Paducahan's Work Has Global Reach
But Casey, the son of Melba Casey and the late Paul Casey, doesn’t let his ego run wild with the lofty title and important work. That’s perhaps challenging given he’s met President Obama, reports directly to Kerry, and has traveled the globe meeting religious leaders about various political and humanitarian
efforts on behalf of the U.S. government.
“You can’t take yourself too seriously,” said Casey on Monday afternoon during a quick visit to his hometown. “It’s temporary. I’m not going to be there forever. I’m very grateful for the opportunity, and I do not take that for granted.”
Casey is a graduate of Abilene Christian University, Harvard Divinity School and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. By trade, he is a religious scholar, an ethicist and theologian, and is on leave from his teaching post at Wesley Theological Seminary in D.C. while serving in government.
He has known Kerry since 2005, and they’ve talked several times over the years about mutual interests such as the role of religion in presidential politics and U.S. foreign policy. He was appointed in July 2013 to Kerry’s newly formed religion and global affairs office.
Among Casey’s objectives abroad are supporting democracy and human rights, defusing conflict and promoting international development, he said.
“How could I say no to this chance?” Casey said. “Two years in, we’re fully staffed ... and work around the world. We’re trying to engage religious actors in a more sophisticated fashion. It was Secretary Kerry’s belief that the United States State Department had not done as good a job as it could have historically in understanding religion as a social and political force around the globe.”
In his two years, Casey has visited nearly 20 countries and is scheduled to travel to Ukraine, a “site of great geopolitical conflict right now,” at the end of the month. He’ll be meeting with leaders from various orthodox Christian groups, the majority religion in Ukraine, as well as leaders from other denominations and faiths.
Casey said he stresses meeting leaders from all faiths while abroad on behalf of the U.S. He shares the administration’s “deep commitment to religious freedom, and that’s religious freedom for all parties, not just for the dominant religious groups.”
An example of Casey’s work can be found within Nigeria, a country with both strong Christian and Muslim presences.
It’s an interesting country, Casey said, given its importance to Africa, religious influences, the new president’s emphasis on eliminating government corruption, and the very large and violent presence of Islamic extremist group Boko Haram.
“The faith communities, be they Muslim, be they Christian, have a potentially positive role for calling this new government to a morally viable stance with respect to corruption,” Casey said. “If we can find religious leaders to help the new government become stable and begin to target the internal government corruption, that’s a good thing.
“Historically, the State Department hasn’t always looked to those religious actors as potential sources for help.”
Casey also keeps his eyes on the turbulence in the Middle East.
“The number of refugees we now have globally, I think, has never been higher since World War II,” he said, stemming in large part from fighting in Syria and Iraq.
The U.S., he said, spends billions on humanitarian aid to people displaced by fighting, and protecting people of faith from Islamic State aggression. There exists a “sectarian divide” in Iraq, Casey said, that must be overcome for the country to “survive and thrive.”
“They’ve got to go back in their history when Sunni and Shiite got along better and find an updated version of that, where people can get along as Iraqis,” he said. “Part of the State Department’s mission is to help them find a way to live in an era of tolerance and acceptance, which has been very, very troubling for them in recent years.”
Though his work often addresses complex problems in foreign lands, Casey said it also provides encouraging examples.
People of faith, he said, are usually the ones with boots on the ground, helping those in need.
“Many times when I go to a foreign country, we will discover that religious groups are doing the most work in fighting poverty, and they’re doing the most work on health care, and they’re doing the most work on education.”