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State Department creates new religious outreach office

Published: Wednesday, July 31 2013 10:45 a.m. MDT

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a joint news conference with his Jordanian counterpart, Nasser Judeh, not pictured, in Amman Wednesday, May 22, 2013. Secretary of State John Kerry says the United States and its Arab and European allies will step up their support for Syria’s opposition to help them “fight for the freedom of their country” if President Bashar Assad’s regime doesn’t engage in peace talks in good faith.

Mohammad Hannon, Associated Press

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The State Department has created a new office that will advise Secretary of State John F. Kerry on religious affairs.

While the administration hasn't made a formal announcement of the appointment, Wesley Theological Seminary announced this week that one of its faculty has been named to head the new office.

"On Monday, July 15, Dr. Shaun Casey, Wesley Theological Seminary’s professor of Christian ethics, began his new duties as the special advisor to the Secretary of State for faith-based community initiatives," an announcement on the seminary's website said. "Casey remains an important member of Wesley’s faculty and will return to his regular position at the conclusion of this assignment."

Casey is an authority and frequent lecturer on the intersection of faith and public policy, the announcement said. He served as a senior adviser for religious affairs and as national evangelical coordinator during President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.

“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.”

The Washington Post reported that Casey had served for many years as an adviser to Kerry while Kerry was a senator.

The State Department, according to the Post story, 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.”

Casey told the Post that the new job will be "fraught," but "I think we ignore the political impact of religion at our peril.”

“One of my mentors once said that ‘government engagement with religion is sort of like brain surgery. You have to do it very, very carefully.’ So I’m fully aware of the pitfalls, but I’m willing to jump in trying to offer an alternative model that is inclusive, that is constitutional and that is transparent.”

Email: mbrown@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @deseretbrown

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