New Ambassador for Religious Freedom begins term without fanfare

By April 19, 2011

USA (MNN) — The position of the nation's top diplomat for
religious freedom had remained vacant since President Barak Obama's inauguration in
January 2009. Lindsay Vessey, advocacy
coordinator for Open Doors USA, says last Thursday, "Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook, who'd
been nominated and failed to get a confirmation in the last session of
Congress, was just confirmed as the Ambassador-at-Large for international
religious freedom."

It was the second go-around for Johnson Cook. President Barak Obama first sent a nomination
to the Senate in June 2010, but South Carolina's Jim DeMint (R) put a hold on the nomination, effectively
stopping the process.

"President Obama and Secretary Clinton have both made some
positive statements on religious freedom, but in terms of their actual policy
and actually taking action, we've seen very limited engagement," says Vessey.

The Obama administration
tried again in February. This time, the
nomination was backed by faith leaders and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,
and the hearings were taken a little more seriously. Still,
the confirmation took place without much fanfare. "It's something that we've
been keeping track of with our supporters and constantly asking for prayer. The confirmation happens just last week, and I didn't even hear a word
about it, didn't see any media on it."

Johnson Cook's job is to keep track of religious freedom at the State
Department and the impact of foreign policy. She'll also be in charge of writing the annual International Religious
Freedom Report. "Other duties that she would have would be
basically diplomacy, reaching out to different countries where we have concerns
about the state of religious freedom and trying to engage those countries and
work with them to improve the state of religious freedom," says Vessey.

Vessey says the position could get tricky as Johnson Cook makes her
way through foreign policy issues. "She would speak out on specific cases or
legislation. Let's say someone is put in prison, and we would like to apply
some quiet diplomacy, some pressure, to get that person released."

There are some concerns, but there's hope that Johnson-Cook
is a fast learner. "A lot of
organizations and individuals have pointed out that she seems to have not a
whole lot of experience or expertise in this field, but she does seem to have a
great interest," Vessey remarks.

Vessey is sympathetic to the strain this job will
create. She says believers can get
behind her as she begins to speak for those who have no voice. "Definitely pray
for wisdom for her. This is a huge job covering religious freedom for the
entire world. My hope is that she will be able to navigate the bureaucracy of the
State Department, that she will be able to earn the respect of colleagues in the
U.S. government, as well as the foreign governments that she's going to have to
work with."

An online American Baptist Church biography indicates Johnson
Cook has been a teacher, pastor, motivational speaker, and political adviser for
three decades.

She was the first Black woman to be a senior pastor in
the 200-year history of American Baptist Churches of the USA (elected in 1983). 

Most recently, Johnson Cook served as the
founding pastor of Bronx Christian Fellowship Baptist Church in New York–a
plant of at Mariners' Temple, where she had been serving.

Leave a Reply