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Funspirational Facts

Feb 17, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 22 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Appearing at the National Prayer Breakfast last week, President Obama gave a speech on the growing threat to religious liberty around the world. As Obama speeches go, the message was a good one. But as is typical for Obama, the message was at odds with his commitment to the issue:

We believe that each of us is “wonderfully made” in the image of God. We, therefore, believe in the inherent dignity of every human being—dignity that no earthly power can take away. .  .  . [F]or the killing of the innocent is never fulfilling God’s will; in fact, it’s the ultimate betrayal of God’s will.

Now pause for a second and reflect that those words were uttered by a man who twice voted against the Infants Born Alive Act, capped off a speech to Planned Parenthood with the words “God bless you,” and is currently bringing the full force of the federal government down on religious employers who don’t think abortion should be covered by the company health plan. 

Setting aside the cognitive dissonance on the value of human life, the main focus of Obama’s speech—religious persecution abroad—was also at odds with his administration’s commitment to the issue. It’s nice to know that the leader of the free world thinks religious persecution is a problem, but what has he done about it? 

Maybe we should ask the Rev. Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook. If you’re scratching your head wondering who that is, well, that just proves The Scrapbook’s point. Until she resigned last fall, Cook was the ambassador-at-large for the Office of International Religious Freedom in the State Department. Obama was so unconcerned about religious freedom that he didn’t even bother nominating anyone to head the International Religious Freedom Office before appointing Cook in 2010. Cook, aka Dr. Sujay, is the author of Too Blessed to Be Stressed, A New Dating Attitude, and Moving Up: Dr. Sujay’s Ten Steps to Turning Your Life Around and Getting to the Top! Her website describes her as a “funspirational” speaker. 

To be fair, Cook had been a New York City police chaplain and served on a presidential commission under Clinton. But if you suspect Cook was not the most qualified for the State Department post, you’re not alone. “Dr. Sujay’s résumé, with no discernible international policy experience, her close ties to the Clinton administration, and several ill-defined business ventures, suggest that President Obama cares little about supporting religious freedom around the world,” Anthea Butler wrote at the time in Religion Dispatches. Robert Seiple, a former International Religious Freedom ambassador and former head of the World Vision international Christian charity also expressed concern: “There is very little grace allowed for on-the-job training when it comes to international diplomacy,” he said. 

Cook did not surpass expectations. When she recently stepped down, she did so “amid criticism that she failed to stand up for some of the world’s most persecuted victims of religious oppression,” according to Religion News Service. While Christians in Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, and Nigeria were being massacred, the ambassador-at-large was nowhere to be found. Nina Shea, an international human rights lawyer with the Hudson Institute, told Religion News Service she was shocked Cook “would be utterly silent and not speak about the largest, single persecution of the largest single religious minority in the Near East in 1,300 years,” in reference to what happened to Egypt’s Copts.

The Obama administration hasn’t yet bothered to fill the vacancy and is “tight-lipped about the timeline for a decision,” according to the Washington Post. A single State Department functionary is not the be-all-end-all of the U.S. government’s efforts on behalf of religious freedom, but there’s precious little evidence the Obama administration has a broader strategy to combat international religious persecution. This should be a pressing issue for the White House, but, as ever, Obama seems too blessed to be stressed about it.

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