U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for religious freedom says she will be hands on
The Obama administration’s U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom said recently that she plans to apply a more hands-on, faith-based approach in dealing with global faith issues.
Rev. Suzan Johnson-Cook told Michel Martin on NPR’s radio program Faith Matters that she hopes to put a face on religious freedom and to perform her duties more strategically.
The recently sworn in ambassador-at-large told Martin, “[W]hat we’re trying to do is have a faith approach to some very real issues that are global. And I think people have not had a hands-on, frontline experience before. And so what they will see now is a face of religious freedom…a woman who’s…[m]oving forward strategically,” NPR reported.
In her new position, Cook will be monitoring religious freedom issues globally and will report directly to President Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. The latter has said of Cook, “To many, she is more than a minister, more than a spiritual leader, although she is certainly that. She is a passionate advocate for the God-given rights of people everywhere, no matter which god they believe gave them those rights in the first place,” Beliefnet said.
Clinton, during Cook’s swearing-in ceremony, said in her speech which was reprinted in the U.S. Department of State website that she will be working “in very close partnership” with Cook to uphold religious freedom, citing issues of violent extremism geared to exploiting sectarian tensions, abusive authoritarian regimes and threats to religious freedom whether through “quiet intolerance” or “violent attacks.”
When questioned by NPR about what Cook can do regarding religious freedom issues in countries with ties to the U.S., such as Saudi Arabia and the People’s Republic of China, Cook said, “I’m the poster child of religious freedom,” and added that she plans to “elevate” these issues with U.S. allies, NPR said.
Cook told NPR, “[Y]ou work with the allies that we have as partners and then you begin with diplomacy [with countries that are not allies] where there are pragmatic openings, begin to sit down and strategically plan to see if there could be partnerships where there have not been in the past.”
For 21 years, Cook was a chaplain with the New York City Police Department, which has a longstanding reputation for being at odds particularly with minorities including African-Americans and Latinos.
When asked how she mediated the role as chaplain of the NYPD and a voice for a beleaguered minority of which she is part, Cook told NPR that she saw herself as representative of her “culture and their concerns.”
Cook told NPR, “You need people from all sides of the world. You need some who are outside, who are the activists. You need some who are inside. When you have a department that’s 50,000 people strong, you’re going to also have minorities within the department…So I think you look at the opportunities that have been open and where you have been placed by God and by the Almighty.”
Cook, who in 1996 founded Bronx Christian Fellowship Baptist Church, told NPR that she measures measures success by knowing that she has done her best with each day, enabling her to sleep peacefully at night.
She also noted to NPR that success is measured in due time by how one is remembered in history. But for herself, “[E]ach day I awake and I ask God to use me for that day in the best way that God [wants] and that I might make a difference for the people whose lives I touch and who touch mine.”