Beliefnet
Religion & Public Life With Mark Silk

Sujay.jpgFor some months now, folks concerned about the
federal government’s engagement with freedom of religion abroad have
been agitating for the White House to get around to naming the
Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Yesterday, it
finally did
so
, and I’m afraid they are not going to be happy.

The nominee is Suzan Johnson Cook, a Baptist pastor from the Bronx known
for stirring preaching and writing spiritual self-help books. (In a
short profile
in the New York Times in 2002, Jane Gross described her as
“Billy Graham and Oprah rolled into one.”) Other than serving as a
chaplain to the New York Police Department, Dr. Sujay’s (as she styles
herself) only government experience was as a White House fellow attached
to the domestic policy council in the Clinton White House. Her
international experience is, as far as can be told, nil. (She is
identified as president and founder of the Worldwide Wisdom Institute,
but what that is other than a line on a resume is impossible to tell
from her website or
anywhere else on the Web.)

Her predecessors as Ambassador-at-Large were, in the Clinton
Administration, Robert
A. Seiple
, who came to the job having served as president for 11
years of World Vision, Inc., the huge Christian relief and development
agency. In the Bush administration, it was John V.Hanford,
who had spent 14 years working on international religious issues for
Sen. Richard Lugar and who also played a critical role in drafting the
1998 International Religious Freedom Act, which established the
Ambassador-at-Large position.

The position is a tricky one. Not only does the office holder have
precious little line authority but also has to deal with both the State
Department’s need to balance human rights against other policy
priorities and the free-wheeling U.S. Commission on International
Religious Freedom, which has its own funding and staff, and no qualms
about taking potshots at U.S. allies with less than stellar religious
freedom records.

In short, this is not a bully pulpit. Which is the one place where
Johnson Cook seems to know her way around.

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