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US needs to see religion’s role

WASHINGTON (CNS): If the United States is to engage the world in a more effective and meaningful way, it must broaden its view of the role of religion in other countries beyond terrorism and counter-terrorism strategies, a new report concluded.

Released on February 23 by the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, the report offers US diplomats and policy makers a framework to better respond to the growing influence or religion in the affairs of the world’s governments, said R. Scott Appleby, who is director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and a co-chairman of a task force that wrote the report.

“What we’re calling for is a more consistent, integrated approach that is tailored, not going beyond the bounds of what’s necessary,” Mr Appleby said at a press briefing at Georgetown University’s Berkley Centre for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.

“You would think in a way, isn’t this happening already, but for complicated and historical reasons, the answer has been no.”

The report, “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for US Foreign Policy,” recommends that throughout the US Government it’s time to “understand and respond to religiously inspired actors and events in a way that supports those doing good, while isolating those that invoke the sacred to sow violence and confusion”.

Mr Appleby said the report called for a new approach to foreign affairs that expands engagement with religious players around the world beyond the traditional government sectors of the State Department and the military and intelligence communities.

“There’s been a real reluctance for people in our government to engage religion and yet under the radar, unofficially, it’s become so apparent to people in government who are working on health care, on development, conflict resolution, that if you don’t engage religious actors you’re left behind,” he said.

“Opportunities for resolving conflict and building peace may be lost.”

Task force co-chairman Richard Cizik, who is president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, said understanding the role of religion in societies around the world would lead to broader development for all people.

Mr Appleby said: “We have a sense of urgency about this question because the world has brought this to our door.”
More than a year in development, the report was prepared by a 32-member task force convened by the Chicago council. Members included religious leaders, academics, policy makers, constitutional lawyers and members of the media.

The task force recommended a series of actions for the US Government to take as it expands its consideration of the role of religion in its work overseas.

The report called for mandatory training on the role of religion in world affairs for US Government and diplomatic officials. It also recommended tapping into the expertise and skills of military veterans and civilians returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.


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