We get it. There are priorities: The economy, jobs, war, and climate change — and the president is not our pastor and the cabinet officials are not acolytes and the undersecretaries might not say grace before lunch. Still, the Obama Administration’s blindness to America’s religious ethos remains awesome. It armed its opponents on the first pass in the Affordable Care Act with its insensitivity on the birth control mandate (many who disagreed with the Catholic Church rallied to its defense: “religious freedom” is an oxymoron if an institution cannot implement is own policies, however theologically foolish), and it won no points when it dawdled for a year and a half before nominating Suzan Johnson Cook as the ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. The US Senate didn’t help when it placed her nomination on hold, with some noting her lack of diplomatic experience. She was not approved until 2011.
Critics claim the administration then shackled her. “She had very few resources she could employ to develop strategies to advance international religious freedom,” said Thomas Farr, professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University. Thus, it may have missed warnings of killings of Coptics in Egypt and Muslims in Myanmar/Burma.
Johnson Cook said she needs a private-sector income to put her kids through college and resigned three months ago. Farr commented: “If the administration takes its time with this nomination, or nominates someone without those qualifications, it will confirm what many already suspect: It does not view U.S. international religious freedom policy as a priority.”
The executive branch’s density has swung into action. We’ve heard nothing of a new nominee. Does anyone see the underlying religious issues in Syria? Iran? Afghanistan? Pakistan? Saudi Arabia? Religious freedom, or the lack of it, is not only for Sunday School kids. It’s for everyone — “nones” included, especially since many rush to Bible studies after checking the box on the survey forms. We need not doubt Obama’s religious sincerity while asking him to hup-to it. He seems to have the strengths and weaknesses of all data-driven technocrats, who frame questions and priorities around efficacy, not ideals. Religion — at least in terms of national policy — doesn’t fit the grid.
Fine. Stop the micromanaging. Delegate this task to a worthy underling. To use Washington parlance, “staff it out.” Many loyal Democratic supporters wish he — and their party — would show a little political acumen in this area.
Lauren Marcoe at The Religion News Service has a fuller account. Go here to read more.