Dear Secretary Tillerson: Don’t Downsize Religion in Foreign Affairs

Dear Secretary Tillerson: Don’t Downsize Religion in Foreign Affairs

Closing the RGA is much more than a bureaucratic loss; it impacts our Christian brothers and sisters around the globe.

As an evangelical leader, one of the few times I had direct access to the previous Secretary of State, John Kerry, was in a meeting put together by Special Advisor Shaun Casey, then head of an independent State Department office called Religion and Global Affairs, or RGA. Casey brought a group of mostly Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religious leaders to a lunch gathering at Georgetown University. We shared a meal, listened to a briefing from the secretary, and spent more than an hour discussing foreign policy issues related to peace in the Middle East.

Hosted under the auspices of the RGA, the meeting gave us hope that religious leaders—and the communities they represent—will continue to provide input and insight into US foreign policy decisions. However, if the Trump administration has its way, the RGA office may not remain independent much longer—and it might not exist at all.

Politico recently reported that the current Secretary of State is looking to eliminate the post. In a letter proposing organizational changes, Secretary Tillerson notified Senator Bob Corker and the Committee on Foreign Relations of plans to eliminate the RGA special advisor position and fold only a few of its functions into the Office of International Religious Freedom (IRF). In my opinion, the IRF has a lot on its plate and its mandate is not well aligned with that of RGA.

Although the loss of RGA might seem to outsiders like a bureaucratic loss—just another government office to get the axe—it carries significant import for the church, missionaries abroad, and vulnerable people across the globe.

“Eighty-four percent of the global population self-identifies as religious,” says Doug Leonard, the director of global …

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