Engaging Faith-Based Communities on Foreign Policy Objectives

Posted by Robert T. Lalka
April 1, 2011
Interfaith Dialogue in Indonesia

Why should the U.S. Government engage religious communities? That was the topic of discussion last week at the first ever interagency policy seminar on "Engaging Communities of Faith to Advance Policy Objectives" hosted by the Foreign Service Institute and the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero opened the seminar with these words: "Organized religion makes up the largest part of civil society around the world. Nearly 85 percent of people worldwide participate in a faith tradition... We need to engage with religious communities in order to have a holistic understanding of the factors at play in any given country."

Historically, the State Department and USAID have incorporated religious and community leaders in many aspects of our work. But Secretary Clinton has made this type of engagement a hallmark of how we do business in the first Quadrennial Development and Diplomacy Review, and President Obama has called partnerships with businesses, non-profits, and faith groups a "defining feature of our foreign policy." In fact, as early as her Senate confirmation hearing, Secretary Clinton insisted on greater coordination with religious groups, and so we have been working since the very beginning of her tenure to develop partnerships with faith communities on shared issues of interest such as conflict resolution, environmental protection, and health and development.

Most notably, the President recently formed the Interagency Working Group on Religion and Global Affairs (RGA) to increase the capacity of the U.S. Government for faith-based partnerships. As RGA Co-Chair Joshua DuBois, the Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, explained last week, "faith leaders are among the most trusted members of their society around the world...and religious networks often reach places where we are not, especially in remote, difficult to access locations, and faith leaders often wield credibility that government actors lack."

Before last week's seminar, the RGA Working Group conducted a first-of-its-kind mapping process to determine what we are already doing to engage faith communities to advance our foreign policy objectives. Nine agencies and 167 embassies from around the world responded, and many reports conveyed a deep appreciation of how further engagement could advance America's foreign affairs goals.

There are numerous innovative examples showing how the U.S. government has partnered with faith-based institutions. Our USAID Mission in Madagascar works hand-in-hand with Christian, Muslim, and traditional religious leaders in 422 communes to share information to improve maternal and child health and support the fight against malaria and other diseases. Our Embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh, recently hosted a regional conference on "The Role of Religious and Community Leaders in Advancing Development in Asia" with over 60 interfaith leaders, political actors, and development practitioners from 14 Asian countries, and Embassy Vatican sponsored a landmark conference where interfaith leaders addressed specific development, environmental, and peace-building challenges and Joshua DuBois gave a keynote speech calling for new partnerships. And it's not just State Department and USAID officials who are developing innovative partnerships abroad; our Department of Agriculture has consulted with religious authorities and others in a number of countries around issues of importing and exporting kosher and halal meats, and Health and Human Services has worked with religious leaders to overcome suspicions about vaccinations as being antithetical to faith.

There were many more examples than I could list here. Yet while activities like these are deepening our relationships and improving lives around the world, we also found that much of our outreach was sporadic, focused primarily on ceremonial events, and all too often ad hoc and uncoordinated. Based on the success of last week's seminar, we will be integrating trainings on faith-based partnerships into other parts of our regular curriculum, and we are also pursuing new policy guidance and legal guidelines to give our diplomats greater clarity about engaging faith communities abroad.

From informing policy planning to influencing policy outcomes, faith communities are a key stakeholder in U.S. foreign policy -- as well as a potential partner for advancing America's objectives overseas -- and so we are taking new strides to engage with them, coordinate our efforts, and find new ways to work together. If you have ideas for potential collaborations, I would love to hear from you at partnerships@state.gov or @RobAtState, and I invite you to visit http://www.state.gov/partnerships and http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/global_partnerships to learn more about our work.

Comments

Comments

Russ B.
|
California, USA
April 1, 2011

Russ B. in California writes:

I think we could better incorporate Islam in the world community if the Muslim community could figure out a way to establish a caliphate, Saudi Arabia could give up Medina / Mecca, and a City State of these two territories were established similar to what was done to establish the Vatican City.

erken r.
|
Turkey
April 3, 2011

Erken R. in Turkey writes:

Thanks for the advice

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
April 3, 2011

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Robert T. Lalka,

My cousin and his wife belong to a church group who are supporting an orphanage in Haiti, and in a small way they are making a contribution to supporting US policy in Haiti's recovery while making a big contribution to a few kid's lives, who would otherwise be out on the street.

Their pastor of the church, a young fellow they indicated, " Preaches tolerance for religious opinion.""Ah, not the kind of guy who's inclined to be giving a "my dogma's better than your dogma." kind of sermon you mean?"

They just laughed and noted their agreement.

Which stands in sharp contrast to the imfamous Quoran burning preacher who took that line of reasoning to incite violence and a clash of civilizations resulting in loss of life in the persuance of his "freedom of speech".

In fact, such action falls into the broad heading of "aiding and abetting the enemy in a time of war." as such provocation of a billion.3 Muslims around the world only help bin Laden succeed in calling for a "holy war" since this pastor has decided to initiate one, in many Muslim's eyes.

That this be the work of a "fringe element" not representitive of the American people or our values is lost on folks in their anger of the moment, and innoccent people have died as a result.

I can think of a number of Federal charges the Justice Dept might wish to persue without even being worried about violation of the individual's freedom to express himself.

I mean let's be objective about this, you don't see folks running around naked on K street in DC do you?

Somethings are just not done because it WILL get you arrested.

Even though expressing one's self isn't hurting anyone, and might if one we're so inclined to appreciate, be a sight for sore eyes if she was a "hot Russian spy."...(chuckle).

But how the State dept engages religious communities I think takes on a number of different dimentions, and part of that must be in the being intolerant of intolerance on a policy level, when one pissed-off preacher can put a monkey wrench in all the good folks are trying to do.

We have folks in harm's way as it is, and if a stop is to be put to our own domestic "bin Laden" wannabe's trying to start conflict among religions, then now is the time to stand up and do something legal about it.

As this directly affects the foreign policy objectives of the US, I don't doubt that the Dept of State would be weighing in on an interagency evaluation of this, including the NSC.

I believe under our Constitution, that it is only our elected government that can declare war for any reason, it is not in the pervue of any individual to, and one right under our laws cannot conflict with another or be invalidated thereby his freedom to express himself in commiting an "act of war" on another faith is punishable on the merits of his actions taken to instigate violence.

There can be no question that he was aware of what would result and it was done pre-meditatively.

Karzai's request for him to be arrested I think should be seriously considered, not only because they may want him extridited under their laws and I don't think we want to have to go down that road with the Afghan gov., but that just maybe if it can be demonstrated to the Afghan people that with "freedom of speech" in America comes along with it the responsibility to not be an idiot, I think we can unload buckets of trouble for our foreign policy goals in the winning of the war on terrorists.

The President obviously didn't think Ghaddafi saying he'd "show no mercy" was acceptable as a form of self expression, and he he helped save a lot of lives in Lybia as a result.

Apparently "freedom of speech" has its relative limits under our value system.

That's OK, the Constitition was designed to be a living document relative to its times, and there were a lot less pissed-off preachers around in the founding father's day, least they didn't have a global audience anyway.

If the Constitution is to be defended, then the ideals of religious tolerance contained within it must be enforceable under the law.

I don't know how else folks would go about that, but I'm not presiding over case law either, so my opinion is probably legally moot. But if "law is logic" as I've been told, then perhaps my logic is sustainable in a debate with those professionals.

So here I am excercising my "freedom of speech" in trying to inspire folks to think.

So keep up the good work and thanks for all the great links,

EJ

Rob L.
|
District Of Columbia, USA
April 3, 2011

DipNote Blogger Rob Lalka writes:

@ Eric Thanks for your thought-provoking words. Lots of challenging ideas to struggle with, including national security concerns, freedom of expression and freedom of religion, and questions about who speaks for America on the global stage.

Picking up on a few of the points you raised, I wanted to make sure that you saw the Secretary of State's comments about this recent resolution at the UN:

"http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2011/03/159095.htm"

Press Statement
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
March 24, 2011

The United States welcomes today’s action by the UN Human Rights Council to further the international community’s efforts to combat religious intolerance. The consensus resolution adopted by the Council today represents a significant step forward in the global dialogue on countering intolerance, discrimination, and violence against persons based upon religion or belief. We appreciate the leadership shown by the Organization of the Islamic Conference and member states on today's landmark achievement.

The United States strongly supports today’s resolution, which rejects the broad prohibitions on speech called for in the former “defamation of religions” resolution, and supports approaches that do not limit freedom of expression or infringe on the freedom of religion. This resolution demonstrates a desire to move the debate on these shared challenges in a constructive and affirmative direction. Our divides can be bridged through an effort to listen to each other and to seek common ground. This resolution is a direct result of this type of engagement with the global community.

Today’s adoption of this resolution by the UN Human Rights Council is an important statement that must be followed by sustained commitment. At a time when violence and discrimination against members of religious minorities is all too common, we urge the international community to continue to uphold the freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As I said last month in Geneva, we must support those who are willing to stand up on behalf of the rights we cherish.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
April 4, 2011

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Mr. Lalka,

With specificity to incitement to violence, that's not a very "broad spectrum" of human vocalization or expression. The intent is well defined, and it's not compatible with the universal declaration of human rights.

As I see it, given the number of people offended and the potential for violence, it may behoove the UN to refer the fellow to the ICC under "incitement of genocide.", but getting him there is another sticky wicket.

As such, I doubt if what I'm suggesting as a dicincentive is inherantly incompatible with the spirit of tolerance US policy upholds, and if it is...,

Onward through the fog...stumbling on a clue.

Hope it helped in the larger UN debate.

Thanks for your reply, gives one faith in an interactive government it does.

EJ

palgye
|
South Korea
April 4, 2011

Palgye in South Korea writes:

When you leave me out, or else I would like to continue coming.

Rob L.
|
District Of Columbia, USA
April 4, 2011

DipNote Blogger Rob Lalka writes:

@ Eric Thanks for your feedback. Even in the midst of all of the sensational coverage last fall about Rev. Terry Jones, one of the things that inspired me personally was the leadership shown by people of all faiths, from all across America, who called for understanding, compassion, and peace.

Florida:
"http://blog.faithinpubliclife.org/2010/09/a_peaceful_response_to_a_hatef...""http://www.gainesville.com/article/20100909/ARTICLES/9091050"

Michigan:
"http://www.wxyz.com/dpp/news/region/wayne_county/interfaith-clergy-say-t..."

Texas:
"http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7187112.html"

Nationally:
"http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/08/us/08muslim.html"

In terms of the recent news, the White House put out this statement from President Obama after our exchange yesterday, which I wanted to be sure you saw: "http://j.mp/f8tngO"“Today, the American people honor those who were lost in the attack on the United Nations in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan. Once again, we extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those who were killed, and to the people of the nations that they came from. The desecration of any holy text, including the Koran, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry. However, to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous, and an affront to human decency and dignity. No religion tolerates the slaughter and beheading of innocent people, and there is no justification for such a dishonorable and deplorable act. Now is a time to draw upon the common humanity that we share, and that was so exemplified by the UN workers who lost their lives trying to help the people of Afghanistan.”

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
April 4, 2011

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Mr. Lalka,

I know if I were to respond to every incitement to violence directed at me, I'd probably be spending 20 to life in the pinta.

And I fully agree with the President.

The problem is that the incitement by one fringe element pushing the buttons of another leaves the average tolerant Muslim or Cristian witness to the furthering of the dysfunctionality of the human condition, in reactionary mode.

I think a good case could be made for accessory to murder being that the incitement had a hundred percent probability of causing just such a violent reaction.

It is the Afghan gov.'s responsibility to direct their people's anger in more positive ways to such incitement, but it is the US gov.'s responsibility to bring charges on the citizen if there has been a violation of US law.

Personally, if I were presiding over the sentencing having a guilty verdict before me rendered by a jury for the legal aspects I cited earlier he may indeed be charged with, I think it would be fair to toss the man in a cell across the hall from Mohammed Atta, for as long as it takes for them to "work things out".

That would seem only fitting.

Best regards,

EJ

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
April 5, 2011

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Mr. Lalka,

(Correction): I meant to refer in my previous post "Khalid Sheik Mohammed" instead of Mohammed Atta...(chuckle)...my bad. Terry Jones would have to hold a seance with a oiji board to "work things out" with the latter.

Sorry, the coffee hadn't quite kicked in when I wrote that.

EJ

Dan
|
District Of Columbia, USA
April 7, 2011

Dan in Washington writes:

"Based on the success of last week's seminar...we are also pursuing new policy guidance and legal guidelines to give our diplomats greater clarity about engaging faith communities abroad."

Sounds much-needed -- and long overdue! Good work.

Ronald W.
|
California, USA
July 25, 2011

Ronald in California writes:

How can RLW Nonprofit and Faith-Based Consulting get involved?

Please Advice!

.

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