I know that we have
many of them with us today. As some of the most
trusted members of society, your influence reverberates
through almost every aspect of our lives, from
politics and entertainment to business and the economy. That means you’re
especially well placed to serve as agents of
leadership and influence, and hopefully, a positive
political and social change. President Obama is particularly
appreciative of this from his early days as
a community organizer on Chicago’s South
Side, supported in part by a group of Catholic parishes
and by the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. He was impressed by
the extraordinary feats that could be accomplished
by partnering together. Of course, as he also said, it
didn’t hurt that they fed him when he was broke. But ultimately, an
experience of working hand-in-hand with a religious
community to bring about change so moved the President that
it helped transform him to a man of faith, and
fortified his commitment to living a life
of public service. Beyond his own
personal experience, history is replete with
examples of religious leaders serving as agents of change. Catholic priests and
nuns in Latin America stood up to tyranny
and promoted democracy. Religious leaders from
an array of traditions advanced reconciliation
in South Africa. And as we were reminded
again this weekend on the Mall, American faith
leaders– Christians, Jews, Muslims– championed
civil rights and changed this country. And recently, Muslim leaders
have come together in Morocco to protect religious minorities,
including Christians and Jews throughout the region. It’s partly because of
this amazing tradition that the President refuses
to dignify terrorists like ISIL, whose hateful
actions and teachings have nothing to do with a
peaceful religion, and in fact, are a perversion of it. So for all these
reasons, the President directed that we do more
as governmental officials to understand the impact
of religion on society and to engage with
faith-based communities. Plainly, working together
with a religious community simply makes sense. It’s one of the reasons the
President established the White House Office of Faith-Based
and Neighborhood Partnerships in 2009, an office now
led by Melissa Rogers. And it’s one of the reasons
we launched our strategy with Secretary Kerry
on religious leader engagement, which the dedicated
staff of the National Security Council, and
Melissa, have worked so diligently with others,
like Shaun, to advance. So let’s consider how this
strategy is being implemented across our government,
and how it’s helping achieve some of our
top foreign policy goals, including promoting sustainable
development, more effective humanitarian assistance,
advancing pluralism and human rights, and religious
freedom and ending conflict. Just to be clear, though–
and I’m sure many of you have heard this before
from us– in no way is the United States government
proselytizing or endorsing any particular religion. Our strategy is one of
inclusion and outreach consistent with
our Constitution. And I know you’ll hear more from
Melissa on that later today. But let me begin with
the effort to promote pluralism and religious
freedom around the globe, since I believe the President
has done so much to lead by example in this. As you know, the President
visited a mosque in Baltimore this past February. All of you remember
that at the time, there was a lot of hateful
and inexcusable rhetoric about Muslim Americans and their
place in our country– rhetoric which continues to this day. The terrorist attacks in
Paris and San Bernardino had occurred only
recently, and some people took the actions of a
few as representative of a whole religion,
even leading to threats of violence against
the Muslim American community. The President strongly
believes that in the face of such bigotry, we
have a duty to stand up for our fellow Americans
and for the persecuted around the world. So he visited with the
Islamic Society of Baltimore and said unequivocally
that, and I quote, “You’re right where you belong. You’re part of America, too. You’re not Muslim or American. You’re Muslim and American.” The President wanted to
make as clear as possible to the entire country
and to the world that Muslim Americans make
valuable contributions to our nation every day as
police officers, firefighters, small business owners,
corporate executives, government officials, soldiers–
the list goes on. It’s only by reaffirming
the important role that Muslim Americans and
all religious minorities play in our society that we
live up to our highest ideals. Indeed, our commitment to
protect religious minorities at home helps us to be
more credible defenders of religious minorities abroad. And of course, the
reverse is also true. I can’t stress enough how
much the President appreciated the commitment of so many
public servants advancing our values in this space. But both before and after the
President’s visit to Baltimore, staff at the White House
and at the State Department have done an
excellent job, meeting with a wide variety of
governmental officials, civil society representatives,
religious organizations– all of this to
highlight our efforts to combat bigotry
and discrimination toward Muslim communities. Indeed, Secretary Kerry
hosted a memorable reception to celebrate Eid this past July. And there, he lifted
up the remarkable feats of Muslim citizen
diplomats, showcasing how much they do to
shatter stereotypes and bridge cultural divide. We also deeply
appreciate the dedication of those in this room to
these principles of pluralism and freedom, and look forward
to continuing to work together to advance them. So standing side by side
with people of all faiths– and people of no faith– to
promote religious freedom for all, and shining a spotlight
on those who would deny it, is a powerful tool in
our diplomatic arsenal. To provide you with
just one more example, take the National Prayer
Breakfast in 2014. There, President spoke movingly
of the plight of Pastor Saeed Abedini, who had been
imprisoned in Iran, and Christian missionary
Kenneth Bae, who had been jailed in North Korea. In both cases, the Iranians
and the North Koreans persecuted these men
simply because they wished to freely practice
their Christian faith. And in both cases, the
President forcefully avowed that this was completely
unacceptable and called for their release. Today, thanks to the
administration’s commitment to standing up for those rights
of all prisoners of conscience no matter their faiths or
beliefs, Pastor Abedini and Kenneth Bay are both free. The United States has
shown deep concern for religious minorities,
including Christians in the Middle East,
and the President took decisive action
to rescue the Yazidis from Sinjar Mountain. I’m grateful for the work
of David Sacristan, who’s here somewhere, and all the work
that he does on these issues, and also for the work
of Acting Special Envoy to the Organization of
Islamic Cooperation, Arsalan Suleman, and Special Envoy
to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, Ira Forman,
and Special Representative to Muslim Communities,
Shaarik Zafar. But now I’d like
to say a few words about how our faith-based
communities work is advancing sustainable development
and more effective humanitarian assistance. One pressing issue which has
been at the forefront of all of our minds, including the
President’s, is the plight of refugees. Today we’re in the midst
of the largest displacement crisis on record, a crisis in
which 65 million people have been torn from their
homes and forced to flee by the merciless
forces of war, prosecution, instability, and climate
change– 65 million people. That’s not only astonishing
and heartbreaking, it’s unacceptable. The President is
determined to push back on the voices that would claim
that it’s not our problem, or that we should foreswear
our historic leadership on refugees. That’s why he pledged
that we’d welcome 85,000, including 10,000 Syrians, to our
shores in 2016, two goals which we met early this
year– I should say, before the end of
this fiscal year. And that’s why he has set a
new goal of welcoming 110,000 refugees to our shores in 2017. And no matter how loud the
cries from xenophobic voices, the President will not back
down on this commitment. To do this good work and
defend the idea of America as a place of refuge,
we are blessed to have this steadfast support
of faith-based resettlement groups and other
humanitarian organizations, including many
represented here today. In fact, you are
at the forefront of our nation’s efforts to
help refugees start life anew. From helping them
participate fully in civic life to empowering
them with the tools they need to succeed as workers
and entrepreneurs, you’re leading the way in
building welcoming communities in which refugees can and
do prosper, as they have now for centuries in this country. And the refugee crisis ties into
another great crisis challenge we face, one which religious
communities and leaders are also committed to solving. And that is climate change. Climate science
tells that we should expect a drought
such as the one that induced the conflict in Syria,
and water shortages and extreme weather to fuel conflict and
uproot people to not only be more regular, but more intense. And that’s just one of
the myriad problems, not to mention existential
threats stemming from climate change. The President believes
that climate is therefore the greatest threat
facing our planet. And so, over the course
of his administration, he’s worked to build
a global coalition, culminating in the signing
of the most ambitious climate agreement in history this
past December in Paris. The entire planet was
blessed that Pope Francis put his profound moral authority
behind these efforts with his groundbreaking
encyclical on the environment. And in the runup to
the Pope’s visit, we were able to work with
diverse faith-based and community groups to form
new partnerships aimed at helping us promote
climate preparedness at home. Together with the Office of
Religion and Global Affairs, we have worked with many of
you to bolster the President’s climate agenda. In the leadup to the
Paris conference, the office held an
important symposium on religion and climate change,
a symposium which, as Shaun has written, “brought
to the forefront the foundational, moral,
and spiritual dimensions of this issue.” Thanks to these efforts, we
now have an even greater array of voices supporting
our work to preserve the planet for our children
and for future generations. The Office of Religion
and Global Affairs is not the only agency to reach
out to religious communities to tackle some of the
biggest development and humanitarian
challenges of our time. The extraordinary
leadership is complemented by the extraordinary
efforts at USAID’s Center for Faith-Based and
Community Initiatives, led by Mark Brinkmoeller. And like their
colleagues at State, their work runs the gamut from
public health to peace-building to child survival. On top of taking on some
of the biggest challenges, USAID and faith-based
organizations have proven ready and
willing to take on some of the scariest challenges. All of you remember that,
in the fall of 2014, the world was consumed
by fear about Ebola. Horror stories were
constantly in the news that disease was spreading. Projections showed up that
1.4 million people could be infected by early 2015. In the face of this
terrifying threat, faith-based organizations
quietly and courageously entered the front lines
to combat the virus. With support from
USAID, they and other USAID-funded
organizations traveled to Syria Leone, Guinea, and
operated Ebola treatment units in hard-hit neighborhoods. They delivered
interim care kits that helped caregivers protect
themselves and stabilize ill family members
awaiting professional care. After the Ebola
outbreak abated, they stayed on improving
health facilities, empowering local health workers
to take charge of infection prevention and control,
and raising awareness in local communities
about healthy habits that limit the spread of disease. Finally, let me briefly
discuss our engagement with religious leaders to
promote peace and end conflict. Here, too, we have seen
remarkable results. Actually, one of the
most historic changes in our foreign policy was
mediated by a religious leader. I’m speaking, of course, of
the work by Pope Francis, through letters to President
Obama and Raul Castro, who through a meeting
with negotiators encouraged a thaw in relations
between the United States and Cuba after
more than 50 years. But that is the only
the best-known example of our work with
religious leaders. Throughout the world, the Office
of Religion and Global Affairs and USAID are promoting
efforts to promote peace. In Nigeria, the
office has worked with prominent Muslim
and Christian leaders to develop a shared agenda to
combat systematic injustice and corruption to
achieve social justice. In Belgium and France, it
has harnessed the power of citizen diplomacy, leading
a delegation of civil rights and civil society
leaders to conduct an amazing set of workshops
on community organizing, media engagement, and
coalition-building in order to empower European Muslim youth
facing deep-seeded prejudice, as well as aggressive
efforts at recruitment. And in Sudan, USAID
launched an initiative with Catholic Relief Services
to support the South Sudan Council of Churches to address
the deep and painful rifts within and between the
nation’s diverse communities. As you know, these issues aren’t
going anywhere anytime soon. There is undoubtedly
more work to do, and improvement
can always be made. The talent gathered in this
room has taken on big challenges before, and today we’re
asking you to do so again. As this administration
comes to an end, we will be relying
on all of you to find the answers to
these big questions, and to carry on this vital work. Indeed, we hope that the
seeds we have planted will continue to flower,
that the good work that has been done to understand
religion and to partner with faith communities to
promote the common good will continue far beyond the
time President Obama leaves office. And we have every confidence
that your sessions over the course of
the next couple days will be critical in helping us
take that next step forward. Lastly, as the strength strength
of commitment and capability in this room attests,
the diversity and depth of faith in this country is
an enduring and unique aspect of our national strength. So even as we engage religious
leaders and religious communities worldwide, we cannot
take for granted the religious pluralism here at home that has
marked America since its birth. We all must redouble our efforts
to protect that pluralism and diversity,
including maintaining America’s leadership
role in refugee policy. So on behalf of the
President, I thank you all for your work,
for your dedication, and for your service. I thank you for,
again, having me. If you run into
him, make sure you let him know that I gave a whole
speech and I didn’t swear once. [LAUGHTER] And my best wishes for
our conference today, and for the considerable
work that lies ahead. Thanks very much, Shaun.

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