2021 Religion and Foreign Policy Workshop
CFR's annual Religion and Foreign Policy Workshop brings together high-level congregational and lay leaders, scholars of religion, and representatives of faith-based organizations from across the country for conversations on pressing global concerns with policymakers, CFR fellows, and other experts.
The full agenda is available here.
TIPPETT: Well, it is my pleasure to convene this gathering with a few announcements. First of all, welcome, everyone, to this opening session of the CFR Religion and Foreign Policy Workshop. I am Krista Tippett of On Being Project and the On Being radio show and podcast, and very happy to be moderating today’s conversation with CFR President Richard Haass. As a reminder, this virtual meeting is on the record and it is made possible in part through the generosity of the Ford Foundation.
In 2006, CFR President Richard Haass launched the Religion and Foreign Policy program for clergy, scholars of religion, and leaders of faith-based organizations, in recognition of the importance of including the religious dimension in discussions of international affairs. Since 2007, the program has held this annual workshop, which I attended in the very, very early days—I think Irina and I guessed it might have been the first one—with the purpose of convening a diverse group of religious leaders to examine pressing concerns at the intersection of religion and foreign policy. And this year’s workshop brings together over 320 participants representing 41 faith traditions.
I’m pleased to introduce Richard Haass. Richard Haass is a veteran diplomat, a prominent voice on American foreign policy. He is now in his eighteenth year as president of the Council on Foreign Relations, which is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, publisher, and educational institution dedicated to being a resource to help people better understand the world, and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries. And Dr. Haass has extensive government experience. He’s worked for the State Department, multiple White House administrations, and also as a staffer in the United States Senate. He’s also the author or editor of fourteen books on American foreign policy, one book on management. And his most recent book is The World: A Brief Introduction—a small topic, Richard.
So we are going to speak for a few minutes up here, about half an hour, kind of traversing some of the big picture questions and observations around this moment. And then we’re going to very importantly turn to the room, the Zoom room, for your questions. I will make that shift in about half an hour. And when we get there, we’ll explain again how you can submit your questions. So let’s just dive in.
I will say that Richard and I very briefly crossed paths a long time ago in a vanished world, in divided Berlin back in the Cold War world. It was literally another century, another world in every way. And I was the chief aide to our ambassador to West Germany in Berlin at that time. And you were already kind of in your foreign policy groove heading towards this august post that you have now.
And, Richard, I just want to start by saying it’s been so on my mind that when that wall came down in 1989, which I think would agree, no one predicted would happen when it did, how it did. I never imagined that in my lifetime there would be another event, another turning that felt so much like the world, globally, that you could think about the time before and the time after. But it has been astonishing to live through this past year and feel that we have had again such a pivot.
And I’d just love to draw you out on that, and on how it feels to you. And I also wonder if you have a name for this time we’ve entered now. (Laughs.)
HAASS: Well, first of all, thank you, Krista. Thank you for doing this, and for all else you do. And welcome, everyone. It’s great to have you back, virtually. I hope and expect next year we’ll have you back physically. Maybe even we’ll do some version of a hybrid, seems to be the word of the moment. But again, it’s good to be with you all, if only through the wonders of Zoom.
I actually think the end of the Cold War was a more consequential development, in the sense that it totally transformed the structure of the world. For forty years, for four decades, the world was essentially divided into two principal camps, two rival camps. There was the third of the,then so-called “nonaligned,” but essentially it was a great-power rivalry and heavy, with these two large concentrations of power. Now, when that world ended, and we’re still in the post-Cold War era, something very different took its place. So a much broader distribution of power, much greater capacity and autonomy, and many more hands. And also, coincidentally, became a year where global challenges moved to the forefront, alongside traditional geopolitics.
The pandemic is one such global challenge. A disease that broke out in a city of ten million or so of China has, over the last, what, sixteen, seventeen months claimed millions of lives worldwide. My sense is probably on the order of ten million lives. The undercounting, I believe, is quite significant. And it’s disrupted lives, careers, societies, economies. That said, I really don’t think it will be a transformational event. Already we’re seeing in certain countries, including this one, the resumption of fairly robust economic activity.
The countries of Asia, for the most part, have weathered this in extraordinary fashion, the Asia-Pacific. Other countries are in very difficult state: India, Brazil, Russia, some others. But I think it’s a question of when and not if, through some combination on vaccines, therapeutic drugs, masks, distancing, what have you, you have significant recovery in the physical sense, as well as in the economic sense. And the world after the pandemic will in many ways resemble the world geopolitically and geoeconomically before it.
So I think this is a powerful experience. I think it’s a reminder of the power of globalization, borders in many cases are not respected. But I don’t think, say, the world of 2022 or 2023 will be fundamentally changed from the world that existed before it.
TIPPETT: I guess I’m thinking, I’m certainly thinking of the pandemic when I speak about the before and the after, but I also think about the racial reckoning that I think happened within the pandemic. We could have a whole conversation about that but in some ways if I think about something that—(laughs)— the whole end of history idea, back in that olden day, was not seeing how the Cold War had kind of kept the lid on tight of the reckoning with colonialism. And in some ways I think that is now coming full circle. Certainly, it’s happening internally, domestically, but it’s absolutely, I mean, it is a global reckoning in a sense. And I imagine it having foreign policy ripple effects.
I agree with you, maybe we won’t see it by 2022 or 2023. But I just wonder if you, it also very much points at how the language that I read about what CFR is about and this conference is about, the intersection between religion and all that religion grapples with, and foreign policy, is really the connotations, what is contained in that phrase is so transformed, although that transformation has been coming for a while.
HAASS: You know, lots I could say.
HAASS: I do think the Cold War kept a lid on a lot of things. It was, in its own way, quite disciplined. Countries in many cases lacked a degree of autonomy. And what we saw with the dissolution both of the internal Soviet empire, the Soviet Union was an empire in and of itself, and then there was the external empire in Eastern Europe and so forth. When empires tend to unravel, there’s often quite a lot of violence and nationalism that emerge. We saw it profoundly in places like the former Yugoslavia. So we’ve seen that.
And I think more broadly, again, this is a world in which power is much more distributed, autonomy is, for lots of reasons. One is the end of the discipline of the Cold War. Indeed, when you think about it, Krista, the first great event of the post-Cold War period happened less than a year after the taking down of the Berlin Wall, and that was the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. And that was something that arguably never could or would have happened during the Cold War because, among other things, the Soviet Union had considerable influence over the behavior of Iraq, and my guess is would not have permitted Saddam Hussein to do such a thing, to provide that kind of a strategic opening for the United States to increase its presence and role in a critical theater of the world.
So I think it’s true that some things have come out because of the end of the Cold War. You’ve seen the rise of certain countries, which has liberated them to do things—China, just to give you one example. I mean, you mentioned the racial reckoning, and that to me is attributable to all sorts of things. I think technology’s made a big difference. It’s given voice to, in some ways, the opposite of what Mr. Orwell predicted. Rather than concentrating voice, it’s distributed voices, thanks to social media. But yes, so in many ways it’s, to me, a far more complicated world.
I’m an historian by training. And you asked me before and I never answered it: What do we call this period? Well, the answer is we don’t yet have a name for it because it’s still forming itself. And in some ways, until there’s a dominant feature of this period I think we’ll continue to call it the post-Cold War period or we’ll just avoid any terminology. If the United States and China end up in a cold war, we’ll probably call this the inter-Cold War period just like the ’20s and ’30s were often referred to as the inter-war period between the two world wars.
But it could be because of some global challenge. For example, we’re living with the pandemic. Thank God we’ve got it under relative control. Imagine vaccines hadn’t come around. Then that could have been a defining event for mankind. Climate change still has the capacity to do that.
Again, so I feel we’re at a moment in history where we’re living in it, but it’s yet in some ways to define itself.
TIPPETT: So I’m curious, you started this initiative, is that right, this Religion and Foreign Policy initiative? So that was in 2006, and I’d like to hear what you were seeing in 2006 that made you feel that this gathering and this kind of conversation was necessary and was missing.
HAASS: It’s fifteen years ago, if my math is right, and it was one of several initiatives we started at the Council on Foreign Relations. The whole idea was to open the aperture of people’s involvement in international issues and foreign policy issues.
What struck me at the time was how important objectively the world was and how little, increasingly, people, particularly in this country, knew about it. Lots of reasons why. Schools don’t teach it, or if they teach it they don’t require students study it. Media covered it a lot less. You mentioned the end of the Cold War. A lot of people said “OK, well, therefore, we don’t need to worry about the world a whole lot, we can take a break, put our feet up.” You mentioned the “end of history” idea, that somehow a lot of the dynamics of history had been set aside.
My own view was just the opposite, that the world is becoming more important. I was struck by the gap between the inherent importance of the world and people’s appreciation of it. And then one day I came across a statistic about how many Americans once a week entered a house of worship. And you add up the number of Americans that go to churches of every conceivable denomination, and mosques, and synagogues, and what have you, it’s well over a hundred million people. I’ve seen numbers, a hundred fifty million people or more. I will leave our three hundred religious and congregational leaders to make a judgment as to how rapt their attention is, but I put that aside. That I leave to them. But my view was, wow, I couldn’t think of another experience that so many people in this country had on a regular basis.
And so what made this so interesting to me was not just what you said at the beginning, to get a better appreciation of the role of religion as a dynamic in international affairs. It means a lot to me because I was originally a religion major at Oberlin College. I got my first degree in Middle Eastern studies, very interested in comparative religion and all that, flirted with becoming a rabbi, and for better or for worse chose another path, which I’m happy to return to. But my view was that religious leaders, congregational leaders had a connection with people that was unparalleled.
And so my view was if I could somehow, if we at the Council on Foreign Relations, could establish a relationship with them, if we could become a resource for them, also, what an opportunity to expand awareness, understanding of critical issues in the country and the world if we could, if those who were giving the sermons, if those who were teaching classes inside churches and synagogues and mosques and the like were essentially a better position to educate their congregations? So it was, in a sense, a two-way relationship. I wanted us to learn more from them about the role of religion in the world, but I also wanted to be a resource for them in terms of just what the content of what it was, whether it was in sermons or whether it was in classrooms associated with religious institutions, I wanted to increase conversation about critical subjects that I thought was simply not happening in other places.
TIPPETT: That world in which you and I were young people interested in foreign policy was also a world in which—I always liked this thing that Peter Berger said, great sociologist of religion, that in the late twentieth century—what did he say—in polite circles, polite society, religion was something done in private between consenting adults. And it’s just telling that even though you studied, you did religious studies in college, this looking at the religious world and taking it seriously from the perspective of being a foreign policy expert, came to you in the twenty-first century. And I’m curious, also, about what you now would say you didn’t yet see about all the layers that there are to, again, that phrase, the intersection between religion and foreign policy. What have you learned?
HAASS: Any student of history would go back and would look at the role of religion and conflict, whether it was the Thirty Years’ War which ended with the Treaty of Westphalia, which is really the rise of the modern state system, so that kind of stuff was pretty well-known. But it wasn’t until I really studied the Middle East that I got a much better appreciation for I guess the word that comes to mind is fusion or integration. Because, or another way to put it is universities have departments; the world doesn’t. So you have the religion department, the sociology department, the economics department, the politics department. The world doesn’t have one, and these things all mix together. And it’s true of individuals. That’s why I’m very careful about ever ascribing motives to people because it’s always many things at work. But same thing with societies.
And I was involved heavily in everything from the Gulf War to the Iraq War to Afghanistan. I was the U.S. envoy to Northern Ireland; the U.S. envoy to Cyprus, the peace talks. And in every one of these positions, how could you be involved in these things and not understand the interplay? In some cases this was obvious at the surface, say in Northern Ireland or in the Middle East. Other places it was more suffused, when I was involved in India and Pakistan and so forth, involved in diplomacy between them. So I actually think any diplomat who ventures out and doesn’t have some understanding or feel for this set of topics that forms the core of this group, this workshop, I think is actually underequipped. I guess I would put it that way, is underequipped for the task.
TIPPETT: And has it been your experience in these years that a wider swath of policymakers see the importance of understanding religious people, communities, leaders?
HAASS: Not enough.
HAASS: I got really frustrated at times in government when I thought that people didn’t understand that enough. And it’s religion, it’s culture, it’s hard to say where one ends and the other begins. But when I look at the biggest mistakes the United States has made in the world—and I would say, two of the three biggest mistakes were Vietnam and the Iraq War—the lesson I take from that is we get in real trouble when we don’t understand local realities. And anytime we try to see the world through a lens of geopolitical abstraction rather than getting immersed in local realities, we get in real trouble. And we got in real trouble in Vietnam and in Iraq because, I would argue, we did not come close to understanding the nature of these societies we were intervening in, the nature of these societies we sought to transform.
So one of the lessons I took away is, yeah, hey, I’m always described as a globalist, but I always tell people you’ve got to know local. At times you’ve got to think local even if you’re acting on a global stage.
TIPPETT: Yeah, and the major traditions are the original global institutions, right? I mean—
TIPPETT: The Catholic Church—(laughs)—for example, was there before American foreign policy.
HAASS: For example. It’s still there, last I checked.
TIPPETT: Yes. (Laughs.)
HAASS: I think, again, one way or another these are powerful forces. And it’s just part of the tapestry or mosaic, whatever phrase you want to use about what motivates people or explains societies. And again, unless you have a feel for the range of what explains a society, I don’t think you can be, you’re not nearly as effective as a diplomat or an analyst or anything else if you lack that.
TIPPETT: What would you like the people in this room, our virtual room, to be attentive to? How would you advise them to strengthen their voice and their presence and the agency they have in these important intersections?
HAASS: It’s a big question. I will probably be, and please forgive me, characteristically immodest in my answer. (Laughs.) But I’ll try to be sensitive.
Let me start out with the fact that I am genuinely worried. I am worried about the future of this country. Our democracy is nearly two-and-a-half centuries old, and for the first time in my life I don’t take its future for granted. I’m worried about the future of international relations, given certain dynamics and certain capacities that have spread. And I’m also worried about the future of the world, the planet itself, in many cases because of the gap between these challenges and the collective responses. So let me just choose three issues, three of many, that I would hope that people in this virtual room would give voice to.
One is what I just alluded to, is climate change. We are stewards of this Earth. And one of the things we have learned is depending upon how we collectively, the eight billion of us, live our lives, how we use and consume fuel and the rest, we are changing this planet, and in the process, changing its ability to support life as we know it. God created the heavens and the Earth. We’re custodians. And I believe that responsibility towards the planet and climate change is one that we all share, that we need to leave it in better shape than we found it. Now, the actual policies that are adopted, that’s a different subject. But the importance of responsibility, of collective responsibility for the planet, that is one thing that I would argue needs to be—voice needs to be given to.
Secondly, and even more immediately, is to save life, which is the most precious thing of all. If I’m right and COVID’s killed around ten million people, we have got to act faster to save lives, and that means expanding the production and availability of vaccines. The United States just announced yesterday we’re going to make twenty million doses of vaccine available by the end of June. That’s probably enough for one day in the world. We’ve got eight billion people we’ve got to get vaccinated. Many of them are going to be two-dose vaccines. That’s sixteen billion doses. That’s a lot of doses. So we’ve got to dramatically ramp up collective efforts to make vaccines available, and it’s got to be done simultaneously not just for the human part but for ourselves. You know that line in the airplane when you all get, I mean, in the old days when you and I used to get on airplanes, and there you stood, some voice used to come on and say, in the event of loss of cabin pressure oxygen masks will drop down; put yours on first, and only then help your neighbor. No. That kind of sequentialism is not the right metaphor. It’s got to be simultaneous. We’ve got to help our neighbor and help ourselves simultaneously with COVID. Who better to argue for life on humanitarian or any other grounds or self-interested grounds than the people in this room?
And then, thirdly, something, again, I never thought I’d have to talk about, is American democracy. And I’m not saying that people in the clergy should preach you should be for or against this issue. That’s not the point. But there’s got to be something about nonviolence, something about civility towards those we disagree with, something about respecting laws, respecting norms, to talk about the importance of norms, the unwritten rules that are the glue to a society, to civilization. Again, I think, without getting into controversial matters of policy, which is beyond what arguably those in the clergy should be talking about, but how we go about our politics, that seems to me to be exactly in their wheelhouse.
So in those three areas, the planet, saving life, how we conduct our politics, I would think that the people in this room have tremendous opportunity, and I would say with opportunity goes responsibility, to be a clear and consistent voice.
TIPPETT: I think one more question and then let’s open it up because I think that would be a great conversation to have with this group. Just curious, is there an issue or an area where you’ve seen what you would consider to be good modeling of what this kind of, it’s not really, “collaboration” is too small a word. You’re talking about kind of walking alongside each, I mean, really, some of what you just pointed at is moral imagination and kind of where, and also action, and so where those things are joined effectively and generatively with other kinds of civil and political and foreign policy efforts. What comes to mind?
HAASS: One image that comes to mind, I’m not sure it gets at what you raised, and if it doesn’t do justice to it come back at me, it was during the protests you mentioned, the racial protests we’ve had over the last year, and it was a policeman with a protester and doing it together. And to me, it was so powerful that, because we think of many of the marchers against the police, and the idea that they essentially joined in a demonstration of mutual respect and acceptance, just to me it just stuck in my mind as just a very powerful, it was a bit of a We Shall Overcome kind of moment. And I’ve seen it, I mentioned before, I was the U.S. envoy in Northern Ireland. When the various mothers got involved, and wives, in marching for peace. And they were from cross denominational lines, Catholic and Protestants alike, how powerful was that? And it actually, it made a difference. And it makes a difference. It’s a little bit of humanity coming before policy. But that’s, in and of itself, a powerful political statement. So, yeah, it’s when individuals showed not just the morale. It takes enormous courage, enormous courage.
I’m writing a book on citizenship now, which is not what you would expect a foreign policy guy to do in his spare time. And the reason I’m writing it is that I’ve decided the greatest threat to the future of this country is not anything external, like China, or Iran, or North Korea, or terrorism, or what have you, but it’s us. It’s our own ability to come together. And I reread a book I hadn’t read, I’m reading all the things I haven’t read in forty or fifty years, from The Federalist Papers to de Tocqueville. And I reread Profiles in Courage. It was a book, of all things, I had gotten for my bar mitzvah four hundred years ago. And it’s just a reminder about—
TIPPETT: By John F. Kennedy.
HAASS: Yes. How normal—
TIPPETT: You need to remind—everybody here hasn’t heard of that book.
HAASS: Oh, yeah, like I said, four hundred years ago. John F. Kennedy wrote about, I think it was, eight or so senators who he called them profiles in courage, did truly courageous things often at the cost of their own ambition and careers, and put principle or country before ambition and self. And I actually think we’ve had some demonstrations of it recently. And it just shows me how—sorry to go on so long—but I’ve been lucky enough to work for four presidents.
There’s so little that’s inevitable in history. So little is baked into the cake. But human agency matters tremendously, for better and for worse. And what Profiles in Courage is, are vignettes of human agency that mattered for better. So I believe in that. That’s the reason I’m not a pessimist. Throughout history you see examples when people step up and do the right thing, despite the cost, despite the risk, despite the pressure. And one just hopes that those become less the exception and more the rule.
TIPPETT: I’m so curious at that formulation of humanity over policy. Was it something that would have occurred to you in the early part of your career, back in that Cold War world? Or is this something that has evolved within you?
HAASS: It’s evolved because, again, I’ve been so fortunate in many ways. But one of them is I’ve been involved in things at high levels in this country and other countries. And I’ve seen what people do. And I’ve seen people evolve and grow. The favorite, I’ve interacted with a lot of remarkable people in my life. Again, I’ve been really lucky. But if I had to choose one person, and I’m often asked that, who’s made the biggest impression on me, it was Yitzhak Rabin, who, when we first met it was even before he was defense minister. Then he became defense minister. Ultimately, he became prime minister.
And we had many, many, many conversations. And what I loved about him, and he talked about it a little bit in public on the lawn of the White House at the signing ceremony when he was up there with Yasser Arafat, after Oslo. And he basically said: This is not easy for me, what he was being asked to do. And how can you not be impressed by that? And what makes people great is that. And I have tremendous respect for George Bush forty-one, the forty-first president, the father. You know, when we worked together, it just showed me close up the power and the impact of individual choice.
And again, I’ve seen, I won’t go into the areas where I’ve been disappointed, because I’ve also been tremendously disappointed. Where I thought people had within their grasp potentially wonderful things and they let it slip through their fingers for whatever set of calculations or emotions. So for better and for worse, close up, I’ve seen people step up to history and people step away from it. But it made me realize how personal it is. It’s funny—one last thing. For a long time there was a fashion in history that so-called great man or woman idea or history was incorrect, and that underneath what really mattered were these great societal, cultural, larger forces. And those forces matter. We’ve been talking about them, you and I.
But also, it’s those people, I don’t know what the metaphor is, but who kind of surf or ride on top of them and who steer them a little bit or resist them if need be. So again, there’s so little that is inevitable. And when I talk to young people I always talk about the power of what individuals can do. And it ought to be a great—people say how can I make a difference? And one of the arguments I use for reading history and studying history, is history is in many ways the record of people who have made a difference.
TIPPETT: OK. Well, Rivka, I think you can guide us into opening this conversation up to everybody.
The first written question will come from Marie Anne Sliwinski at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, who asks: The more global empathy toward the Palestinians shows how the pandemic has changed people. Would you agree?
HAASS: I don’t think I would agree. I don’t see how the pandemic has changed thinking about Palestinians. I think there was and is sympathy for their plight. Less sympathy for those, such as the leaders of Hamas, who use violence to advance their goals. But I think, unless I misunderstood the question, I don’t see a particular connection between the pandemic and Palestinians. Although, Palestinians have had it particularly hard because, particularly in places like Gaza, you have such dense population. You’ve got two million people in an extraordinarily small piece of land. You’ve had inadequate access to vaccines and medical help.
But by and large, I think the Palestinian problem, situation, however one wants to characterize it, had a dynamic that long predated the pandemic, will have one that will, is now trans-pandemic, and will be there post-pandemic. And I think the factors that drive that issue, many factors that drive that issue, all of which are in the press today, are essentially largely apart from the pandemic. And I don’t see that, for example, affecting the coverage or the reaction to events of the last week.
TIPPETT: Another question.
OPERATOR: We will take the next live question from Pastor Mark Burns. He is from the NOW Television Network.
BURNS: Great. Thank you so much.
My question is a piggyback question in regards to the Israeli-Palestine conflict that is currently taking place. Christians in general, especially Evangelical Christians in general, support Israel. What is your opinion on the latest conflict? Is Israel at fault, or is there a justification for the Palestinians’ attack?
HAASS: Well, we could use the rest of the time to go into that. And I think what we’ve seen in the last ten days are all sorts of things. We saw the protests in Jerusalem over legal issues dealing with title to land. We saw the use of force inside Islamic holy places, that I was critical of. Even before that you had the postponement of the, by the Palestinian Authority, of elections, which again was unfortunate. Then you had the use of, the firing of rockets by Hamas from Gaza into Israel population centers. That was wrong by any and every measure. Israel had the right to retaliate in the name of self-defense. I think that was appropriate.
The question is whether there’s been sufficient retaliation. And I’ve been arguing for the last several days that we, the United States, ought to be pressing harder for a ceasefire. That too many innocents on both sides are losing their lives. I also think for Israel there’s other risks, like continuing a loss of support in some quarters. I think it strengthens, potentially, the political hand of Hamas and weakens the political role of the Palestinian Authority. I also think there’s a potential here to radicalize the two million or so Israeli Arabs, which would be a threat to the fabric of Israeli society. But more than anything else, I don’t see the purpose or justification for continued attacks. I think what we need now is a mutual stand down, a de facto or more formal ceasefire. It’s happened in the past after previous rounds of fighting. It will happen again now. I think the question is when, not if. And I would simply say the sooner the better.
And just to be clear, if and when we get to that point it will not have dealt with any of the basics, any of the underlying causes of this conflict. But it will stop the destruction and the loss of life. And then the question is, is there enough for diplomats and politicians to work with to address the more fundamentals of the crisis. I’m not a real optimist. I don’t see an end when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinians’ feud anytime soon. But at least it would stop the destruction and death that we’re seeing now on both sides.
TIPPETT: Another question.
OPERATOR: Our next question is a written submission from P. Adem Carroll at the Burma Task Force USA, who asks: The harsh and sometimes genocidal persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, notably in China, India, and Myanmar, has resulted in a mixed response from the West and silence from many other nations. At the same time, many corporations prefer to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses. For example, Disney in Xinjiang, or Chevron in Myanmar. Speaking of corporate responsibility, what is the future of Corporate Social Responsibility in a world where Responsibility to Protect struggles to survive?
HAASS: It’s a really thoughtful question. So thank you. Look, let me make one or two general points, and then I’ll come to the question of corporate responsibility. I think for governments this question of speaking out on behalf of religious freedom, human rights, and so forth, I think it’s important to do so, but I think one has to at times also look at the question, as what is, well, what influence do you have? Countries have the ability to push back not just big and strong countries like China, but even weak, relatively weak countries like Myanmar. And also from a policy point of view, there are tradeoffs sometimes. And we have to ask ourselves if we, are we willing to mortgage, or jeopardize, or place hostage, whatever phrase you want to use, an entire relationship to concerns over human rights or religion?
Take an example of Russia. We, obviously, fundamentally disagree with what Russia is doing in Ukraine. Obviously, fundamentally disagree with the mass incarceration of political protesters, the attempted killing of Mr. Navalny. On the other hand, the United States recently signed a multiyear extension of a nuclear arms control agreement with Russia. And the question is, how do we look after certain interests at the same time we try to show a decent respect, and a necessary respect for religious freedom and human rights? And that’s a serious conversation that’s ongoing. But I think there’s no necessary right or wrong, it’s just that’s a foreign policy challenge to figure that out, understanding, one, the limits to influence sometimes and, two, that we have multiple interests, and we have to work the tradeoffs.
On the question of corporate social responsibility, I think this is a growing issue. We’ve come a long way since the days that corporations and CEOs were just responsible to shareholders and shareholder return. We see it in a pronounced way with environmental, and climate, and energy issues. We see it with, and we’re going to see it more and more with human rights and labor issues. Trafficking is another issue, the tens of millions of people around the world trafficked. And I would argue that corporations have a responsibility to make sure that their supply chains, the goods and services that are going into the products they produce, that people are not, that there’s no slave labor involved in those supply chains, or forced labor, and so forth.
So the answer is, yes. I think this has got to be a consideration. Shareholders and other investors should raise it. And I believe that CEOs have, and Larry Fink, who’s a member of our board here at the Council of Foreign Relations, the head of BlackRock, one of the largest asset managers in the world, has basically made a powerful argument for an expansion of the responsibilities of a CEO. And a CEO has to, yes, worry about shareholder return, investor return. But also has to be sensitive to his employees. He has to be sensitive, he or she, to customers and clients, but also to principles. And that’s, again, a balance act.
But I think they ought to be confronted with it. I think that shareholders and the public more broadly have every right to press corporations to take these other factors into account. And then the corporation, it seems to me, has to make a decision on how to respond, and then just to justify that decision. Has to justify that decision in the marketplace. And if people aren’t pleased with their decision or how they’ve justified it, I expect in some cases they will pay an economic penalty. People won’t want to own a stock, won’t want to buy a product or a service. So there’s lots of ways to influence these decisions. So there’ll be tradeoffs, shall we say, there, just like governments will have to make tradeoffs. So too will corporate leaders.
TIPPETT: Let’s have another question.
OPERATOR: Our next question will be live from Tereska Lynam from the University of Oxford. Please accept the “unmute now” button.
LYNAM: Can you hear me OK?
LYNAM: OK, great. Thank you.
This is also a written question. How do we confront and move beyond the real divisions in our information sources, which are filtering our way into our news, obviously, but also our spiritual communities? And so much reporting, even what seems to be benevolent and benign, has a partisan stance. And kind of on that, we just had Shavuot. How do we love our neighbors as ourselves when in many cases we are taught that so many of our neighbors are actually our enemies? Thank you for your consideration.
HAASS: No, thank you for your question. My honest answer is I don’t have a great answer. It’s something I’m struggling with. It’s extraordinarily difficult for a democracy to have a conversation or a debate about an issue if the foundation is not fact. You know, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was the Harvard academic who then became the senator from New York, his famous line was that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion just not to his or her own facts. And one can be, one could either, and by that, I think that’s important two ways. One is, one could just grab onto falsehoods. But there’s also the inaccuracy of grabbing onto 5 percent of something and ignoring the other 95 percent.
And I think part of the obligation of schools is to do a better job of helping people understand what facts are, what are judgements, what are opinions, where to go. The idea also of multiple sources. I was, in the old days before the pandemic, when I used to go to a gym, one of the things I used to do is when I worked out on the elliptical, if I had a half-hour workout, I’d spend ten minutes on three different networks, and just get a different sense of it. And I try to do it now with podcasts and others. Or I’ll read multiple newspapers.
But we live in an era of narrowcasting rather than broadcasting. And that’s dangerous. So part of it is to encourage people to move out of their comfort zones. And by the way, I don’t think universities do a great service in encouraging this notion of safety and safe spaces. I think people need to learn to be a little bit uncomfortable, to be exposed to things that challenge their own beliefs, what they had accepted as orthodoxy. So I think we ought to encourage people to go—I mean, there’s two things.
One is to encourage people to go to multiple sites, sources. And some are better than others. And but also how to practice the art of disagreement in a civil way. I think we need—we don’t want to stop arguing. We don’t want a ceasefire in the conversation. But we want to have, if you will, the equivalent of the laws of war. We want to have the Geneva Convention about how to have conversations in the public marketplace about what is legitimate and what is not, and how to disagree without turning people into enemies.
There’s a lot of experimentation going on. I’ve seen it with groups where you bring people together and you do polling at the beginning of the group. I think it’s called deliberative polling; I may have the wrong phrase. And then the idea is that people talk, and they get to know one another. And then you do polling later on in the process. And in my experience, when people are exposed in a civil, relaxed way to different points of view there’s often a bit of, not transformation, but a bit of movement.
And so I think, again, religious institutions potentially provide a great vehicle for doing that, for bringing in speakers who represent different points of view within the congregations. For getting people to have conversations on certain issues. To bring in experts who can provide an educational background to help people reach more informed opinions. And again, as I said before about democracy, to talk about the civility of disagreement, about how it is we, what democracy requires in the way of norms.
I actually think norms are incredibly important. Norms aren’t laws. They’re not things you have to obey, but they’re things you ought to. They’re the ought-tos and the shoulds of societal existence. They’re the lubricants that make societies work. We can’t just be a society of law. Law is too narrow. Potentially it’s too black or white, or too brittle. Norms become the conventions that allow us to find ways to disagree and coexist. And again, I think religious institutions can become places to exercise that and to even train that.
TIPPETT: Another question.
OPERATOR: Our next written question is from Simran Jeet Singh of YSC Consulting.
He asks: As you express your concerns about the state of our world can you speak about the state of religious freedom and how it’s been manipulated and politicized? From your vantage point, what would an appropriate and meaningful vision of religious freedom look like?
HAASS: By definition religious freedom is, for me, the ability of any individual on the planet to worship or not worship as he or she pleases. It’s about, in the phrase, “religious freedom,” it’s the freedom to practice or not to practice, and practice in whatever direction and whatever manner one would want to. I would say I’m not an expert on the state of religious freedom around the world. I will say though that over the last approximately decade and a half, plus or minus, there—if one were going to—I’ll use a financial metaphor. If there were a share of stock in a market called state of democracy and freedom in the world, it would have lost value over the last decade and a half.
In the previous decade and a half after the end of the Cold War, say from 1990 to 2005, there was an expansion of freedom in the world, political and otherwise. And in the last fifteen years, there’s been something of a contraction. And that, to me, is a worrisome development. And what we’re also seeing in many cases is greater intolerance and various justifications used for limiting religious freedom, or, not just religious freedom, but for treating members of religious groups with discrimination, I guess is a—which is what we’re also seeing in more societies than we did before.
And that’s part of the greater illiberalism of this era. Lots of reasons why. We can talk about it. But religion can’t escape a trend of greater illiberalism. It’s one of the reflections or victims of the time. And illiberalism has grown in democracies and non-democracies alike over the last decade and a half.
TIPPETT: Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next live question comes from Chloe Breyer of the Interfaith Center of New York.
BREYER: Yes, hello. Thank you so much.
My question is as follows. It’s a written question as well. A generation of young women and men have grown up in Afghanistan having received an education supported by the United States and international aid groups. What is it the U.S. can do to make sure this progress is not completely lost, particularly in women’s health and education, while drawing down our troops there?
HAASS: Thanks, Chloe. In part because of my concern about what you just raised the reason is I oppose the policy to withdraw all Americans, and with it then allied, troops from Afghanistan. Having them stay there was not a guarantee that women and girls would get to continue to benefit from the gains they had made: access to school, health care, and so forth, employment opportunities, but it certainly increased the odds they would. As American and allied troops withdraw over the next few months, there’s really grounds for being worried. Assuming that withdrawal goes ahead, and I see no reason to predict it won’t, it seems to me it makes a case for a large-scale assistance to the Afghan government, military assistance, economic assistance, and so forth.
It means in some cases I think, protecting those who worked with us. And if they’re not safe in Afghanistan, I think we have an ethical and moral responsibility to accept in this country those individuals in particular who were widely knowing, including by the Taliban, to work with us, who have worked with us, who will be targeted. And I think they and their families ought to be provided safe haven, asylum in this country. I think we, if things begin to go badly in Afghanistan, I think preparations have to be made for large refugee flows around the—provisions ought to be made for that.
So I don’t have a good answer, because, again, I’m extraordinarily worried about the likely increase in violence and the likelihood of Taliban gains. And I see no reason to believe that the Taliban have—what’s the word—have mellowed. I see no evidence of that. And so I think that risk is real. And so I would say we ought to do everything we can to bolster without a physical military presence. Maybe through provision of arms, intelligence, training, through contractors, economic help, diplomatic help, convening a regional security forum. We ought to do everything we can to strengthen Afghan authorities. We ought to—pressure ought to be put on Pakistan to limit the sorts of sanctuary and support that the Pakistani government continues to provide the Taliban in parts of Pakistan.
And we ought to prepare. If we still don’t succeed, then we ought to look for ways to help as many people as we can as they flee to areas of safety. I hope I’m painting too negative a picture here, but I fear I might not be.
TIPPETT: Another question.
OPERATOR: We have a written question from Rob Radtke of Episcopal Relief and Development, who asks: As the U.S. becomes a more secular society, how would you suggest building faith literacy amongst policymakers?
HAASS: That’s a really interesting question, since just yesterday I was having a long conversation about how to build greater technology literacy among policymakers. Because people like me, my generation don’t understand technologies enough from robotics to artificial intelligence to quantum computing. But these issues all matter. Thirty or forty years ago, the challenge was how to increase economics literacy among a lot of policymakers, because a lot of policymakers had studied politics or government but hadn’t studied economics. And as I said before, universities have departments, but the world doesn’t. Seventy years ago, the challenge was how to bring together military types and foreign policy types and mathematicians. And out of that was born this discipline called arms control. And it became way for regulating and structuring nuclear weapons to make it much less likely that they were used. And it has proven to be, shall we say, enormously successful.
I think the idea of greater faith or religious literacy amongst policymakers is a great idea. Again, began as a comparative religion major, so I kind of tripped into it. I would think a couple of ideas come to mind. One is for some foundations to step up to that. And the foundations would offer things like the funds for a summer institute at this or that, it could either be at a theological school for foreign policy types or it could be at places like the Foreign Service Institute. Or you take the schools of, Johns Hopkins, SAIS, the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, the Kennedy School of Government, other places that are great training grounds for people who go into this field.
That either a separate summer institute or executive programs for people who are midcareer. But essentially to make this training available, that this, again, we teach people the arts and crafts of negotiation, or we teach them a little bit about history, or you learn the details of decision-making, or what have you, or budgeting. So why not add this to the curriculum. And that would be the best thing, is that what you’re just describing would become part of the curriculum of, say, these graduate schools of international relations.
I would also think, I don’t know what the State Department does now, but you would never send someone to certain parts of the world without, say, a year or two of language training. Why would we send them to a part of the world without a year or two of faith, of training to learn about the cultures, the religions, and other forces that shape the society? So I would think that ought to be part of the curriculum. And just more broadly, the more interdisciplinary, the more things can be, the more exposure individuals can have across these disciplinary lines, the better. But I love the idea of giving people in this field something of a grounding either in religion, per se, or if they’re going to specialize in a certain country or region of the world to make sure they got added exposure to that.
I also think corporations, before you send somebody, instead of just sending them to business school, why not have, again, some exposure here if they’re going to be located in Africa, or the Middle East, or Asia? This, I would think, would be part of the outfitting, if you will, of preparing somebody for that experience.
TIPPETT: One more question?
OPERATOR: We’ll take another written question from Anna Thurston from the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology, who asks: In Dr. Haass’s remarks today he mentioned that some step up to history while others step away from it. How does religion influence whether people step up or step away from history? Could you give examples of both cases?
HAASS: I’m a little bit reluctant to give examples of those who stepped away from it. Let me put it this way, I think religion, it’s hard to generalize. I’ll speak for myself. Religion to me, among other things, besides the traditions and the practices—and I don’t know if my rabbi is in this virtual room right now so I’m going to be very careful with what I say—but it’s also, there is a code. And I think there’s codes of behavior. And as I said before, not just laws but norms. And one of the things I like in my own tradition, in the Jewish tradition, there’s a, and I’ve talked about this before, there’s things that one is precluded from doing, things that one is encouraged to doing. And one, it forces a kind of awareness or consciousness, and not to act in certain times, not to do things, can be every bit as consequential, and I would argue even wrong, as to act.
If one sees an injustice taking place next to you or an act of aggression, to simply stand by or turn away seems, to me, to be wrong when there are opportunities to move towards agreements that would increase protection for people, peace, greater freedom, what have you, not to take advantage of them, not to take some reasonable risks for them seems to be wrong. I would simply say that where we’ve seen success, and I’ll give you certain examples, places like South Africa, when you had both Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk, or parts of the Middle East when you had an Anwar Sadat and a Menachem Begin. We’ve seen people on both sides, or multiple sides of an equation, who were both willing and able, two critical measures. Willing and able to take risks for peace, or to compromise.
And where we’ve seen failure is that we haven’t seen that kind of parallelism amongst the various parties involved in a negotiation or in a process, where either no one was willing to do it, or only people on one side or another. And essentially some people were not willing to step forward. In places where we haven’t seen progress, that is often the case, where people, I believe, forfeited opportunities, one might say responsibilities, to take some risks for peace. And I think, again, one has to, you’ve got to decide what code you live by. You’ve got to decide how you, what you’re comfortable with in terms of both action and inaction. And I think that’s something for everybody, it’s a personal reckoning. It’s a personal accounting of one’s behavior that I think we all need to take.
TIPPETT: OK, we have time for a couple more questions.
OPERATOR: Our next written question is from Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons from the Center for American Progress, who asks: You mentioned the mistakes of the Vietnam and Iraq Wars. There was significant faith-based opposition to those wars. How can U.S. faith groups help influence U.S. foreign policy and promote peace?
HAASS: Well, again, people who are faith-based, they have every right, same rights as every citizen to use their voice, to use their vote, to get involved in political processes, to encourage, to organize. And it seems to me it’s totally legitimate. I think for you all it’s a slightly different question, because there’s one thing in your individual capacity but you’ve also got, many of you, institutional capacities. And—(laughs)—when I got this job eighteen years ago, Tom Friedman said to me: The job you’re going to take, you’re going to run the toughest congregation in New York City. And we’ve got about five thousand members. And there are days I think he had a point.
And one of the things I have to reckon with, and I’ll square this circle in a second, is to think about what I can and can’t do, because I’m no longer a totally free individual agent. I’ve got responsibilities to represent an organization. And we’ve got three hundred fifty, four hundred staff, we’ve got five thousand members, and I’ve got to keep that in mind. And I think the same is true for you all. If you lead a congregation, you’ve got to be aware that if you take certain kinds of stances or encourage certain behaviors, if you yourself do certain things, they may have consequences. You may find certain people leaving the congregation, or not contributing as they might have otherwise, and so forth.
You’ve just got to weigh that. You’ve got to weigh it. And again, life’s filled with tradeoffs. And there’s matters of conscience. There’s matter of practicality. You might say I’d like to take more of a stand on issue X, but if I do I then won’t be able to speak out on issues A, B, C, and D. So it’s not simple. It’s not black or white. So I’m not going to sit here and, you know, reduce it to some kind of a formula, other than to say, again, in your individual capacity and your leadership capacity, you’ve got the power of example and you’ve got the power of voice. And what you do and what you don’t do, what you say and what you don’t say is all consequential.
And I think we’re living in a moment—let me say one other thing, which I think I expect if I could see you nodding your heads I think you would. I see it in the people who work with me at the Council on Foreign Relations. We’re living at a time where, particularly for a lot of younger people, there’s widespread concern about what they see, a certain loss of confidence about the future, and a lack of confidence in secular authority. And I believe there’s something of a vacuum. I would believe that people in this virtual room have the potential to help fill that vacuum. And our politics are in many ways polarized, they’re gridlocked. I’m not naïve. I understand where ambition will win out over principle, where party will sometimes come before country. I get it.
And as a result, a lot of people are looking to other institutions. Someone asked before about corporations. There’s the nonprofit world, that I represent. And there’s the world that you all represent. So I believe people who are in positions of authority and responsibility, who lead other types of organizations or congregations, I believe this is an enormously important moment just because, again, so much secular authority in this country and other countries, I believe, has let people down. So I actually think there’s, again, opportunity but also responsibility to probably play a larger role than perhaps you thought you were going to play when you were undergoing your religious training. I think things have changed a bit.
TIPPETT: OK. I think we have time, a couple minutes for one last question.
OPERATOR: We’re going to just do two quick ones, actually. We’re going to take a live question from Felice Gaer from the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights. And then we’ll take one last question after.
BLAUSTEIN: Thank you very much.
Richard, the number of killings of Christians in Nigeria has been huge. And some people have blamed Boko Haram for much of this and say it’s a religious conflict between Christianity and Islam. Even the U.S. government has named Nigeria a country of particular concern under the IRFA. But others, including experts at the Council itself, say it’s really about other issues of development and that’s all that we’re seeing with ongoing impunity exacerbating the problem. What’s your view?
HAASS: Just to be clear, I don’t claim to be an expert. You know, John Campbell, who is one of our experts, was our ambassador there. Boko Haram is obviously responsible for much, but also the weakness of central authority plays an enormous role. I mean, John’s whole argument is that in some ways it’s almost wrong to think of Nigeria as a traditional country with this central government that performs or fulfills the obligations of a sovereign entity. Sovereign governments are meant to provide protection to all those within their borders. Well, the government of Nigeria will not and cannot.
So he actually advocates for a U.S. foreign policy not just towards the central government, but towards many other aspects of the country. Because, again, power and capacity are so distributed. And so it means, in a funny sort of way, or, not funny, but diplomats getting out of the capital, not just meeting with foreign ministry types. Essentially, being out there and looking for other ways to provide help, to build capacities locally, and so forth. So I don’t think it’s an either/or. Boko Haram is a menace in all sorts of ways. But there’s so many other fault lines within the society, and so many limits to the capacity of the central government that this is a—there’s too many—how would I call it? There’s too many vacuums of authority there that are getting filled by the wrong forces.
So one of the challenges, and it’s not unique to Nigeria, it just happens to be on such a large scale, about what we can do, NGOs can do, what the U.S. government can do, what the EU can do, what the AU can do. And again, there’s not a solution in sight, but whether you can do something to make it less bad. But I think it’s not an either/or. I think it’s an and.
TIPPETT: So—oh, sorry, Rivka, are you going? Do you have another question?
OPERATOR: Our final question is from Tom Getman of The Getman Group, who asks Krista: Of all your interviewees, who was the most inspiring and helpful in dealing with the needs of the interplay that Richard mentions, now thinking of Israel-Palestine?
TIPPETT: Oh, gosh. Can I just say I’m terrible at a question about, when I’m supposed to think of one thing, I can think of nothing. Obviously that question has been on my mind a lot in recent days. We actually did a production trip to Israel-Palestine a few years back. Honestly, you know, I keep thinking of the conversation I had with people who are involved in the Bereaved Families Forum, who take in the pain and the grief and, as Richard said, that human dimension, which also gets manipulated by religious language and religious energy when it’s not necessarily religion that is at play.
It’s a very hard time to talk about this. But that’s what’s on my mind. If you don’t know about the Bereaved Families Forum, which are people on both sides of that conflict who have lost loved ones and have said that they do not wish their grief to be cause for another round of violence. But as we’re here today I have a lot of despair about what’s happening there right now. And that’s just—
HAASS: By the way, Krista, there’s an equivalent group in Northern Ireland. When I was last involved as an international mediator, there were families that had come together, all of whom had lost loved ones during the Troubles. And some of the most extraordinary meetings were with these people who, what they had in common was that they all had lost, and yet were willing to work through it. And it was quite—it was about as powerful and as emotional as anything I’ve ever encountered as a negotiator, was dealing with these people I thought were remarkable in what they were doing.
TIPPETT: And I think religious leaders, and texts, and traditions, and rituals, and communities walking alongside that kind of energy is a whole other way to talk about religion and foreign policy, one of these other layers.
I so wish that we were in person and I could now mingle with all of you over coffee. And maybe that fantastic dream will come true one day. What an incredible richness of conversation you have ahead. And thank you, Richard, for this. Thank you for having me. Thank you, all of you, for joining this discussion. And thank you for what you do.
HAASS: Thank you, Krista. And again, thank—let me just join you in thanking everyone on this call for—and this meeting for what it is they do. Yes, thank you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you and welcome everybody. I'm Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach at the Council on Foreign Relations. As a reminder, today's session is on the record. I am delighted to be moderating today's conversation on the rise of global migration and to introduce a wonderful panel.
Nazanin Ash is vice president for public policy and advocacy at the International Rescue Committee and a visiting policy fellow at the Center for Global Development. Previously, she served as deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department, and as a principal advisor and chief of staff to the first director of U.S. foreign assistance and administrator at USAID.
Elizabeth Ferris is a research professor at Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of International Migration and a nonresident senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. She spent twenty years working in the field of international humanitarian response, most recently in Geneva, Switzerland, and at the World Council of Churches.
And Krish O'Mara Vignarajah is president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. She previously served in the Obama White House as policy director for First Lady Michelle Obama. She's also served as senior advisor under Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry at the State Department where she coordinated development and implementation of programs including those concerning refugees and migration and engagement with religious communities.
So thank you all very much for being with us. I thought we would first go to Nazanin to set the table and to provide an overview of global migration trends, where people are migrating from, where they're migrating to, and why are they fleeing?
ASH: Thanks so much, Irina. Thanks so much for your introduction. Thanks so much for hosting us today. I'm so pleased and excited to be here with you and with my distinguished colleagues. It's going to be a great and necessary discussion. You get to convene this discussion at a moment of unprecedented global migration. There are over eighty million people displaced worldwide today. That's the highest number ever recorded. Thirty million of those are refugees, and importantly, that number is double what it was just a decade ago. So if you consider many decades, that it took to get tothe forty-one million globally displaced just a decade ago, and then the doubling in the last decade, the right question to ask is, “Why?”
You know, why these ever-increasing numbers of those who are displaced. And while there are a number of factors that contribute to that displacement, including climate change, conflict remains the number one driver of displacement today accounting for 80 percent of those displaced. If you assess that same figure a little over a decade ago, you would have found that 80 percent were displaced as a function of natural disasters. But today, it's really conflict that's driving displacement. That tracks really closely with trends in conflict. The number of conflicts globally is 60 percent higher today than it was a decade ago. And civilian deaths account for 75 to 95 percent of all conflict-related deaths. So when we ask the question about “why” this global displacement, I think it's critically important to center on the fact that these are civilians fleeing violence and oppression, rising violence and oppression.
Almost 70 percent of all refugees come from just five countries—Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar. These are all countries that we know well for long-standing and deepening conflict, and for social and political oppression. So again, it’s critical to remember the reasons why the numbers are rising as they are. People are fleeing for their lives and they're fleeing for safety. The other trend that's really different in the context of global displacement today is its protracted nature. And again, that tracks closely with conflict as the driving trend.
Today's conflicts are most often civil wars with multiple actors; they're very difficult to resolve. Conflicts on average today last thirty-seven years, and they're well beyond the reach of some of our typical tools for addressing conflict. So unsurprisingly, displacement is increasingly protracted. And in a context where just 1 percent of refugees globally have the opportunity to resettle permanently to a third country and less than 3 percent on average over the last decade are able to go home, you have almost 90 percent of the world's refugees hosted in low- and middle-income countries, neighboring countries in conflict, and struggling to respond to the development needs of their citizens and also hosting large populations of displaced people in great need of safety and protection for long periods of time.
FASKIANOS: Thank you very much for that. I'm going to go next to you, Beth, to talk about the Biden administration's immigration policies. We've seen that this has been already just, well, a bit over a hundred days in, this has become a flashpoint for the administration on the border. But it's much broader than that. So if you can talk about what you see and how it compares to prior administrations that would be great.
FERRIS: Great, thanks a lot. And thanks for an opportunity to talk about this issue. Maybe to draw the link with your title, I mean, faith-based communities have really been in the league for advocating for changes in U.S. policy for immigration, both refugees and immigrants, and had very high hopes when Biden was elected that he would reverse some of Trump's anti-immigrant policies in a range of areas. And indeed, on his very first day in office, he introduced legislation on a comprehensive immigration reform bill, which right now people don't think has a great chance of being passed, but certainly indicating his commitment.
He's issued a number of executive orders according to the Migration Policy Institute as of a couple of weeks ago. He's done ninety-four executive actions on immigration, over half of which have been to overturn some of the policies that were enacted under the previous administration. And the focus seems to be primarily on the border where I'm sure you've all seen that, in March of this year, the highest number of apprehensions on the border and nineteen thousand unaccompanied children. The crisis on the border is a humanitarian crisis—how to meet the needs of all of these people.
The Biden administration has overturned some of the worst aspects of Trump's policy, particularly the Migration Protection Protocol so that people are no longer being sent back to Mexico to wait to ask for asylum. And indeed, some of those who've been waiting for a couple of years are being allowed to enter the United States and ask for legal protection. But at the same time, some policies remain, this so-called Title 42, which essentially closes the border because of COVID and health concerns to all but essential travel. Most countries in the world have closed their border to most travelers. And yet, certainly in Europe, there's an exception made for people who are fleeing persecution to be able to ask for asylum. That hasn't happened yet on Biden's watch.
Another major area is that of refugee resettlement. The numbers of refugees resettled in the U.S. plummeted under the Trump administration. And Biden campaigned on pledge to increase those numbers from a paltry fifteen thousand to one hundred twenty-five thousand. Refugee advocates were really disappointed when, for a couple of months, there was no action. This is what Biden said he was going to do, but he didn't sign the presidential determination until two months later. And at that time, he kept with the Trump number of fifteen thousand, largely due to concerted action by advocates, members of Congress, members of local communities who recognized that refugees are a benefit to our country.
That was reversed, and we now have a ceiling of sixty-two thousand five hundred by the end of October. But as of right now, less than twenty-five hundred have arrived, partly because of COVID. People can't travel as easily to do the interviews or prepare people and partly because of the effects of the Trump administration in terms of our domestic capacity to have offices with interpreters, for example, to welcome newcomers. It's going to be a while before that program has been built up. So a lot of attention is focusing on those two issues. They're two very different programs. But in the public's mind, they're linked. They're all refugees. And I think that one of the challenges for faith-based communities and others is to educate the public in terms of the differences between some of these categories and processes.
And I'll just add, I could talk on and on about this, but there also have been a number of other actions that haven't received as much attention but, an effort on the DACA, seven hundred thousand people, young people, mostly young people now in the United States. Biden has offered temporary protected status to Venezuelans, which is great, and to people from Myanmar, which is great, and really, really cutting down on enforcement action. So people are being deported now for their threat to national security or public safety, really trying not to separate families so much.
A change in terminology—the Biden administration said they will no longer use the term “illegal alien,” and will talk about undocumented non-citizens. That's a rhetorical change. But I think in the eyes of many, it represents something far more. So there have been a lot of changes that have occurred, but expectations are very high. Under the Biden administration, the United States will affirm its identity as a nation of immigrants and come up with ways so welcome people more effectively.
FASKIANOS: And just to follow up, do you think that changing the name will help reduce the political debate about—it becomes less, it might make it a little bit less partisan if—
FERRIS: That's, you know, you change the terminology. But habits die hard. I heard this morning from people on the border that many of our border patrol are still using the term “illegal alien,” so it has to be more than symbolic but somehow to, again, to affirm that immigrants are bringing many talents and resources. They're not just by any means rapists and murderers and drug dealers, but they're honest, for the most part, decent, hard-working people who are fleeing violence, persecution. This country has a rich tradition of welcoming people that nobody else wants. Our country is better for it, so I think we need to reaffirm those values and not be shy about it.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. And I'm going to go next to Krish to talk about faith-based immigration interventions and how faith communities can mobilize to assist refugees and immigrants, what you're doing with your organization and the agency that you have.
VIGNARAJAH: Wonderful. Well, thanks so much for having me. It's really delightful to speak, especially alongside Elizabeth and Nazanin. Having been a CFR term member, it feels wonderful to convene. Once again, obviously, I have especially fond memories of being able to sit around those large circular tables, but for the moment I suppose this will do. So I am the president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and we are the largest faith-based nonprofit dedicated to refugees and immigrants. And I will tell you that it is not just the Lutherans that have a particular focus on working with refugees.
The vast majority of the nine refugee resettlement agencies are faith-based. And I think that for so many faiths welcoming the stranger is literally a part of scripture. So I think that I can certainly speak on behalf of myself and some of the faith-based organizations where for so many faith organization congregations it is essential, and they have been central to the broader process of resettling families into new homes and cities and towns across the country. Communities of faith have been critical to our organization, whether it's sharing information, advocating on behalf of refugees, and conducting programs to support our clients.
And so I'll try to kind of briefly summarize some of the incredible and substantive ways in which faith communities assist refugees and immigrants. So, first in terms of advocacy, we have certainly seen that faith communities can uniquely navigate the intensified politicization of refugee and immigration issues. Obviously, it was just kind of talked about some of the politics that play into this. And I know, Irina, you just asked the question about how do changes in terminology even affect policy, and they can be significant.
We'd like to believe that moving away from the dehumanization of immigrants by using terminology like “aliens” can recognize that tenant of human dignity, which is that whether we're talking about unaccompanied children or families, that what we are talking about are people and family units, that I'd like to believe that as a core American value treating a child with dignity and respect is something that whatever side of the aisle you sit on that you can agree that kids don't belong in cages.
So what we have found is that faith leaders are key participants in our work of advocacy to try to move this issue area out of the political arena. So in fact, we have an upcoming World Refugee Day that a number of organizations are a part of. We're doing it virtually, not surprisingly, this year on June 22, and faith leaders will be a key part of that advocacy. We also do action alerts with our congregations and other faith communities in order to kind of pinpoint specific pieces of legislation and to engage them.
In terms of programming, volunteering is such a critical part of our work that relies on those of faith communities. Much of our work is very time intensive so volunteers can provide transportation for refugee and immigrant families. They can serve as teachers of English for those who English is a second language. They can help us set up apartments for refugee families as they're first arriving at the airport and we're, identifying a modest apartment for them to move into. I can tell you even from my personal experience, I wasn't technically a refugee when my family came to this country, but we fled Sri Lanka when it was on the brink of civil war.
Coming from a tropical island and, you know, I was nine months old at that time, but my parents recall how they'd never seen a winter. And so having churches and temples who literally equipped us with winter coats, it was those faith communities that really stood up and stood by us as we were foreigners on American soil. We find that our faith communities are actively engaged in programs where we rate immigrants in detention to let them know that they're not alone or even to open up their homes and hearts and serve as foster care parents. We run programs, including transitional foster care, for unaccompanied children so as we're trying to reunite them with their sponsor, it's incredibly important for us rather than warehousing these children in large facilities that we can provide them a safe, small, family centric home. And so faith communities are very actively involved in that.
And then I think the final piece I'll end with is just talking about some of our annual programs are really focused knowing that this is an incredibly engaged community. So just to give you a couple programs, we have one program called Stand Up, Speak Up!, which is an interfaith vigil. We have a program called Gather, which equips congregations and communities to learn about a region or country. As Nazanin mentioned, we do see concentrations of refugees and other immigrants coming from specific countries. So explaining who these families are, why they're fleeing the desperate circumstances and seeking refugee protection in the United States, it's been important for us to launch programs like this, or EMMAUS, which is a three-part congregational discernment program, to allow congregations to work alongside refugees.
And then the final program, just because it is one of my favorites, I'll note, is Hope for the Holidays. This is a program and we find our faith communities incredibly excited each year. It's how we send cards to families in detention. So we have found that even during the pandemic we were able to send gifts to children who found themselves in detention during the Christmas holiday. We sent more than sixteen thousand cards to families and individuals, and many thanks to faith-based communities as well.
FASKIANOS: And just to follow up, Krish, how have you pivoted during the past year of the pandemic and lockdown? I mean, how has that changed your work and has the Zoom format enabled you to do more or less?
VIGNARAJAH: Yes, it's a great question because it has actually been incredibly inspiring to see the creativity and the flexibility with which our staff and our affiliates all across the country have mobilized. So rather than doing in-person check-ins in a living room, those who transition to porch check-ins, I think that there's actually some real room to grow and adapt, frankly, by being forced into more of a virtual environment. I think there's ways in which some of our mentoring—when I mentioned kind of English as a second language, that training—I believe that we could actually engage individuals all across the country who may not be in an urban center or close to one of our offices who, thanks to a computer and this kind of format, could engage.
So I think that is where it's been really exciting to see the options opened up by these possibilities. We've also mobilized knowing that so many of the clients that we serve have been on the frontlines. They've served as essential workers. They've been in our fields literally providing food on our tables. They've been at grocery stores.I think one of the things that we've also seen unfortunately is our workforce development programs overnight have become unemployment offices.
So we launched a fund called Neighbors in Need, which was an emergency fund, in order to help so many of our clients who worked in hospitality, the service sector, tourism, who lost their jobs. It's been incredibly exciting to see how many people who may have been also financially affected. They got the $1,000 stimulus check, and they said, “You know what, I could use this but honestly these families could use it more,” and sent that donation to us. So it's actually been really an incredible time to see how Americans have continued to show that we are a welcoming nation.
FASKIANOS: That's very inspiring. Nazanin, I want to go back to you to talk about what you see as the responsibilities of wealthy nations to help resettle refugees. What are the trends? And what do you think wealthy nations—what is their moral obligation?
ASH: It's a really important question, Irina. I think we have to understand the obligations of wealthy nations in the context of global responsibility for refugees and displacement. The global rules and norms, the Refugee Convention, was really born out of both a humanitarian and a strategic necessity at the end of World War II and a recognition that unmanaged displacement, unmanaged migration of desperate people, poses extraordinary dangers for those individuals and dangers for the stability of receiving nations, again, many of which are poor and middle-income countries.
There are just ten countries representing two and a half percent of global GDP that hosts the vast majority, not the vast majority, over 50 percent of today's refugees. And so while conventional wisdom and watching media in U.S. and European outlets would really lead you to believe that wealthy nations are hosting the vast majority of refugees and asylum seekers, the truth is very different and 90 percent of them are hosted in those neighboring countries.
The obligations of wealthy nations are multifold. One in addressing the root causes and really putting shoulder to the wheel and resolving the conflicts that are at the root of the displacement and mobilizing international tools to do so. But also in sharing responsibility for refugees through humanitarian aid, which has, up until this last year, surprisingly leveled off and even declined in the face of rising need. There's now an over 50 percent gap between humanitarian need and the provision of humanitarian assistance. So wealthy nations have not kept pace with humanitarian needs as they've grown.
And then another important role is in having generous refugee resettlement and asylum policies that at least match the generosity of those neighboring countries taking so many refugees. I often note that Bangladesh, over the course of three weeks, took in more Rohingya refugees fleeing incredible genocidal violence in Myanmar. They took in more refugees over the course of three weeks than Europe took across the central Mediterranean in all of 2016. And that's a country with barely 1 percent of Europe's GDP. So wealthy nations are quite far behind the generosity of low- and middle-income countries neighboring conflict.
And the Trump administration led a global race to the bottom. And that's really, getting back to Beth’s point, the opportunity of the Biden administration. I think it's clear that where the U.S. leads others follow, whether that's a global race to the bottom or whether it's a global race to the top. Under the Trump administration, global resettlement slots dropped by over 50 percent. The number of countries committed to resettling refugees dropped by almost a third.
At the end of the Obama administration, anchored by commitments of the Obama administration to raise refugee resettlement and increase humanitarian aid, they achieved a doubling in the first year and a tripling in the second year of commitments to resettlement by wealthy nations, a 30 percent increase in humanitarian aid, and importantly, recognizing trends and protracted displacement commitments from many low- and middle-income countries, who are and always will be hosting the vast majority of refugees, to allow access for refugees to work and to send their kids to school and to be able to rebuild their lives and thrive alongside their new host communities. That's a demonstration of what the leadership of wealthy nations can help drive globally in matching the generosity of those neighboring states to conflict.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Beth, I think given this group it would be wonderful if you could really talk about the role of faith communities working with refugees and migrants in other countries to build on what Nazanin has spoken about.
FERRIS: So to follow up on Nazanin's point that most of the world's refugees are not hosted in developed countries but rather in neighboring countries, which [inaudible] they turn to houses of faith, whether its temples, or mosques, or local churches, you know, knocking on the door when you're desperate. At least there's a chance of getting some assistance. As an academic, as a scholar, I'm often struck by how little we've studied these phenomena of faith-based organizations globally. There are lots of good books on the UN and on NGOs, nongovernmental organizations, on government policies. But I suspect if we looked very, very deeply into it, we find that faith-based organizations are in the forefront, that their contributions are rarely counted.
I mean, the contributions of a local mosque or church is oftentimes not figured into official aid statistics anywhere. The very first humanitarian crisis I worked on was the Ethiopian famine in the mid-1980s. And I remember standing in Addis Ababa and watching the Canadians deliver hundreds and thousands, I don't know, lots and lots of metric tons of grain, as far as you could see there were trucks piled high with grain. And I said to the guy next to me, I said, “Wow, that's really impressive.” And the guy next to me happened to be an Ethiopian Orthodox priest and he said, “And does anybody mention that there are forty thousand Ethiopian Orthodox congregations that are going to distribute that food? And it's going to be mainly women in our churches who are cooking up the food to serve to needy people.”
Yes, the Canadian grain is wonderful and needed, but also those contributions of people working because of their faith are rarely counted in these statistics. And while UN agencies and a lot of international NGOs will come into a community and do wonderful things when there's an emergency, it's the local communities that will be there afterwards. They were there before the crisis, during the crisis, and after the crisis. So I think that giving more power, more resources to local communities to working on issues of accountability and capacity and being able to fill the hundreds of pages of reports that are required by donors are not easy tasks for anyone but for local communities, not so much.
But anyway, people have faith and whether it's individual houses of worship or big, huge multimillion dollar organizations like World Vision or the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, these are major organizations that deserve much more attention and to look at the ways that they work together often in responding to emergencies.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Before we go to questions to the group, I want to get in one more question. President Biden has made climate one of the central areas of his focus. And we talk a lot about the violence that is driving immigration. But climate is definitely increasing and is going to be part of this global migration trend. So Krish, can you talk about the effect of climate on migration patterns, climate-induced migration? What is it? What are understood as the domestic international consequences and challenges, and how is that relating to U.S. refugee resettlement?
VIGNARAJAH: Yes, thank you for the question because I do think it is a trend that we're already seeing, and it's going to be a trend that will continue to grow exponentially. So right now, we know the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, has said that about an average of 22.5 million have been displaced by climate each year between 2000 and 2018. That number is going to continue to rise. The International Organization for Migration has indicated that by 2050, there will be two hundred million climate-displaced persons.
The global displacement obviously is a record high today, and while the need to migrate due to political instability, persecution, and economic reasons has always been present, and as Nazanin noted, it is still the majority of why people are migrating. We're seeing more and more people on the move due to extreme weather events. So, at present, about one-third of those displaced worldwide are forced to flee by sudden onset weather events. And by 2050, twenty-five million to one billion people are expected to be displaced by climate-related events. So this is a stark reality that we face today, and we need to act with urgency knowing the reality is that no country in the world has recognized a separate legal pathway to accept climate-displaced persons.
In our own hemisphere when we talk about the northern migration coming from Central America, it's really important to recognize that 42 percent of El Salvadorans currently lack a reliable source of food in large part due to climate-exacerbated drought and crop failures. The region has equally been battered by consecutive climate-fueled hurricanes that have displaced hundreds of thousands of people. And the reality is that there is an interplay between the traditional factors that are recognized like war, violence, and persecution.
And it's something that we are experiencing here at home, whether it's Western wildfires, hurricanes or other natural disasters, we're starting to see climate-induced migration here in the U.S. Historic wildfires on the West Coast, tropical storms, hurricanes in the Southeast are the kinds of extreme weather events that have forced Americans to truly consider in a personal way what displacement and relocation looks like here at home.
And just to kind of contextualize this, because I do actually think that this might foster empathy, maybe we don't know what it means when a country is engulfed by civil war in a way that you literally must flee your home. But more than 1.2 million Americans were displaced in 2019 because of climate and weather-related events. And thirteen million could be displaced by 2100 due to sea-level rise and other natural disasters. So this is an issue that we are facing here at home and across the globe, and one that we need to address. It is heartening to know that the administration, through an executive order, recognized that this is an issue that not just needs to be studied but needs to see action.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. So I just want to give an opportunity to either Nazanin or Beth to comment on the climate issue before we turn it over to the group for their questions.
FERRIS: I can jump in. I certainly agree with Krish that the projected numbers of people displaced by climate are going to be far higher than we've seen in the past. But it's a complicated issue. We had hurricanes before human-induced climate change, separating out who's been displaced by climate versus normal. Environmental variation is a tricky thing.
And then there are kind of ethical issues: Should people who are displaced by sea-level rise or hurricanes be given preferential access to a country compared to those who suffer a volcanic eruption or an earthquake? So these aren't easy issues, but I think we've got to begin to address them and ask these questions. And I'm encouraged that the Biden administration has asked for a report on climate migration in one of his very first executive orders. So lots of people are working on this.
ASH: Nothing to add on the climate front. I did want to come in on Beth's earlier comments on the role of faith communities, but I'm also happy to give the floor to questions and come back to it later.
FASKIANOS: Why don't you just—it would be great to also—since this group is very diverse, I would love to hear your views on the interplay of faith.
ASH: Sure, well, I just wanted to emphasize what both Beth and Krish have said and give an example from our own experience here in the United States. I mean, we're living in a period of, as Krish said, extraordinary politicization of refugee policy and asylum policy. But it really is inconsistent with what's been a long bipartisan history and a welcoming tradition in the United States for refugees, certainly, since the 1980s. And, as there's been such a politicized debate at the federal level and an appropriate amount of attention on the real destruction of the Trump administration to refugee resettlement, asylum and then immigration policy, I think what's been missed is the sea change of support that's happened at the state and local level driven by faith and community organizations.
And so the International Rescue Committee operates on the ground in twenty-five cities across the United States—they're red, and they're blue, and they're purple in their politics—but they're all very much defined by their welcome. And we have refugee resettlement sites where in the last few years of the Trump administration, volunteers outpaced the number of refugees by two to one. And those faith communities, the private sector, and state and local elected officials have collectively in their advocacy turned back over a hundred state-led anti-refugee policies and implemented a total reversal such that last year the number of pro-refugee proposals at the state and local level outpaced negative ones by seven to one.
So states are really leading the way in policies of welcome, in policies of integration and support, and creating pathways for refugees and other immigrant populations to access education more quickly, to access the job market, fill crucial gaps in health and in hospitality and in our global food supply chains. So states are really leading the way supported by their faith communities. And it's really different than what we hear at the federal level.
And, just a final point on that front, support for refugees and for the U.S. as a place of welcome is higher in many ways than it's been in years. So a solid majority, 73 percent of Americans, believe the U.S. should be a place of refuge. And that's driven by an 18 percentage-point increase among Republicans over the last two years. And again, that's very much rooted in the advocacy of faith communities across the United States.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Wonderful way to end our discussion. We are going to go now to all of you for your questions. So Grace, if you could give us the instructions, that would be wonderful.
OPERATOR: [Gives queuing instructions] We will take the first written question from Homi Gandhi of the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America, who asks, “Where do you place the major responsibility for creating this displacement? Is there a penalty for those responsible for creating the situation? Who should enforce that penalty?”
FASKIANOS: Beth, go ahead.
FERRIS: I can go ahead on this one. It's usually oppressive governments that violate the rights of their citizens or warring parties in the conflict, at least those displaced by conflict. Right now, our system doesn't do a good job of holding governments responsible when they displace people. The first case to go to the International Court of Justice was filed last year, and really charging Myanmar, for example, for its responsibility for displacing close to a million Rohingya into Bangladesh. That's going to be a really important case.
It’s supposed to get some preliminary decision this summer. But, so far, governments have been able to displace people in their countries with virtual impunity. When it comes to climate change and disasters, responsibilities are more diffused. Certainly those who emit large amounts of gas are responsible for global warming, but usually don't feel a corresponding responsibility to accept those displaced by the consequences of their actions. So in terms of responsibility for displacement, we have a very, very weak international system.
FASKIANOS: All right, we'll go next question.
OPERATOR: Our next live question will come from Simran Jeet Singh of YSC Consulting and Union Theological Seminary.
SINGH: Thank you for your expertise and for sharing your insights. It's been a great conversation. My question—I submitted it as a written question as well— we were talking a bit about specific countries where a majority of the refugees are coming from some of the worst violators of human rights. And so in some of these places a lot of these communities are targeted for their faith. And so the question here is what would it look like for the Biden administration to prioritize refugees fleeing religious persecution in particular? And I'm asking this because today because in addition to our conversation around the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, I'm thinking about Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan who are left vulnerable as the U.S. pulls out of that region. Thank you.
VIGNARAJAH: I can start—oh, no, no, Nazanin, go ahead.
ASH: Go ahead, Krish.
VIGNARAJAH: I'll just quickly answer and then hand it over to my very learned colleague, Nazanin. It is a great question because I do think that there are certain areas of refugee resettlement that have especially strong bipartisan support. And I'd like to believe that this is one of those areas. Thankfully, the Biden administration did remove some of the restrictive eligibility categories that the Trump administration had imposed where, you know, that there is a virtue to having regional allocations as opposed to specific categories.
But I also realized that there is a benefit to signaling the importance of religiously persecuted refugees because I do think that they garner strong support. I think that this is an area where we could use this to expand the number of refugees accepted under the presidential determination. But our view is that the regional allocation giving Asia and regions that, for a variety of reasons, do have a significant number of refugees does afford us an opportunity to respond. I also believe and I know that there's been a few questions on this issue of Afghanistan.
This is going to be a central focus, certainly for us, and I think of some of our colleagues in advance of September 11 because we know that we can't wait until September 10 in order to sufficiently address the need. We have to recognize that those who advocated for democracy, who advocated for religious open-mindedness, frankly, who even advocated for gender equality are going to be targeted because of Western values. So I think that this is an area where there needs to be strong advocacy and real focus because I do think that there is a lot of support. And I think that there's a dire need of individuals who are really going to be targeted between now and then.
FASKIANOS: Nazanin, do you want to pick up?
ASH: I can add to that, and Beth, I know you will have deep scholarship to add to this, too. I mean, just to say that prioritizing those fleeing religious persecution and those who have been targeted on the basis of their religion or their politics is built into the refugee definition. It has been a central driving force, especially in U.S. refugee policy. So I'm thinking about specific legislation that has created programs like the Lautenberg Program that assists refugees who've been religiously persecuted or priority categories that have been created for some religiously persecuted populations to access the Refugee Resettlement Program. A number of those priority categories are under consideration in the Biden administration's executive orders examining ways to expand the pathways to protection for precisely the populations you're identifying.
And then as Krish talked about there is special focus right now on planning for and creating pathways to protection for those in Afghanistan persecuted on the basis of their religion or their politics in the run up to the anticipated troop withdrawal. And I'd also add to what Krish said to note that some of those policy proposals are looking at even more immediate channels than what's available through the Refugee Resettlement Program where you can often wait months and even years for background checks and security vetting procedures or where even embassy referrals and priority categories can take a long time to process. But the advocacy from our community has been around the urgent need for an emergency response recognizing the imminent danger for some populations.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Let's go to the next question.
OPERATOR: Our next written question is from Elaine Howard Ecklund from Rice University, who asks, “How can faith communities advocate for the rights of refugees and immigrants more broadly, especially in the midst of the pandemic?”
VIGNARAJAH: So I can start there. The reality is that 99 percent of us trace our ancestry to another nation, right, and I think that, as I mentioned earlier, so many faiths in different ways believe that welcoming the stranger is a matter of faith or religion. I do think it's really important for these communities to be particularly vocal, especially because we have seen some evangelical communities that have taken a strong stance in opposition to immigration. And so my view is that if we can invoke scripture, if we can try to find some commonality and try to use that as a starting point, it could help. We've got work ahead of our ourselves, and we realize that public support does impact the policies. By some accounts, immigration is more popular today than it's ever been if you look at the Gallup poll that shows that nearly 8 in 10 Americans believe that immigration is a good thing for our country. But if you look at other polling it suggests that the executive order that the president signed on refugees was his least popular executive order, that there was actually more opposition to it than support.
And this is where I think that faith communities, hopefully, will continue to be strong ambassadors in their communities for why this issue is important to them as a matter of religion. I think this is also why the previous question on religious persecution is an important hook. Because there are clear communities like the Chin Christians that I've spoken to members of Congress on both sides of the aisle where they do believe that it is important for us to engage.
In terms of the pandemic, I think that the two areas that I would highlight are one, I think all of us have spoken on the presidential determination. It took some effort to get to that figure right now of sixty-two thousand five hundred. It will also take some effort for us to get to the figure of one hundred twenty-five thousand, which is what President Biden pledged to as a candidate. So we need to continue to be vocal and show to the White House that this is an issue of importance to us.
And then the other piece is Title 42, which is still being used. It's basically an emergency order indicating that because of the pandemic, individuals seeking to exercise their legal right at the southern border can be turned away. As we as a nation get to a better spot we need to look closely at that policy, and it needs to be lifted. So I think that faith communities can play an active role here as well.
FASKIANOS: Beth, you have anything?
FERRIS: I'll just kind of build on that. I think what we've seen both with refugee resettlement and immigrants in the U.S, it can be a great interfaith endeavor. I mean, a lot of times religious groups that don't have a lot in common with each other theologically can come together to furnish an apartment or to help a family or to make sure that something concrete is done. I think in those tangible efforts of working together we’re really moving toward more interfaith action, which is good for lots of reasons in this country, not least to overcome some of the terrible anti-Muslim and other religious sentiment that we've seen in recent years.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Let's go in next question, Grace.
OPERATOR: We will take the next live question from Frances Flannery at Bio Earth, LLC.
FLANNERY: Oh, thank you so much for discussing climate displacement and the two hundred million to one billion anticipated climate-displaced persons by 2050. But even if this is a current priority in the Biden administration, how can we face this enormous problem over so many coming decades in the U.S. considering that the political parties in the White House will alternate, especially since the U.S. plays an outsized role in influencing the actions of host countries? And what I'm wondering is can faith communities play that role of adding more stability to the response between now and 2050 so that we can be proactive with what we know is coming? Thank you so much.
FASKIANOS: Go ahead, Krish.
VIGNARAJAH: Sure. Yes, I certainly think that faith communities can play a critical role here of highlighting that, again, this is a nonpartisan issue. This is not an issue that should feel foreign to Americans because whether it is the Indigenous population living off the coast of Louisiana, on Isle de Jean Charles, which are literally getting federal taxpayer dollars today as they prepared to resettle due to sea-level rise, or the Indigenous population in Shishmaref, Alaska. This is an issue that is coming home and is felt by, I think, all Americans. The fact that climate denial is slowly decreasing as people are literally feeling the impacts in their own backyards is unfortunate. But it is an opportunity.
My hope is that America can actually lead the charge by creating two pathways for climate-displaced persons. One would be a permanent solution, which, candidly, as you highlight the politics, that is going to be a heavier lift. And that would actually be to create an allocation for those who literally lose their home. When New Zealand tried this and they tried to create a humanitarian visa, it's important to recognize that it ultimately failed because there was a recognition that for these individuals affected, this was the issue, it was the option of last resort.
No one wants to flee the only home that they've known. And so part of the solution needs to be in creating a pathway for those who no longer have a home. Another needs to be creating a temporary protected status for those who are affected by a sudden onset disaster. And I think that this is where faith communities can highlight kind of their support for finding solutions.
FERRIS: A lot of people are moving away from talking about climate change displacement to focusing on disasters because it's less politicized. People may not agree with climate change, but they can agree that the flooding is getting worse every year. So talking about flooding somehow is easier to deal with than big climate change and questions of who's responsible and so on. I think we also need to recognize that migration is adaptation to climate change. It's a way of people surviving. If your land is no longer habitable, you move. There's nothing new about this. We've had people move for environmental reasons from the Maya, from the Romans.
I mean, for thousands of years people have moved in response to drought and famine. And yes, it's getting worse and likely to get worse because of climate change, but I think that trying not to make it this huge, insurmountable crisis, we can deal with this. We know what's coming. We have the tools. We have the will. This isn't some huge threat hanging over our head. Sometimes I think that advocates that are working on climate change really do a disservice by overhyping the threat of migration.
I remember Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who's a great human rights champion, saying something to the effect of, “If you rich countries don't stop your global emissions, you're going to have millions of people turning up on your border.” Let's stay away from that language of migration as a threat. I mean, migration is normal displacement. When people are forced to leave their homes it’s bad, and we should try to prevent it. But not everybody who moves because of the effects of climate changes is a threat.
FASKIANOS: Next question, please.
OPERATOR: We'll take the next written question from Bruce Compton from the Catholic Health Association, who asks, “It is my understanding that most migrants and refugees do not desire to leave but economic and social factors force them to seek refuge. While being welcoming under those circumstances is imperative, how do we best address the root causes? How are your organizations involved in this work?”
ASH: I can start on that answer because I think it's a really, really important question not just for our organizations in their work we're doing but, as I referenced at some point in this discussion, for the global community. The International Rescue Committee does an annual watch list of countries. It’s the twenty countries most at risk of descending into further crisis with greater humanitarian consequence. The twenty countries on our watch list this year account for just 10 percent of the world's population, but they account for 85 percent of all humanitarian need and 84 percent of refugees.
So it just gives you a sense that as vast as the challenge can seem flipped on its head, it's about bringing new approaches and all of our international tools and resources to bear on resetting the conflict in twenty countries, putting those conflicts on different and sounder footing, and getting to a place where the humanitarian needs of those populations are met. That's, as Beth and Krish talked about, is what people on the move are seeking. They're seeking safety. They're seeking survival. They're seeking the basic things that they need to be able to create security and achieve the human potential of themselves and of their children, and so providing the social and economic and political underpinnings for responsive government and inclusive government that meets the needs of all their people.
Providing it is a weird statement to make because it can't be provided from the outside but creating the incentives, organizing international assets and diplomatic interventions to achieve that outcome, including for addressing challenges like climate change, right, adapting and addressing the needs of your population and the challenges that they're addressing is a responsibility of states to their citizens. And so where we have fragile, oppressive, belligerent, unaccountable governments, you see the proliferation of conflict and displacement. And so that's a critical part of addressing the root causes.
And to say one more thing about that, I mean, the challenge we have now, as Beth alluded to earlier and as what's prompted by the first question from participants today, is very little accountability for oppression and non-responsiveness to the needs of your citizens. Many of our international tools think about the UN Security Council and our other conflict resolution tools were built to resolve conflicts between states, again, that post-World War II context of resolving conflicts between states when the vast majority of conflicts today are within states.
There are civil wars with sometimes as many as forty-plus internal actors and parties to conflict and violence. And it's incredibly difficult for sort of our traditional global tools and norms to reach into those conflicts and hold nonstate actors or belligerent states who hide behind the assumed protection of sovereignty to help resolve some of those conflicts and insist on accountability for the protection of their citizens. But it's increasingly what the international community needs to do.
FASKIANOS: Okay, we'll go next question.
OPERATOR: We'll take the next live question from Tom Getman of the Getman Group, the World Vision director, and Senate and UN staffer.
GETMAN: Hello, friends. Could I segue on my colleague Beth's earlier comment and could you please give us some sense of how the COVID crisis has added to or taken from the Good Neighbor programs like here on Capitol Hill that facilitate LSS and LRS resettlement of Afghans and El Salvadorian refugees? These special visas of former endangered employees of the U.S. military or State Department still have needed urgent attention even during the Trump era. And it increased Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and even Mormon cooperation here on the Hill—remarkably, more money, more involvement, more setting up of apartments. Is this common across the country? It's certainly has increased prep for soon increases of regular arrivals. Thanks a lot.
VIGNARAJAH: Sure, so I'm happy to jump in there. Tom, it's a great question because it is one of the blessings of my job. Even in 2019 I had the chance of going to the southern border. And while it felt at that time like a war on immigration and immigrants, I got a chance to see the interfaith effort there where you would see a Lutheran working alongside a Catholic working alongside a Jew working alongside an Episcopalian.
And to me the idea of some immigrants who may have been fleeing religious persecution, to see and be welcomed into a nation where so many people of faith work alongside in this critical work of welcome, to me that's inspiring and to me that is American. So it is not unique in terms of what you're describing. And in fact, we have a program called Circle of Welcome. The idea is that it's critically important for us to engage non-faith communities that are the community-based anchors, pillars of their community, knowing that this work is not done in a few months’ time or even a few years’ time.
I just want to touch on the SIV issue because I know that it also came up, I think, in a couple other questions. This is an area of critical importance. I know that Nazanin also mentioned this because it is going to be something we need to work on and really ramp up our advocacy and highlight that faith communities feel very strongly alongside national security officials and allies because we have more than seventeen thousand Afghans, who, for those of you who don't know, SIVs, or special immigrant visas, they are given to individuals who served as an interpreter, a driver, alongside our military as we have troops deployed, particularly in Afghanistan and in Iraq.
And we know that when we talk about this population, looking at Afghanistan specifically, we have the seventeen thousand that I've identified, but also their family members who also become targets. That total is estimated at about fifty-three thousand.
So we're talking about a population that is narrowly defined at least seventy thousand individuals. And so one of the things that is critically important for us to put the pressure on the administration to think through now, as Nazanin mentioned, this is a years-long process. And so what policy solutions can organizations like CFR be a leader working alongside immigration organizations like IRC and LRS to advocate?
We strongly believe and we've actually sent a letter to the White House indicating that just as we've done in the past these individuals should be evacuated to American toward territory like Guam where they can be processed and ultimately resettled to the United States. But this is an area where I do believe, to your comment, there are a number of faith communities who strongly believe that this is a priority area. And then hopefully, we can see some results not just in the next few months’ time, but really in the next few weeks' time.
FASKIANOS: And I'm going to go to—oh, go ahead, Beth.
FERRIS: In Biden's executive there was a lot of emphasis placed on moving people who have been waiting for far too long for these special immigrant visas. I think many of us are deeply worried about Afghanistan and what's going to happen when U.S. troops withdraw. Will there be increased persecution of those who've worked with Americans? Will there be new refugee outflows? This is one of those cases where the early warning signs are all there. I mean, we should be thinking and preparing and in case the worst happens we need to take early action when we see these dangerous signs.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: We'll take the next written question from Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons from the Center for American Progress, who asks, “What religious arguments do you hear against welcoming refugees? And how do you challenge those arguments?”
VIGNARAJAH: One of the most insidious arguments that I have heard is actually one that Attorney General Jeff Sessions used in justifying the family separation policy. It was essentially invoking scripture to say that God requires us to follow the rule of law. And so if you don't, apparently anything goes. And first, I think, it's important to recognize that those families that are seeking asylum are obviously seeking legal relief. It is legal to present at the southern border. And second, in no circumstance is family separation justified in my mind as a policy. So I think that that is one of the worst ways in which I've seen religion used by anti-immigration advocates.
FASKIANOS: Okay, next question.
OPERATOR: We'll take another written question from Reverend Canon Peg Chemberlin, founder of Justice Connections Consultants, who asks, “Could you comment on the level of anti-refugee movements in other countries as compared to the U.S.?”
FERRIS: I'll take a stab at that. I mean, it varies a lot from country to country and from time to time. Even in the United States if you look back over the past two hundred years, you see periods of apparent welcome but also always a little bit of anti-immigrant sentiment whether it was the Know Nothing Party in an earlier time. But, it's never been pure welcome nor has it ever been pureanti-immigrant, everybody-stay-out sort of mentality. So you see different things in the United States.
And similarly in Europe you have the rise of these right-wing populist parties, spurred in part by the 2015 arrival of over a million refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants in Europe, really fueling these questions around identity and culture often mixed in with religion not wanting Muslims to come to “our” country because we consider ourselves to be a Christian country, even if, in fact, they're actually a pretty secular country.
So, I mean, there have been these kinds of reactions. You also see it in countries hosting large numbers of refugees, whether it's Lebanon or Jordan or Turkey where you see attitudes after a while become less welcoming even when initially the population was supportive of the refugees coming. It just kind of natural. People overstay their welcome. It's what Nazanin named talked about in the beginning about these protracted situations.
I remember one time in Lebanon in the Beqaa Valley talking to this older woman of a very modest background who had a little tiny shop who said, “Two years ago, I saw a Syrian couple and a toddler walking in front of my house. And because of my faith, my Muslim faith, I knew I had to welcome them, but there was no room. So I said, you can stay in this shanty out back of my house because it's better than sleeping on the road.”
And then she said, “That was two years ago. Now there are twenty-two people back there. There's no running water. There's no toilet. I want them to leave, but I can't tell them to go back to Syria.” And so you see that this natural solidarity and hospitality when time goes on, it's natural, it wears out. And so that's where I think the international community really has to step up in these protracted situations.
ASH: I got two things to what Beth noted. One, how much political leadership matters. So if you think about the differences across Europe and you consider the comparison of Angela Merkel versus Viktor Orban, or where you look at our own politics here in the United States and where in a very limited amount of time, I mean, over the course of a year you had a single leader who really politicized refugees and disrupted a forty-year bipartisan political consensus on the U.S. as a place of refuge for those fleeing violence and persecution.
So I think that political leadership matters a lot. I also think policies matter a lot to managing the reactions of populations as Beth has noted. I think, in the U.S. when you look across polling what's really fascinating is, as I noted earlier, by wide majorities, Americans believe the U.S. should be a place of refuge, but they also want to know that the process is orderly. They want to know that it's secure. And so, support for refugees rises with the knowledge of what the process is, how refugees are vetted, how they're supported to integrate when they arrive, and how they're economic contributors.
The same is true, as Beth is talking about, in countries all over the world where they face the same domestic political challenges in hosting large numbers of refugees but where the actions of leaders can help frame the narrative in important ways and where policy is domestic and with the support of the international community can help ease the impacts on host communities and ensure that we create the conditions where, again, communities can thrive together, old and new.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Let's take the next question. It'll be the last question.
OPERATOR: We'll take a live question from Katherine Marshall of Georgetown University.
FASKIANOS: Katherine, you need to—yes, there you go.
MARSHALL: Looking at the sort of foreign policy aspects of this and maybe looking at a specific case, what can religious communities collectively and individually do to address some of the long-standing issues in Central America that are such a such a cause of the migration crisis at this point?
FASKIANOS: Why don't I let each of you take a pass at that since this is the last question and it allow you to leave us with your answer to the question and leave us with one final word. So should we go—Beth?
FERRIS: I can jump in. Yes, I mean, I think that churches and other faith communities in Central America have an important role to play in terms of addressing problems of governance, in terms of corruption, in terms of education, in terms of addressing poverty. This is a tall order. I think that the situation, these causes are complex, and they require more than local communities can provide. So I hope to see a very robust response by the Biden administration to addressing the causes. And my final comment would be that, yes, it's really important to have welcoming policies to immigrants and refugees, but also important to address those causes that force way too many people to flee their communities.
VIGNARAJAH: Sure, we know that when it comes to refugees even under the most kind of generous and welcoming conception of a functioning refugee resettlement infrastructure, only 1 percent of refugees will be resettled. So to the extent that as a matter of foreign policy and as a matter of faith, America exercises its global humanitarian leadership when it has a robust refugee resettlement and immigration system. I think that's critically important for faith communities to be actively engaged in highlighting that obviously this is not just the right thing to do, but it's also the smart thing to do.
And appreciate with an audience like here at CFR highlighting that when we talk about population decline and what we can learn from Japan and the stagnation there that the census numbers have shown us that immigration is a part of our foreign policy solution. When we're talking about what some may describe as a cold war with China, being welcoming of dissidents who may be actively expressing their frustrations in Hong Kong is a tool of our foreign policy. But I think as Beth has mentioned, I think each of us has highlighted we know that the root causes have to be addressed because that is the bulk of the way by which we respond and help those who, frankly, aren't as lucky and don't hit the jackpot and come here to the United States. That is where I think that the active communities, particularly in our own hemisphere, of the sister churches in Central America, are certainly a way in which we can actively engage to the extent that there's dysfunction in some of the governmental structures. We know that the churches and other faith institutions are critical pillars of their community. And my hope is that there are nongovernmental ways in which we can exercise support to stabilize these regions as well.
ASH: Yes, maybe I'll just add—we're over time so let me know, Irina, even if you'd like to pause?
FASKIANOS: No, I would like you to conclude.
ASH: Going from the global to the local, I mean, the foreign policy imperative for responding here is so clear. When countries are not supported and equipped to receive refugees and asylum seekers fleeing immediate violence and persecution, it results in additional humanitarian and political crises. Of the fifteen largest returns that have happened since the 1990s, a third of them have resulted in the resumption of conflict. So if we just consider how much worse the Syrian crisis would have been if Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon turned back five and a half million Syrians?
How much worse the crisis in Myanmar would have been if Bangladesh refused the nearly one million Rohingya who crossed their borders in an extraordinary short amount of time? If Colombia returned the over one million Venezuelans to a very unstable Venezuela? If Kenya returned three hundred thousand Somalis to an unstable Somalia? Pakistan, two million Afghans to an unstable Afghanistan? You see the foreign policy imperative in responding to displacement and refugee crises. It's about stabilization as much as it is about humanitarian response.
At the local level, again, as Krish and Beth have said, it's been faith communities and local organizations that have seen the writing on the wall that have taken in their neighbors and that have provided that first round of welcome and support. But if that's not supported and sustained with the resources of wealthy nations in the international community, we see these protracted contacts, we see welcome wearing thin, and we see populations moving on.
What I think is so interesting about the Central American context is that it's indeed churches and faith groups that have provided that essential safety, security, food, shelter, water along migration routes, but it's been about the conversion of your church to provide for some temporary assistance to migrants as they're passing through.
If those efforts were sustained and expanded such that Central Americans moving to that safe community were supported there and given opportunity there and given a leg up there and able to go to school and begin work anew in those communities, the work of those faith leaders could be extended from something that's been a temporary safe home on your route to something that is about expanding the ability of local communities to provide refuge and to help integrate those who are internally displaced.
FASKIANOS: Thank you all. I apologize for going a bit over, but I wanted to give each of you a chance to sum up. This has been a very rich discussion. Thank you for your devotion to these issues and your work over the years. It is really heartwarming to know that that so many people are working on this issue and it's so important. So thank you all, I really appreciate it. Nazanin Ash, Elizabeth Ferris, and Krish O'Mara Vignarajah—we appreciate it.
JENKINS: Hello. Welcome, again, to the second day of the Council on Foreign Relations Religion and Foreign Policy Workshop.
I am Jack Jenkins, national reporter with Religion News Service here in Washington, D.C., where I cover the intersection of religion and politics as well as Catholicism. And the overlap has been significant in recent days.
And I am delighted to be moderating today’s conversation with Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Cardinal Dolan is the current archbishop of New York. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis in 1976. Pope Benedict transferred him to the Archdiocese of New York in 2009, and named him a cardinal in 2012. And Cardinal Dolan entered the conclave that elected Pope Francis in 2013. And he joins us here this morning.
Good morning, Cardinal Dolan.
DOLAN: Jack, good morning to you and all our gracious listeners. It’s an honor and a joy to be with you. Thanks for the invite.
JENKINS: Thanks so much.
So I’ll just lead out with a question. So the biggest foreign policy headlines in recent weeks have involved the ongoing conflict in Israel-Palestine, where violence has continued to ramp up. Shortly before we began this session, news broke that President Biden has called for de-escalation in that region. Now, the region, of course, is a place that is of profound religious significance to at least three major world faiths. And I’m curious from your perspective, what is the role of the Vatican in particular, and the Catholic Church broadly, in terms of responding to this conflict? Because, obviously, there are foreign policy things at stake here, as well as domestic demonstrations happening right now here in the United States. So what is the Vatican and the church’s appropriate response and role in this moment?
DOLAN: Well, thanks for asking, Jack. Yeah, the turmoil in the Holy Land, in Israel and Palestine, boy, that’s not new. And for those of us who are interested in foreign relations—and I salute the Council on Foreign Relations for their constant vigilance on this extraordinarily timely topic. It shows us how perennial conflicts are—that conflicts, unfortunately, are at the heart of the human project.
Also at the heart of the human project is the ardent desire for peace. And of course, the Holy See—which is kind of the technical name for the Vatican—the Holy See would always be promoting that.
The church—the Vatican, the Holy See—has always taken a special solicitude for the Holy Land. You hinted at one of the reasons, Jack, is just because it’s the historical roots for the monotheistic religions of the world: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.
The Holy See—the Vatican—has been particularly solicitous in the Holy Land for a number of reasons. One, because it’s home to ancient Christian communities. Secondly, because they’re always concerned about the rights of people. And thirdly, because they know that, unfortunately, what happens in the Middle East—as the old saying goes, when the Middle East sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold, and that means that there’s going to be implications throughout the world.
In one way, the church’s position—the Holy See’s position—would be very basic and very fundamental. And it’s going to be the same, Jack and listeners, to any turmoil or conflict that you have in the world, namely that violence is never the answer. Violence always breeds more violence. What is always essential is to step back, have some reflection and circumspection, and then to go into dialogue.
Now, those might sound like bromides from a Hallmark greeting card, but for the Holy See they are extraordinarily important. And the Holy See would say that words like “stepping back,” “prudence,” “distance,” “dialogue”—don’t tell me those are dreamy, cerebral ideals because they are extraordinarily practical. And they work where violence rarely, if ever works.
I remember, Jack, when I was taking a course in world history in my high school years. And it was a great course taught by a wonderfully astute priest, and we were studying the Second World War. And he said,“now, tell me the main reason for the Second World War,” and we all tried to give the reasons that we had learned from our reading in the textbook and all. And he said, yeah, those are all reasons, but he said, the major reason for the Second World War was the First World War. It was the First World War that caused the second one. Now, there’s an example of how violence, of how war, of how bloodshed, of how vendettas only lead to more.
So the church is always saying, whoa, hold on here. Yeah, I know tensions are high. I know that this is in your gut. I know that there’s a breeding sense of injustice, and tension, and apprehension. But let’s use our mind, and our hearts, and not just our gut. And let’s call for scaling back and getting together to talk. We, most of the time, think of the violence and upheaval in the holy land and in Israel, in the Mideast.
We—as I’m speaking with you people who are much more learned on topics of international affairs than I’ll ever be—we can’t escape the fact that progress has come when the sides have gotten together. I’m thinking of Jimmy Carter and the Camp David Accords. I’m thinking about all the times that leaders have come together. And simply put, that’s what Pope Francis, that’s what his predecessors, that’s what the church believes. The church has a box seat on what’s going on in the Middle East because of the ancient Christian communities, who would weigh in. And does that help, Jack, or is there a follow up that I can be more specific?
JENKINS: Yeah. Just a quick follow up about that box seat. I’m curious. Given, as you noted, the duration of this conflict. And it’s not new. But I’m curious, does the Vatican have a particular voice and influence to offer in this moment, given the billion-or-so Catholics that are represented in that institution. I’m curious, is there a specific amount of clout that the Vatican and the church can—writ large—can exercise in this moment, that other nations or bodies might not have?
DOLAN: I would hope so. And I think that they do. By the way, in 1979 I was a graduate student in church history. And I was able to—I had Christmas free for the first time ever. And the first time I figured I ever would again, as a priest. And I went to Israel. I went to the Holy Land for Christmas, or at least we had the trip planned. And all of a sudden, come November, there was tension. There was some bloodshed. There was some upheaval. So I called the pilgrimage director. And I said, “well, I guess we better not go because there’s tension and conflict.” And he said, “look, if people only went to Israel when there was not tension and conflict nobody could ever go, because it’s been that way throughout history.”
Yeah, the church would have a particular voice in a number of ways. Number one, there is a nuncio there. The nuncio is the fancy word that the Holy See or the Vatican uses for its ambassadors—one who announces, an ambassador. And the nuncio, the Holy See’s ambassador to Israel, has always had a central role. Secondly, the leaders of the ancient religions there, they would all have some historical headquarters. And those religious leaders—I’m thinking of the patriarch of Jerusalem. I’m thinking about the Maronite archbishop, the—and pardon me for using all these fancy words. I hope nobody asks me to explain them because I don’t know if I can. But all the different groupings of the ancient Christian communities would be here.
And they would have a loud voice. And thirdly, both parties historically, very much look to the Holy See for some type of moral approbation. So both the Palestinians and Israel are eager always to kind of explain themselves and seek the counsel of the Holy See. You would know in history that the state of Israel was eager, eager, eager always to have diplomatic relations with the Holy See. That didn’t come until the time of Pope St. John Paul II, if I’m not mistaken, in 1993. As the Palestinians were always eager for diplomatic relations. So they’re kind of sensitive to the moral authority of the church in world affairs. And I would like to think that that would give the church, the faith communities, a particularly significant role in brokering any type of advance in peace.
JENKINS: I see. I see. Now, on that topic of kind of the moral authority, I mean, obviously world leaders are the chief arbiters of foreign policy. And Catholic leaders routinely dialogue with world leaders on issues the church cares about. Most recently, we’ve seen Pope Francis speak vocally about the plight of refugees, immigrants, the threat of climate change. John Kerry, in his capacity as the U.S. special presidential envoy for climate, met with the pope over the weekend—again, kind of dialoguing about these issues.
Now of course the church has also taken a firm stance opposing abortion, which is an issue that has both domestic policy implications and foreign policy implications here in the United States, such as the so-called Mexico City policy, which members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have vocally supported in the past. So there has been a debate recently among your fellow bishops over whether or not to deny Catholic politicians, such as President Joe Biden, communion if they back policies that support abortion rights.
Now, you said back in 2019 that that’s not necessarily something you would want to have done back when there were reports that then-candidate Joe Biden was denied communion in South Carolina by a priest. But I’m curious, do you still hold that position now? And would you support—do you have any thoughts on this potential for drafting a document in the upcoming bishop’s meeting about this precise issue? And then the attached question to that is, is this what it looks like when the church tries to exert moral authority on moral questions to world leaders, both here in the United States and abroad?
DOLAN: Yeah. Yeah, way to go, Jack. I had mentioned to you that the Holy See always prefers dialogue, conversation, reasonable approach to things when it comes to international tension. That, by the way, is the church’s preference when it comes to intermural difficulties. You just raised one of them. So the Holy See recently wrote to us, bishops in the United States, and said: Hey, it’s good you’re worried about this issue. Let’s keep in mind that always the best approach is, before you get into sanctions or discipline, is always to have dialogue, OK? So we preach to ourselves as well as to others. It’s interesting you bring up, Jack, moral authority.
Some people might be tempted to say, whoa, wait a minute, morality doesn’t have, shouldn’t have much to do in international diplomacy and foreign affairs. The people on this call know better, don’t they? Diplomacy at its core is a moral enterprise, insofar as it is based on such virtues as trust and honor, the reliability of one’s word, a concern not only about one’s self, but the common good. Those are all moral principles upon which fruitful diplomacy and foreign relations are built, OK? Most of the time we come into tension, as we’ve got now with the issue at hand in the Mideast, is because of why? A lack of trust on both sides. That’s a moral problem, OK? That’s just not an earthly problem. That happens to be a spiritual and emotional problem, a conflict of the heart.
And from the middle of the fourth century, as you all would know in your history of foreign affairs, the Holy See, the Vatican, the central government of the Catholic Church, has always been looked upon as a player in foreign relations because it does have a particularly compelling moral voice. We’re not the only faith that does, that’s for sure. Thank God there’s a whole array of voices in it. But the Holy See—and that’s why since the middle of the fourth century the Vatican, Rome, the Holy See has sent and received diplomats. Because world powers would appreciate the role—the moral authority that the Holy See uniquely has.
We have no troops to send. We have no currency to float. We have no borders to protect. We have no arms to trade, OK? Our only coinage, Jack, is in the moral and spiritual realm. But that’s not to be dismissed. When that is dismissed is when we get into hot water, as is going now. That’s why the holy father would constantly call both sides: Slow down. Ease up a little. Let’s get together and talk. And, by the way, if I can be a partner in bringing sides together, let me know. As often the Holy See is. Remember, as often the Vatican is. More often than not, behind the scenes. Diplomacy by its nature is heavy on discretion, OK? And the Holy See is sort of an expert on discretion.
JENKINS: Got it. And just to make sure that you address the first part of my question, do you have any specific remarks about this dialogue about denying communion? And do you still hold your same position as you did in 2019 saying that you personally wouldn’t do this to then-candidate Biden or now President Biden?
DOLAN: Yeah, I would have welcomed the Holy See’s counsel to us recently. This is a timely moment for us as teachers, us bishops in the United States, to issue a clear teaching on what we believe about the holy Eucharist, and what is necessary for a worthy reception of holy communion. That’s a challenge to all of us, not any particular politician. So I think the church’s role is to teach, and then in dialogue with individual politicians who profess the Catholic faith would ask for guidance. That’s where we would come in. So you quoting me in 2019? That would probably be my position today, yeah.
JENKINS: Got it. And I have a couple more questions if we can get through them. One is just, one of the realities of foreign policy is that sometimes domestic policy can influence foreign policy. So for instance, the struggle for racial equality here in the United States has been noted by other nations as calling into question the moral high ground that the United States sometimes claims in conversations around human rights. And racial justice has also been a topic within the Catholic Church. You know, the USCCB has dedicated resources to it and Pope Francis has even mentioned demonstrations that happened here in the United States around racial justice recently.
And so with that in mind, how can the Catholic Church—which activists noted has been among the myriad of faith communities that were complicit in perpetuating slavery and other forms of White supremacy throughout American history—how does the church help this country reckon with that past and create a future that embraces racial justice in order to help further the foreign policy goals that the United States and the Catholic Church have put forward?
DOLAN: What your good question is predicated upon, Jack, is the importance of credibility when it comes to foreign affairs and diplomatic initiatives. One has to have a certain amount of credibility, especially if you’re talking about morality, which the Holy See does. That’s our cache. And part of that morality is to admit that we don’t often practice what we preach. So very often a contrite posture that, hey, we’re going to hold up the values, we’re going to hold up the principles. We’d like to think that more often than not we’ve been a good example of showing those in the past. But we got to let you know that we’re also painfully aware that there have been examples in the past where we ourselves have been guilty of the atrocities that now we warn against in the world, and that we ourselves haven’t been the best in living up to.
So that bluntness, that candor, I think, is always important in the life of the church. So when it comes to racism—I remember very well, Jack, over the summer we had a most enlightening and an extraordinarily blunt Zoom call with our priests and deacons, religious women and men leaders in the diocese, on the question of racism. And that came up, that we had some people painfully speak about their personal wounds of racism, even within the family of the church in the past. Thanks be to God even more people spoke about how the church was a light to the world, as Jesus asks us to be, in speaking about racial justice. You have to remember, everything the church does is based on those two pillars: of the dignity of the human person made in the image and the likeness of God, OK. And number two, the sanctity of all human life.
Those are the two pillars. And every time we preach them. and preach them we must even in the realm of foreign affairs, we also have to do a mea culpa in saying, hey folks, sometimes we learn the hard of the horror and the trauma of not living up and defending those two pillars. Maybe that give us a bit more credibility. Can I give you an example, Jack?
DOLAN: What am I asking you for? I would have done it anyway. (Laughter.) You know, the church, the Vatican, and its central teaching has a checkered history in the defense of religious freedom, all right? So there would have been kind of the drift of the church’s teaching through the centuries that the one true religion—for us, Catholicism—should have a privileged posture in the common good, in society, OK? Gradually the church changed in that, OK? Led, if I might say so, by dah-dah, the United States of America. So when we have our First Amendment, when we had the separate of church and state, when we came across as the champion of religious freedom throughout the world, at first the Holy See said, oh, we don’t know about this separation of church and state because the union of throne and altar was always such a part of history, especially in Europe.
But gradually they came to see, this is the providential way, in such a way that at the Second Vatican Council between 1962 and 1965, through the leadership of the American bishops, the highest teaching authority in the church, an ecumenical council, issued a document on religious freedom that today by diplomatic entities is looked upon as one of the foundations of civilization’s providential protection of that first and most cherished freedom: religious freedom. So I get—I only mention that as an example of how sometimes we have learned by our mistakes. And we don’t serve anybody well if we hide those mistakes and don’t admit them. And say well sort of what Jesus said about some teachers. He said, do what they say, don’t do what they do, OK?
JENKINS: Right. Well, and one last question before we turn it over to the audience. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, a foreign policy conundrum if there ever was one. And, as you noted, the Vatican, the church, isn’t going to send armies of that variety. But they are present in places around the planet in a way that is not true with most other global institutions. And so the Vatican has been involved in several debates involving the pandemic, most recently calling for vaccine patents to be loosened so they can be more widely distributed to the planet, something the Biden administration has since endorsed.
And I’m curious—and I apologize for the unfairly broad nature of this question given how all-encompassing the pandemic is. But what is the role of the Catholic Church moving forward as it looks like many Western nations are deeply vaccinating their people and their citizens and now trying to distribute those vaccines elsewhere where other countries might have to grapple with this pandemic for months, if not years, beyond this present point? What is the role of the Catholic Church and the Vatican, looking forward to the future of the repercussions of this pandemic?
DOLAN: A high and necessary role, a trust. You are right in saying that one of the traditional ways, one of the traditional reasons that the powers of the world look to the church, to the Holy See, for some type of guidance or help when it comes to global problems is because we do happen to have outposts in every nation of the world. The very word “catholic” means “everywhere,” OK? We’re everywhere. So the church is always on the ground. And we always got our ear to the ground about the trials and the tribulations that people are going through.
So we like to think we can bring that experience to global conversations. Again, the church’s sensitivity to the global pandemic is obvious. And it stems from what I just mentioned before, Jack, our dual responsibility of the dignity of the human person, made in God’s image and likeness, particularly when that’s threatened, and the sanctity of all human life. Now, the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of life has been extraordinarily, graphically affected by the global pandemic. So no wonder the Holy See has had something to say about it, and will continue to.
However, you used a word earlier, Jack, that usually we try to stay away from, but it might be applied here. You spoke about the clout of the Vatican. I don’t know if, we can’t claim any earthly clout. We can claim a spiritual clout. And so the greatest service that the Holy See can provide is spiritual. And I have not heard anybody deny that this has, this pandemic, yes, it’s affected the lungs. Yes, it’s affected the body. But it has also affected the soul. And that there has been a planetary, almost, rediscovery of the power of the within, the power of the soul, and the spirit, and the human person. And of course, the Holy See will speak to that.
So I look, for instance, here in the Archdiocese of New York, have the parishes, I could speak about the way the parishes, and Catholic Charities, and ArchCare have been extraordinarily robust in helping to bring about the vaccines in our pop-up food pantries and the help that we’re trying to get to the poor who are overly burdened during the crisis, in our nursing homes, in our hospitals. Yeah, I can talk about all of that. Primarily what I hope we’ve been most salutary in, is in our attention to the soul. To try to help people get focus and meaning in all of this suffering. Would you ever forget, it was almost,well, it was the end of March last year. So it was right after the global pandemic was kind of recognized by the entire world, when Pope Francis did that outdoor service in the rain in an empty St. Peter’s Square.
DOLAN: He was there, standing alone in an empty St. Peter’s Square, addressing the world. I’m told by my friends in the media that that was extraordinarily soothing and helpful to the world to use, if you might remember, the passage in the Bible about the terrible storm that happened in Galilee and with the apostles in the boat thinking they were going to sink. And they look to Jesus for help, and he was snoring. He was asleep. And he spoke very, Pope Francis, to an empty square with literally tens and tens of millions of people listening. He spoke about the temptation today is to think that God is asleep. That he’s not in charge. That he’s not taking care of us. That he’s not going to get us through this.
That, Jack, is the church at her best. That is where the church has its most clout, to use your word. Without for a moment deemphasizing the extraordinary humanitarian charitable and health-care work that the church has done, and the moral chiding sometimes that the holy father has done about the necessity of sharing the virus, the necessity of not tying it to the ability to pay, the necessity of making sure that the poor are on par with everybody else in having access to this.
JENKINS: Thank you for that. And I could ask you questions all day (laughs), but I do want to give our audience the opportunity to do so as well. So at this time I would like to invite participants to join our conversation with questions. We’ll do our best to get through as many as possible. I think I turn it over to the CFR folks for that.
OPERATOR: Thank you.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
We’ll take the first live question from Burton Visotzky at Jewish Theological Seminary. Please unmute.
VISOTZKY: Thank you. Can you all hear me?
DOLAN: You bet we can Burton.
VISOTZKY: Your eminence, it’s—
DOLAN: It’s good to have a friend and a neighbor asking the first question.
VISOTZKY: Excellent. Yes. I want to ask you a particular question in light of Pope Francis’s unprecedented outreach to the Muslim community. He visited Abu Dhabi in 2019 and his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti,” which was magnificent, was really in large measure addressed to relations with the Muslim community. That is a sea change in Catholic-Islamic relations over almost two thousand years, well, fifteen hundred years. I want to ask: How will this affect your own interfaith outreach to the Muslims in New York?
DOLAN: Yeah. Burton, thanks for the question. By the way, you did very well, “Fratelli Tutti.” You had a great Italian pronunciation. Had a little bit of a Hebrew twang to it. But you did very well, Burton. Way to go.
It’ll have an epic impact on us. It’ll have an epic impact. I’m glad you brought it up, because this is exhibit A of the church’s posture to everything. It’s much better to talk, to sit down. It’s better to embrace hands than have them in a fist. And we have to do that, especially as religious leaders. Pope Francis has been phenomenally active in this. And I would say, Burton, it’s based on both a pragmatic and a theoretical reason. The theoretical reason is simply because of the compunction of what the Islamic, the Jewish, and the Christian community believe, that trust and respect for the human person is primary in our approach to life and to other people. It’s pragmatic in that we can’t keep going on like we are. And if religion can’t show the way of getting together, how can we expect the people of the world to do it? So it’s also very pragmatic.
Pope Francis, by the way, Burton, has not been a dreamer here. He’s also been pretty blunt in reminding us on the one hand that Islam at its core is a religion of respect with a thirst for peace, but that, like the rest of us, its adherents might not always live up to that. So he has also been a little bit, what shall I say? A little bit blunt with his friends in the Islamic community to say: Please help us in reminding those radical elements that don’t live up to the noble virtues of Islam, remind them that they are at odds with what Islam teaches. In other words, he wants to, he says to his Islamic sisters and brothers: You tell us you want to be on the side of peace and reconciliation. And we firmly believe that you do. You need then to bring all of your, all of these people together in being, in condemning the examples of violence and harshness that sometimes we see within your community, like we all see within our communities, people who are not living up to it.
So, Burton, now something tells me you will agree with me very much that here in New York we’ve got a leg up. Because I would think it’d be tough to find another city in the world where religious, interreligious amity, friendship, concord, is so practiced. New York is a laboratory for people getting along. I remember a couple of years ago we had a cardinal from the Vatican who was in the Jewish-Catholic dialogue. And he came and he was visiting a synagogue. And when he was waiting to go in for his address, he was reading the bulletin board. And he saw a notice on the bulletin board saying: Listen, everybody, as you know, the Islamic Mosque three blocks away suffered a fire recently. And they’ve had to close for repairs. In the meantime, we’ve invited them to have their Sabbath services here. Now, the cardinal from the Vatican when he was telling me that had tears in his eyes. He said: I don’t know if there’s another place in the world where you could have, where you’d find a notice like that.
And so the good thing you and I have, Burton, is that we are grateful inheritors of a legacy of interreligious dialogue, and amity, and friendship that we can never take for granted, and upon which we need to build. And that now, the particular challenge is with the Islamic community. Why? Well, for one, because they’re kind of recently arrived. So they may not have been part of that heritage that we revel in. And number two, because tensions within world religions, whether it be Islamic, or Jewish, or Christian, is now such a part of the world arena. So to engage them is to an extraordinarily compelling motive for all of us involved, like you are, and like I’m honored to be, in interreligious dialogue here in New York.
JENKINS: I think we can take another question.
OPERATOR: Our next question is a written submission from Ellen Posman at Baldwin Wallace University.
I appreciate the comments about moral authority and racial justice and admitting mistakes and maintaining credibility. How do you see those issues playing out for the church’s role on the issue of gender justice throughout the world?
DOLAN: Yeah. Thank you, Ellen. That’s a very timely question. We, part of our Catholic tradition is always a distinction between who a person is and what a person might do. Who a person is, is non-negotiable for Catholics. No matter what ethnic background, no matter what race, no matter what gender identity, or sexual attraction, that person demands, deserves respect, reverence. And that’s part of Catholic teaching, OK?
Now while the Catholic Church might say some forms of behavior we would have questions about, what is non-negotiable is the inherent dignity of the human person, no matter—so, when I go, when I visit, well, when I visit a prison I ask to see, well, thank God, in this state, it’s not true in other states where I might visit prisons, I would ask to see the person who’s on death row. There would be people who would say, they have absolutely, they’ve lost any right to ask for dignity and respect. In our book, people who believe in the Bible, that’s just not true. Every person deserves dignity and respect. We, as Catholics, always hold up that ideal when it comes to any question.
And even though, yes, we have the moral imperative to preach what we feel is a revealed truth about behavior, we also know it’s a revealed truth that the human person always, always, always deserves dignity and respect. And, you know, Ellen, and I admit that’s a difficult road to walk. And it’s one that one time we might err one side to the other. But, boy, we can never give up trying.
JENKINS: I think we can take another question.
OPERATOR: We’ll take the next live question from William O’Keefe at Catholic Relief Services.
OPERATOR: Accept the unmute prompt.
O’KEEFE: Good morning, Cardinal Dolan, and thank you so much—
DOLAN: How are you, William?
O’KEEFE: Yeah, I’m good. It’s a pleasure to see you. Thanks for all your work.
DOLAN: I just had breakfast earlier this morning with a great benefactor of Catholic Relief Services.
O’KEEFE: Well, thank you so much for doing that. We appreciate your support. You talked about the church’s work on fighting COVID, and the Vatican’s role. And I’m wondering about how you see bringing to life the holy father’s comments about trying to build back better. And to reverse some of the economic and political injustices that have been so exposed around the world. And, we at Catholic Relief Services, where I work, see this every day. I’d love to hear your reflections on what we can all do to try to advance that.
DOLAN: Thanks, William. I hope our listeners don’t think this is a staged question because of my high esteem for Catholic Relief Services and the possibility to give you a shout out here with the Council for Foreign Relations. On the, pardon me, Jack, for going off-key for a minute. But three or four days after the horrific earthquake in Haiti in January of 2010, I had the honor back then, William, as you might remember, serving as chair of the board for Catholic Relief Services. And I was able to go down there to deliver medical supplies.
And as we landed at the airport, which was opened especially for relief airplanes like ourselves, who did I meet but the then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And we chatted for a little while in the airport hangar before I went into Port-au-Prince. And she said to me, I’m glad you’re here. She said, I’ve been here for a couple days. And she said, the people who seem to be doing the best would be your Catholic Relief Services, because we already had three hundred people who were there all the time. They were on the ground. They lived there. They worked there. And they were able to deliver supplies. So God bless Catholic Relief Services.
You ask a good question, William. I mentioned earlier to Jack that this COVID crisis has triggered an internal, an introspection among everybody, who have had to kind of look deep down within for reason, for focus, for a sense of purpose. It’s been a time of trial, and suffering, and isolation. And those occasions usually trigger an internal reckoning. And I see that among a lot of our people. But that’s not just individually, personally. I also see an occasion for a communal, a national, a planetary examination of conscience. There’s a rediscovered sense of the brittleness of human life and of our health. We were kind of on a high for a while thinking, oh my God, we have one cure after another. And the scientists have everything under control. Scientists, by the way, would be the first to be humble and say no, we’re working hard at it but we don’t have everything under control.
But COVID has taught us about our frailty, about our fragility. I see it here in the city. I see it here in the state. I see it here in the nation. And I see it abroad. Everybody now is beginning to ask themselves how we as a people, part of this village that we call the human race and the planet that we call Earth, how this kind of newly rediscovered fragility can give rise to a more poignant sense of solicitude for the poor and vulnerable of the world. The inequities that may have caused the virus to spread much more aggressively in minorities, in underprivileged areas where healthcare is not available. This, I trust, and I’m not surprised; I’m very proud of him, that Pope Francis would be one of the leading voices in this, is, I trust, leading to a cosmopolitan examination of conscience about what we can learn from all of this.
JENKINS: So I think we have time for one more question.
OPERATOR: The final question is a written submission from Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons at the Center for American Progress.
Climate envoy John Kerry just met with Pope Francis at the Vatican. What areas of overlap do you see between the Biden administration’s priorities and Catholic social teaching where you can partner?
DOLAN: Even more than just on climate change, but that’s the one that you particularly mentioned. And I wasn’t surprised at all to see that the holy father received John Kerry, and that both gave glowing statements. Pope Francis has been an early advocate of a crescendo of sensitivity to the fragility of the planet. By the way, so has the Greek Orthodox, Bartholomew, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Constantinople, or as you all call it, Istanbul, all right? He also has been an early prophet of climate. And Pope Francis has become one of the leading advocates. So that he would find a mutuality of concern with the administration does not surprise me at all.
The Holy See is always eager to cooperate with world leaders. They don’t agree on everything, OK? I can remember when Pope Paul VI, I was a student in Rome,a seminarian, when Pope Paul VI met with Idi Amin. Now they didn’t have much in common, folks, but Pope Paul said, look, if I can try to talk some sense into this guy, if I can try to bring out some of the good that I believe is deep down within, I’m going to give it a shot, because we don’t have much to lose. So the church is always ready to meet with leaders, even when we know that we’ll agree with them and disagree with them.
I say that, I presume there’s going to be areas of tension between the church and the Biden administration, as there has been with every president, OK? The Holy See usually looks on the bright side and says, hey, let’s make hay while the sun shines. Or, to use the Italian expression, you got to make gnocchi with the dough you got, OK? So let’s find some areas where we can work on, and then maybe we can bring about a conversation of heart on the areas where we disagree. That’s pretty much true with all world leaders. So I’m not surprised at all to see Pope Francis and Secretary Kerry sit down and make some progress on climate, on the sensitivity towards the crisis of the environment. And I would anticipate there would probably be some agreements where, some areas where there might be some disagreements.
JENKINS: Got it. Well, I think that is all the time we have.
DOLAN: Aw, shucks.
JENKINS: (Laughs) I want to thank Cardinal Dolan for being a part of this conversation and the Council on Foreign Relations for hosting it. This has been a wide-ranging discussion. I’m sure we have many more questions. But thank you again, all of you who watched, for joining us on this Wednesday.
DOLAN: Thanks for letting me in, folks. Thank you.
KIM: Thank you. Greetings, I'm Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, an organization that connects forty denominations and scores of Christian institutions and ministry. I'm delighted to be part of this conversation on the religion community's role in managing COVID-19. And along with me, as conversation partners, are Reverend Jacqui Lewis, senior minister for public theology and transformation at Middle Church in New York City. She is an author and activist preacher, public theologian, working particularly in the areas of racial justice, but also seeing the church as a place for social transformation. And with us, also is Melissa Rogers, executive director at the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. A role that she held previously with distinction and now has renewed. Melissa is not only an expert on religion in America, but she is also supremely capable leader to bring together people from various segments of society to address our country's greatest needs and possibilities. So, Jacqui, Melissa, thank you for joining in this conversation.
ROGERS AND LEWIS: Delighted to be here. Thank you.
KIM: Well, let's begin with the big picture of how religious communities have managed COVID-19. What are some notable themes, whether they're challenges or responses, whether they're strengths or weaknesses, in the religion community's responses? What are some of these themes that stand out to you from this past year?
ROGERS: Well, yes, great. And thank you, Walter, it's great to be with you. And great to be with Jacqui, I want to thank you both for the tremendous work that you do on behalf of your own faith communities, and for everyone in the United States and around the world, your compassionate voices mean so much. And I also want to thank the Council on Foreign Relations, and Irina and her wonderful team for teeing up this dialogue. So, some of the themes that come to mind immediately for me, are themes like resilience, ingenuity, and compassion. When this pandemic hit, we had to, and religious communities, had to adapt. And so quickly, we think about in our, if we take ourselves back to the pre-pandemic mindset, it would have been almost unthinkable that religious communities would have had to turn on a dime and celebrate Easter, and Passover, and Ramadan, not in the traditional ways, but online, and outdoors, and in other ways. And that all the service that faith communities do to help people in need, would have to be radically adapted, not only because of the contagiousness of the disease, but also because of the growing number of people who had lost their lives and livelihoods. And that makes us think, of course, of all the loss of life and how chaplains and ministers like you and Jacqui and so many others, have found ways, new ways, to minister to people, when the old ways could not happen because of the disease.
So those are themes that hit me, right off the bat. And I'm just so thankful for what the faith community has done to adapt, and to show compassion in new ways. A couple of other themes that come to my mind are revelation and reckoning. This virus has revealed to us, for example, racial disparities in a way that perhaps some of us had never seen before. It was so clear, I think, that no one could deny it. And that has meant that we have had to have a reckoning. And as a result, equity has come into the center of the conversation, both racial equity and equity for those who have been underserved or disempowered in a variety of ways. And I think that has been a good turn in the conversation. One of the things I've mentioned is the Equity Task Force that the Biden administration has put in place along with the COVID response team. And I think that leadership and leadership in the faith community in particular in this area has launched a new conversation. And that has been all to the good.
LEWIS: Thank you, Melissa, for those reflections. I wanted to dovetail into this idea of resilience and maybe even to put resistance in that. I think faith communities across denominations and across Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians, I think I've seen my colleagues across the nation really show the ways love, revolutionary love, has no bounds. The way that it is not a tied to brick and mortar, it is not tied to place, but it's tied to heart. So, I had a chance to do media with Rabbi Sharon Brous, for example, in LA, right when the pandemic hit. Of course she was pivoting Passover, we were pivoting Easter, and our annual revolutionary web conference. Just the ways that our lay leaders are so creative, and our staff are so creative, how people turned to Zoom rooms into places of community and art, and justice, and love, that even in the midst of this pandemic—at Middle Church in particular, we were able to host a conference for 650 people last year and 1300 this year, more this year, Melissa and Walter—350 people joined the church during COVID.
So I think there was, again, across the nation across denominations, ways that faith leaders found to tap into creativity, to art, to community organizing, to protesting, to voter reform—look what we did in the elections during COVID. The way that we organized ourselves to learn issues, to share, to share resources, the Poor People's Campaign, Vote Common Good, just some of the allies that we work with. So that, yeah, I think resilience. And when I say resistance, I mean, sort of, resisting also, the fires that were burning, right? We had a tough year, not just with COVID, but the George Floyd murder, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, all of these moments of kind of racial crisis, the rising violence against Asian communities. We also, as faith communities, resisted oppression, resisted violence, and resisted racism, and actually bound ourselves, I think, together in an interfaith and multi-ethnic, multi-gendered movement for justice. And so I'm really proud of that. And I would say maybe one more thing, not to be polemic, but to say, in some places, faith pretended that the pandemic wasn't real, okay. In some places, faith-based leaders gave their folks a sense that wearing a mask or distancing from one another was against faith, that if God was real and good that we wouldn't have to do that. And I struggled to understand that, I just want to make sure I say that out loud, to understand how responsible we are, for the ways our congregants take in information through the lens of faith leaders who they trust, and how powerful that is, right? And how important it is that we steward that power well.
KIM: I've heard words—resilience, resistance, engagement, creativity. And I sense that the work of the NAE face very similar issues. And, we've been seeking to engage in a few different ways. One is to inform. And so very early on, getting information out there, not only about the nature of this virus, but also about responses and—Jacqui, to your point, getting good information that puts it, not only in medical terms, but also in theological terms—medicine as a gift from God, the kind of creativity that was required to engage with worship service that both of you have mentioned, and in some ways, this has been a remarkable moment of entrepreneurial spirit within churches, spirit-led creativity that I would wish to highlight. But it's been complicated, right? And so, we've not only had to inform, but we've had to collaborate on a variety of issues, not only the medical issues, but the racial justice issues, and certainly as an Asian-American, I sense deeply the recent turns that really are revelation of long standing issues, that perhaps in the Asian-American, Pacific Islander community have been more silently endured.
But there's a moment of reckoning, another word that you all have used, that require not just information, but collaboration, and not just collaboration, but the third thing that, I think, at the NAE that we've been seeking to do is engagement, of actually participating, not just talking and building alliances, and developing this sense of solidarity, but engaging and becoming vaccinations sites at churches, or engaging with advocacy issues that deal with Black and Brown communities that have been disproportionately impacted. So, I sense, along with you, both this creative moment, but also challenging moment. And now I want to dive more specifically in why and how religious communities are particularly important to our national response to COVID. And by COVID, I'm not just meaning the virus, physical virus, but I mean, this whole last year and what has been revealed in our social settings. So why and how are religious communities so particularly important in our national response? Jacqui, let's begin with you.
LEWIS: Sure. I mean, we're essential workers, right? Religious communities are essential workers. I mean, here is this global, devastating pandemic, that claims hundreds of thousands of lives, I think they're now putting the number at 900,000 here. And I think the role of faith communities is to, is to help our people theologically understand, ethically understand that we're a global community. I think, Walter and Melissa, about the word of “ubuntu,” this philosophy in South Africa. “I am who I am because you are who you are.” A person is a person through other people. The word for humanity in the Zulu language is actually this word, that is more than one, like there's more than one of us, and that we are inextricably connected one to the other. So I think religion, the word religion, you and I know, means to bind together, like to re-tie, right, to bind together, that the world of the world of religions and faith communities is vital, to help us understand that what happens in India affects us in America. What happens in China affects us in America. In particular, I want to say, the traffic and the ethic of revolutionary love—revolutionary love as an ethic to guide our lives. And there's this way in which what COVID showed us all is Black and Brown people die first—are most devastated. In fact, whole generations of Latinx, Hispanic men are actually lost to COVID. The ones who are on the frontlines, the one who are in the bodega jobs, the ones who drive the taxis, the ones who drive the Ubers.
So there's an economic reality that faith communities can help people understand—that our economy, if our economy is going to be God's economy, how do we think about paying people more who work less? How do we—who work in these frontline jobs? How do we think about paid leave for moms and dads? How do we think about a living wage? How do we think about giving, making sure that everybody has healthcare? All those economic issues show themselves to us. Along with, again, the racial issues show themselves to us. We found out that we've not overcome, we've not overcome the way caste and race cause us to oppress one another. And I think those of us who do theology have an urgent responsibility to teach our congregants, to teach our faith leaders, the oneness of God, the many languages God speaks, the value that God has on all human life. The way that we are one people called to one, one hope, one ethic, and I think that we not only have a responsibility, we have an urgent calling, to make sure that these theologies of welcome, these theologies of love and justice become like air we breathe, and not so much caught in creed, and culture.
KIM: Melissa, your job is to get faith communities engaged. So I imagine you have a lot of why’s and how’s.
ROGERS: There are some why’s and how’s, yes. One of the things that I think has become even more clear during this period, is that because of the role that faith plays in our country, religious leaders and faith-based organizations are vital to public health. And you don't have to be a person of faith necessarily to see that, and let me just talk through one example. When we were thinking about early on getting facts to people about the virus and the vaccination, and you reference this, Walter, and also Jacqui as well, we knew that working with faith communities was going to be essential. It wasn't a choice. It was something that had to happen in order to effectively meet people across the country and around the world. And some of the reasons for that are just very factual. Houses of worship are pervasive, and they're familiar to many Americans. Religious leaders are among the most trusted figures in our communities, and vast majority of religious leaders are enthusiastic about helping, and one of the great bright spots of this has been that, for the most part, this has brought faith communities together, and saying, we can work on this together, we may differ on some other issues, but we can work together here. And that's been great. This love your neighbor moment has brought us together. We know that people have fears and anxieties, questions that need to be answered. And we know that when they see someone they trust getting the vaccine, talking about the facts here, that that can really change their willingness to get the vaccine. And that matters a lot.
We also know that many faith groups are exceptionally good at reaching underserved communities. And that matters a great deal. We also know that houses of worship are often gap fillers for a lack of culturally-sensitive healthcare. They help people you know with language barriers or with information barriers or other kinds of access barriers, for example, many minority groups and immigrants. And so it's just shot into the public recognition, I think, that faith communities are absolutely central to public health, including to this virus but not limited to this virus. And I think one of the things that has happened is, as we recognize the importance of the connection between faith communities and public health, it helps us perhaps, to think more intentionally and productively moving forward, about how we might strengthen those connections that have been built, because we'll face other challenges in the future and we want to make sure we're ready. So one thing I'm really grateful for is that President Biden has understood this from the very beginning. And he was very clear that we should be working with faith communities of all kinds, and indeed, has himself visited pop-up vaccination clinics at a chapel recently, and has always taken a great interest in this. So it's a great moment, I think, to think about how the government works with faith communities in a way that respects church-state separation, and religious liberty for everyone, and partners on shared goals, and make sure that no one is left behind.
LEWIS: Well, I've got a couple of what and how’s to share that Melissa prompts me to want to bring to the table, if it's okay. I find myself shy about some of the things that have happened at Middle Church, but the collegiate church, my colleague at Fort Washington Church is an inoculation site now, and that's just amazing. There are four churches, if you will, that share one ministry. But at Middle, we decided to take 10 percent of our budget last year, Melissa, to make it for council. So how can we help people to stay in their houses? How can we help people pay their bills? How can we help people get groceries on the table? When the virus first hit, our deacons took food to families that were getting sick and delivered them on the doorsteps. We made a whole website about resources that were available in the community. Here's what we learned from the CDC. And let's put, so literally a one-stop shop for information. And then my colleague, Amanda, bless her heart, started a cadre of volunteers who stood in line to make vaccine appointments. So the older folks, who, like me, if we're not trying to be on the phone a long time, getting these young people just would keep refreshing their phones, and got inoculations for so many of the vulnerable people in our community, including me. My husband and I got vaccinated because someone stood in line for us. So information—we took selfies of ourselves getting shots. One of our members is a doctor, physician, an immunologist, actually, did a teach-in that we call “The Freedom Lab.” So education, trust that it works because we did it. Here's where you can get it. Here's some groceries. Here's some resources to get you through these tough times. And it made the whole community feel like we were doing wellness.
ROGERS: Wow. Walter, if you don't mind—Jacqui, thank you so much for saying all that and much more importantly for doing that work and leading it which is just vital to people's life and their livelihoods. And one of the things I just want to mention is that Jacqui's example points out two things. One is just incredible heart that's put into this work and compassion. And secondly, how people of faith and community organizations are often the middlemen and women between government and people who need services. So people of faith and other community groups, they know how to reach government, and they know how to get information about what benefits are available, and what services, and at the same time, they know how to reach people who are struggling. And so that very important role, of that middle person role, is just what explains why these initiatives are so very important. And I think there's so much more we can do in this space by taking some of the best practices that NAE, and Jacqui, and Middle Church have done, and others, that it really makes me excited to think about how we can build on all your really great work.
KIM: There's a tremendous kind of collaborative spirit that's developed as a result of this challenge. And, of course, there are moments of fragmentation, we are human. And despite the call to shared humanity, there is a streak of obstinance in all humans. But, by and large, I have entered into all sorts of conversations I don't think I would have had otherwise. Tomorrow night, I'll be with bBlackdoctors.org, in a collaborative event, a multi-racial approach to this challenge of vaccination. And these are relationships and partnerships, these are collaborations that maybe would not have existed. But the new kinds of friendships that develop from this, hold a promise far beyond this pandemic. They are friendships, they are relationships, that could be leveraged for other sorts of social challenges in the future, that the faith community could be using this as an occasion, not just to solve a problem of this past year, but to engage with problems in the coming years that beset us. And the kinds of work that we've been doing in webinars to get better information out there. In opportunities to say your organization has a strength that ours doesn't.
So at the NAE we collaborated with the Ad Council and faith leaders in Black and Brown communities to produce ads that the NAE—we could not have produced. But the Ad Council, that's their job, that's their expertise, and to be able to use that in the collaborative effort to get information out, but distributed in these trusted places. Both of you talked about the church as being this trusted, localized, trusted place. And these are very powerful issues, because, you know, if we're going to address issues of racial justice, yes, they'll be national conversations, but they're going to be localized efforts that need to move the needle for change, the conversations on the local level. So this has been very heartening for us to broach these opportunities together. Both of you have mentioned vaccination in some way, shape, or form. And now I want to turn our attention to this. Can you give us a quick snapshot of where we are, in this pandemic right now? Your current work, especially in the area of vaccination, whether it's being a vaccination site, or other things that you're seeking to do to address the multifaceted challenges of vaccination. So give us a snapshot of what you're doing right now and where you see we need to be going in the next weeks to come. Melissa, why don't we begin with you to start.
ROGERS: Okay. Sure. Yeah, well, so this week has been a landmark week, as the President announced more than 60 percent of people eighteen years and older have received at least one dose of the vaccination. Cases have continued to decrease, hospital admissions are down, deaths, thank God, are down, and we're vaccinating between about 1.5 to 2 million people per day. So I think we are winning the war against the virus, but the battle is not done. There is an incredible amount of work ahead of us, particularly this summer. The President has set a goal that 70 percent of the country's adults will have at least one vaccination shot by July 4, and 160 million Americans will be fully vaccinated by July 4. And in that regard, I’d just like to mention, if I could, several things that, and I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but I hope that we can all redouble our efforts this summer and just want to mention a few resources that you can take advantage of, some of which are new. One is vaccines.gov, to help people find a location near them where they can be vaccinated. They can also text their zip code to 438829, that's 4388292, to find a vaccination near them. There's an 800 number that they can call. And also, we're having a Digital Day of Action this Friday, May 21. And we'll be sure that everyone who's on the call receives materials about that, that could be as simple as posting your own vaccination story. And linking to vaccines.gov, for example. It could be something like joining the COVID-19 Community Corps that I know so many of you are a part of, where you receive new resources that you can share with your community, because we're finding we really have to go where people are, we have to meet them where they are, wherever that is, and make sure that we're telling personal stories, talking to our friends, our family, and others who may have some hesitancy here to make sure that their questions get answered. And they're assisted in getting vaccinated. So I think we're doing well. There's reasons to be optimistic. But at the same time, I'd ask everybody to redouble their efforts as we move forward during these important coming weeks to make sure that we can return to many of the things that we enjoy so much, including gathering in our houses of worship in person safely.
LEWIS: That's great, Melissa, thank you so much for all of that information. Maybe I'm going to be anecdotal at this moment to just say both the kind of, “yay, we're doing it,” and the challenge, right. The way we're doing it is, again, just to thank my colleagues at Middle Church, who've been collaborating across the city. Yes, to make sure that we got the information on the website, yes, to make sure that we got inoculations for our most vulnerable people, our young people are going. I was talking to a mom the other day who said I'm sitting here, my boy’s inoculated now, second shot for her sixteen-year-old, and she was brilliant and joyful, and thanking God, that this is available now so that their family can get somewhere back to normal. I was at my church a little while ago today doing fire work, we burned down in December. And one of my security guards has not been inoculated. And so I say as a pastor, my job is I'm saying to everyone, have you got your shot? Have you had your vaccinations? 70 percent of our staff is inoculated now, and I want a 100 percent inoculation by October. So when we open up, our staff can model, “yes, we've done this thing.” Here's the anecdote of the resistance, this security person—sorry to tell on you, friend. “I did not get inoculations. I was a soldier. They gave us immunotherapy when I was in Afghanistan. I don't think I need a shot.” Come on. That doesn't seem really true. Who's putting that information out? Who's still resisting? And I understand this, Black peoples’ bodies have been sites of terror around medicine, around experiments, around eugenics in the time of Reconstruction. All of our listeners don't know that. But it's true. So there can be a kind of, “can we trust this?”
So Dr. Meghan Kirksey, who's our member, who did a class for us, is an African-American mom of three girls, who said, the most reliable witness, Walter and Melissa, is you. We are the most reliable witness. So to the ones who are listening, you read the information, you got the data from the places that Melissa said, you had your inoculation. And then when you turn to your family or your community, and you testify to that you felt better. And yes, that second one was rough, but I did it. We're our best eyewitness, is what I really believe about the power of the inoculations. And the importance of still masking and distancing while everybody gets safe and well. So I'm wanting to encourage religious communities, can I be honest? To not be afraid, to expect that, to articulate that as a norm, to make a reopen protocol, that you, that with physicians and lawyers in your community, that your community owns, so that people can together hold the norm of what it's going to look like to be in community together—we're going to gather this way, we're going to gather this way, we're not going to gather this way, so everybody owns it with the most vulnerable in mind. And I think that that's what's going to get us to President Biden's goals and to all of our goals, of a kind of a well community. Seriously loving each other enough to get shots and stay distant until we do.
KIM: Jacqui, early on, you talked about revolutionary love, and this kind of ethic of love that ought to drive us in terms of this vaccination. It's not simply about personal protection. But it's an engagement of protection for the community at large and a reengagement. Speaking as not only president of the NEA, but as a local pastor, reengagement of all that church represents. The breaking of bread together, the studying of the Bible in small groups, the being on mission in our neighborhoods, sending short-term mission teams overseas in different contexts to help out, I mean all the myriads of ways that the church represents an opportunity of service. And this is true of other faith traditions as well. And it's in part why I joined with the COVID Community Corps and recently put out a Trusted Voices video with the Department of Health and Human Services that followed me around as I got my second vaccination shot, and one of the most compelling things about that second vaccination shot for me was to see the people gathered there. I mean, there were National Guardsmen who were doing the registration and welcoming us. There were a whole slew of nurses coming in, some retired and others making the extra effort putting extra hours in, and then the line of people I mean, men, women, old, young, racial diversity, ethnic diversity represented in the line as I was standing, waiting to get my shot. And it really was the sense that we can do this. And we are doing this. And it really does take everyone. And that's a very compelling vision of what America could be. And in its better moments, really is, but we need to continue to persist in this. Now I know that there are a number of questions that are starting to come in and others that wait to be asked. So I want to invite Liz Powell to come back on to help navigate this transition to our Q&A section.
OPERATOR: We'll take the first live question from Munir A. Shaikh with the Bayan Claremont Islamic Graduate School. Please accept the unmute now prompt.
It appears we are having some technical difficulties.
We will take a written question then from Katherine Marshall of Georgetown University.
“American religious communities, including interreligious bodies, have many transnational links. What concrete steps can and should these communities take to address the global challenges posed by COVID? What are priorities you see in the most meaningful areas for concrete action?”
ROGERS: Great. And thank you so much, Katherine Marshall, who does such great work on these issues, both in the United States and around the world, and so grateful for her and for all of her contributions. So I wanted to just note, that this week, the President reaffirmed his commitment to leading an international and coordinated vaccination effort, announcing that the United States will donate 80 million U.S. vaccines to people around the world, and will continue to use our leadership with our G7 partners, the EU, COVAX, and others to coordinate a multilateral effort focusing on ending the pandemic. Now, this effort is multifaceted and will continue, and faith and community groups can play key roles in this effort as well, as Katherine notes. One of the things that we were doing earlier this week is talking with Administrator Samantha Power at USAID about helping to get shots in arms not just in the United States, but around the world, in part by working with faith and community groups. And so I would say that one of the best first steps you could take if you're interested in ramping up your work, or if you want to tell us more about the work you're doing in this area, would be to connect with our Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at USA, and let us know that you're interested, we are beginning to ramp up our strategies in that area, and to make sure that we know what's already going on, and build on those efforts. So I think, I would recommend that as an excellent first step, either telling us what you're doing, or raising your hand, or both things to say, I want to do more to help around the world, because this is absolutely a key mission for us, both in terms of the moral mission, and also the safety mission, the virus knows no borders. And we won't all be safe until we are all safe. So let's make sure that we lean into this. And I'm just really thrilled by the question and the excitement that we've already seen among faith and community partners about getting this job done all around the world.
KIM: Let me add to that, within the NAE, I've mentioned that there are forty plus denominations and scores of Christian institutions, ministries, nonprofits. Some of our denominations that have a much larger footprint globally than they do within America itself, and there's eager conversation about what does it look like to be a partner to the global community. And then of course, we have Christian ministries like World Relief, World Vision, Compassion International, that work very diligent—Salvation Army, very diligently, globally in terms of providing healthcare, and they're already trusted voices, resources, known entities within communities throughout the world. And they have expertise in exactly this area of medical health, that's also in partnership with religious communities that have an extraordinary level of trust. So in some ways, as I look at the work of the NAE, our connections globally, are not only as significant, but perhaps even more significant, given the specific organizations like World Relief that I've mentioned, that their job is, in fact, in this area of addressing the most vulnerable throughout the world, in a holistic way, both in terms of mind, and body, in terms of spirit, individually, and in community. So there's a rich opportunity. I'm excited to hear about some of these initiatives from the administration, because they're rich opportunities for collaboration, not only nationally, but internationally.
LEWIS: Can I just say a brief thing there really quickly, to say, what happened in this time of COVID is that all of us developed more digital connections than we had before. So your web includes your mother's cousin's auntie, right, who lives in Paris, or your father's best friend who lives in China. So to maybe use, to take advantage of that to invite the people in your community, to be in touch across the globe, to tell stories, to collect stories, to tell share best resources, and pick a few people that you trust to follow and follow them where they go. So Valarie Kaur is a Sikh activist, author, but who helped us all get in touch with this catastrophic COVID death rates in India. So, To India With Love is a campaign that's up and about now, you can make a donation or you can read and learn. Pick a few people to follow across ethnicity, across religion, and stay in touch with that and help build your own web of connectivity.
KIM: Thank you. Liz, Let's move to the next question.
OPERATOR: We will take the next live question from Tom Getman of The Getman Group, former Senate staffer, and World Vision International director. Please accept the unmute now prompt.
GETMAN: Thanks, friends, you make us all proud. And we're very grateful for your comments today. Could you comment please about the amazing engagement between Black Lives and Asian Lives Matter with international issues? I'm segueing off what you just talked about. It's been so interesting to see their relationship with Palestinian Liberation. Our liberation leaders here and in South Africa have mentioned if even one person or group lacks freedom, we all lack freedom and liberation. That's particularly true, I think, in the COVID crisis. What can we do as faith communities to help? We're going to a different level here to help oppressed people in refugee camps or in really marginalized areas to be freed from this fear and oppression of not being inoculated, like the Palestinians or the Uighurs, or the religious minorities in many places. Thanks very much for your help in this.
KIM: Jacqui, you want to give us an initial thought, given your work in some of these spaces?
LEWIS: Thank you, Walter. I was just pondering like, what would one want to say quickly? I mean, I think one of the things, thank you so much for that question. What you're asking about, this leads us to the intersectionality of these issues. We all know that they're connected, we know that we're inextricably connected. We know that race connects to class, connects to healthcare, connects to economic justice, connects to sexuality and gender, connects to region. And we also know, we also have a sense that a common opponent, I'll say it that way, a common opponent for all of us, is racism, and white supremacy, and entitlement. And that is a common opponent to our Asian siblings, who are now, I can't even believe the violence being enacted upon them. I find myself thinking, if an African American person is violating an Asian person, Walter, to be just blunt, I feel like what Kool-Aid has that Black person drunk, right? What have they taken in to make them pass on the oppression? Do you feel what I mean? There's a common opponent. And so what do we do together, we say to ourselves, we're not going to buy the hype that Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization. We're going to find a Black Lives Matter chapter to connect to no matter our race. And if not that, white folks can connect to SURJ, who's really gathering anti-racist work with whites. We know that the AAPI community is connecting now deeply to the Black Lives Matter community.
If you look for anti-AAPI hatred group websites and find your way into that relationship, again, the interweb has connected all of us, so I think it's both national and international, but deeply local, and Google is your friend, and we'll get you to a place that feels safe. And maybe what you want to do, loves, is to set up a conversation group among ethnic folks and white folks in your setting. Whether you're a church, or a parachurch, or a synagogue, or a mosque—in your community, what kinds of conversation groups can you set up to read, to learn, to study about the underlying conditions, I'm going to call them the pre-existing conditions, that lead us to this place of violence in this place of deep sickness.
ROGERS: Walter, I know you as well as Jacqui have done such great work in this space. And I just wondered if you wanted to comment on the question as well.
KIM: Yeah. There's a very complicated immigration history for Asian Americans. And so even this notion of AAPI as a unitary movement is something of an illusion, because the immigration pattern has been so varied. And unlike African American situation, or the Hispanic Latino situation, there isn't a unifying language. So not only is there not a unifying history, but within the Hispanic community, predominantly speaking Spanish. And with an African American community, most people are not asking, well, where were you originally from? What country? You don't think to ask that. But when you talk about the AAPI community, you're talking about scores and scores of languages, cultures that have some similarity and overlap, but also a number of distinct qualities. And then, what does collaboration and unity look like when the Vietnamese experience is different from the Malay experience, is different from the Chinese or Korean experience, and the languages are different and so forth. And yet their common experiences of race or disempowerment, even among those who might fit the model minority stereotype, and I point at myself in this way, but here's a moment of solidarity, to Jacqui's point. There are some profoundly shared experiences that point to opportunities of mutual understanding and work. But we need to hear those stories. And they are very difficult conversations because some of those stories include difficult experiences between racial and ethnic minorities, not just between the dominant culture, and racial and ethnic minorities. And that just adds a layer of complexity.
But there have also been very beautiful moments of solidarity. And I point to a documentary that recently just brought me to tears, Far East Deep South, I would highly recommend it to those of you who are listening, a Chinese immigrant family’s discovery that they actually weren't immigrants, but had a heritage in Mississippi. And that journey of discovery included a journey of discovery of the solidarity between the African American and Chinese American communities in Mississippi. Was a beautiful, compelling, but at times painful, narrative. We need to hear these stories, we need to engage in that if we are to move together. Seems aspirational, but it is, in fact, possible. And, lives gets transformed, communities get transformed, when we engage in these difficult conversations with one another. And we hear our stories, and we move forward together in a way that would not be possible if we were not really attending to each other's stories. That's a bit of a pastor coming out of me this moment, but—
LEWIS: I think that what you're saying, Walter, causes us to think also about the multiethnic possibilities in our faith communities that sadly still elude us. Eleven o'clock in the morning is still often way more segregated than I think our faith calls to, in that context. And so, Middle's a multi-all-the-things church: multiethnic, multiracial, multiclass, multigendered. But when we are together in that community, the aunties that got violated are not like our grandmothers, they are our grandmothers. Right. But the, and so I think there's an opportunity, Melissa and Walter, right now, for us to think about multicultural, multiethnic systems as antidotes to hate and violence.
KIM: We have several more questions. So I know that we should be pushing on to address those. Liz?
OPERATOR: We will take the next written question from Tabassum Haleem, with the Islamic Networks Group, and it's directed to Melissa.
“Thank you for your leadership and continuously providing faith-based institutions new tools to better serve their communities and combating COVID-19. Do you see increased collaboration among interfaith groups? And do you see future opportunities for cooperative initiatives? If so, do you have any specific examples?”
ROGERS: Great. Thank you so much. And I appreciate the question and your work. Yes, I think the answer is a resounding positive one. There have been so many instances in which we have seen groups of different faiths and beliefs come together to work against this virus, one that I would lift up is the Coalition Faiths for Vaccines, which has a national summit next week on May 26. And that is a well-timed national summit, and the work of this group has really been spectacular, and so inspirational. I've been a part of their meetings many times and they include people of so many different faiths, I couldn't even recite all the different groups, it sort of, I think covers the landscape, of the religious landscape, I should say, of the United States. And they have worked together very intentionally, to make sure that people have the tools and the understanding to plug in and help with this problem. And I think in the course of doing so, efforts like this are not only helping us to become more physically healthy, but to actually heal our nation in other ways too, because they are helping to build bridges across differences, as we've all just talked about, to show solidarity and to find new ways to work together that maybe we would not have found if we hadn't had to face this challenge together.
So I think, that's just one example, I know ING has done a lot of work in this space, including through the “Know Your Neighbor” campaign that they run that's pre-pandemic but has been adapted to the pandemic setting to bring people together to talk and work together on issues of shared concern. So one of the things that I think has been a great fruit of the effort has been a powerful reaffirmation of pluralism and respect across differences and affirmation of the principles of our country that out of many weeks can be won. And so that's been a real shot in the arm if you wouldn't mind me saying so.
OPERATOR: We will take the next live question from Laura Alexander, associate professor of religious studies at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. Please accept the unmute now prompt.
Okay, we will take the next written question from Kevin McBride of Raymond Baptist Church.
“How do we heal the division within the faith communities as we move forward between those who stand against the vaccines and those who have participated?”
KIM: Well, one of the things that I would begin, just by saying, and then I'd love to hear from both Jacqui and Melissa, but is to acknowledge that there are divisions, I mean, there's no way to address this issue if we don't acknowledge this issue. But I would have to say, let's acknowledge it and try to understand the deeper reasons behind it. And not simply to characterize or attribute motivations before we actually have real conversations and address those concerns. It's very easy to assume that a person's motivation is the worst possible motivation when that person happens to disagree with you. And we tend to give ourselves the latitude of nuance in our position. But we tend to afford simplistic motivations to others. So I think one of the ways that we are going to go about healing this, is that even understanding that two people who say the same thing may have very different reasons for why they say it. But you're only going to get that if you have these difficult conversations. If you dignify the other person with the basic assumption, they probably have nuance to why they're doing it. Emotional, intellectual, spiritual motivations, cultural context. And if we're to heal that division that exists, we're going to need to enter into an understanding. And that just takes work. And we're frankly, all tired. So it's a lot easier to just characterize and move on. But the kind of labor that's required to see the pandemic finish is the kind of labor that's going to be required to move on in healing our nation in all sorts of other ways.
LEWIS: I think that's really beautiful, Walter. And I would say, friends, that building a relationship is difficult work. It's really difficult work. And so, if we want that, if we want to be a part of the healing, I think we need to build relationships. It might be that you decide to, I'm talking, I'm going to say this better. Talking about developing a sense of your own border personality. Put yourself on the border, read news that you don't usually consume, listen to music you don't usually listen to, turn on that other news channel and listen to what other folks are saying there. Broaden your inner border self. W. E. B. Du Bois used to say that Black people have two nests, that were double conscious, or double consciousness of our own consciousness and white consciousness. I think all of us need to be doubly conscious or maybe triply conscious. How can I develop a sensibility to understand a particular friend’s perspective? Let's just start there. I want to know that friend, that Chinese one, that Japanese friend, or that friend from the Dominican Republic who has a different sensibility than the one from Puerto Rico. Dip into the ethnicity of our white friends. They're not white. They think they are white, but they're also Polish, and German, and English, and Dutch. What do those ethnicities bring to the table? What does it mean to be Muslim in America? What is Ramadan? What's the conflict in Palestine-Israel about? Let's be students of the world, students of each other's culture, as a way to build bridges.
ROGERS: I would so much agree with all of that and I think it's bound up in this is the importance of recognizing that people, everybody is carrying around a certain amount of pain, and perhaps a certain amount of fear. And to remember that sometimes people, they get exhausted, and they get exhausted by information overload, by the stresses in their lives. And so faith communities are so good at their best, at taking a compassionate approach and recognizing dignity in everyone, and the pain that people carry and trying to take an empathetic approach to people's pain and suffering, and to try to have those great conversations that you've all just described.
KIM: Thank you. I think, looking at the clock now, I realize that we're going to need to draw this to a conclusion. I know there are fantastic questions that are still in the Q&A and hopefully we'll find ways of being able to address those in other contexts. I would like for us, as we draw to a conclusion, for each of you to provide a brief main takeaway from this. What is a final thought, or an encouragement, or exhortation that you would leave with us?
ROGERS: Great. So I would say that when I reflect on the situation we're in, it reminds me that sometimes, tragically, we can't stop pain and suffering sometimes. And that is such a terrible thing when that happens. But thankfully, that is not the case here. There is this vaccine that is safe, effective, convenient, and free. And so it's this wonderful opportunity for us to be able to stop pain and suffering. And so I know that we all know that, and are committed to that. And I think that what we need to do is recognize that there is a difference that we can make in these coming weeks, for the betterment of our neighbors, and our nation, and our world. And so I would just encourage everyone to ask what they can do, whether it's posting on social media, joining this Digital Day of Action this Friday, becoming a member of the COVID Community Corps, take, if you haven't already, I would encourage you to take one of those steps. And if you have, take them again, please, and get your neighbors and your friends to do so, because this is a grassroots movement. And the way that we will win is by all of us getting off the sidelines and getting active in this fight, which is all of our fights together. And I feel very optimistic and hopeful. And I just want to thank everybody for their tremendous contributions to this work.
LEWIS: That's beautiful, Melissa. I think I might add, agreeing with everything you're saying, I might add, we are, what is being revealed about us as human beings right now, in this COVID time, is just how much we can do together. That we got to a vaccine this fast, that we got to an effective vaccine that's working this fast, is amazing, miraculous. All the people who are caring for their neighbors, all the people who are doing love out loud as justice, both in the way the pandemic has affected us but also, I'm going call the second pandemic of racism—those pandemics are being addressed medically, sociologically, theologically, and with love, and you also are a love warrior. So wherever you are, remember that you are the best testimony to your neighbor, to your grandmother, to your son, that this can work. So get your shot, read up what you can on all things vaccine. But also, let's become, let's lean into an anti-racist culture. Because we study, listen for, hear the stories of our neighbors, and see how much we are alike, and how much we can heal together.
KIM: Thank you so much for sharing your perspectives. Thank you for the questions that have been brought in. Thank you for the earlier presentations. I've really enjoyed this conversation. It's so promising, not only with respect to drawing COVID-19 to a close, but it's very promising for the future challenges that remain. That the kind of information and collaboration, the lessons learned, the relationships built. This notion that as a nation, multifaceted problems require multifaceted responses, and that we need to be in this together is something that bodes well, even as the challenges are profound and real. Thank you, Jacqui. Thank you, Melissa, for this amazing conversation.
SINGH: Hi, everyone. I'm Simran Jeet Singh, senior advisor for diversity and inclusion at YSC Consulting and a visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary. I'm delighted to be moderating today's discussion on religious nationalism around the world. And I'd like to introduce our three esteemed panelists for today, Sylvester Johnson, Azza Karam, and Mark Juergensmeyer. You have access to their full bios on the CFR conference app. But I want to share a brief overview of who you have the privilege of hearing and learning from today. Dr. Sylvester Johnson is the founding director of the Virginia Tech Center for Humanities, and also assistant vice provost for humanities at Virginia Tech, and executive director of the university's “Tech for Humanity” initiative. Dr. Johnson holds a faculty appointment in the department of religion and culture and authored The Myth of Ham in Nineteenth-Century American Christianity, a study of race and religious hatred. Dr. Azza Karam serves as the secretary general of Religions for Peace, the largest multi religious leadership platform. Since 2004, Dr. Karam has served in various positions with the United Nations as well as other inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations since the early 1990s. And Mark Juergensmeyer is distinguished professor of sociology and global studies, and affiliate professor of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he was also the founding director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies. Professor Juergensmeyer is the author or editor of over thirty books. So I'll begin by turning to you, Professor Juergensmeyer, to help us set the stage. When we talk about religious nationalism. What do we mean? And as we're looking around the world today, how are you seeing religious nationalism, manifesting itself and being deployed?
JUERGENSMEYER: Thanks, Simran, for that question, and it's a good one. Because it doesn't mean that religion is nationalist by its nature. Nor does it mean the nationalism is religious by its nature. But from time to time in the history of the nation state, there has been a kind of fusion of national identity with religious affiliation. And sometimes this is an innocent sort of identity. But sometimes it's much more strident, particularly when it's meant to exclude groups within society that are not part of the dominant religion. And alas, I think this is what we've been seeing in the last 30 years since I've been studying this phenomenon around the world. And this really is a global phenomenon. I've been tripping around the world from place to place talking with people, because I'm the kind of sociologist who feels like that the best way to know how people think, is to go and talk with them. So that's what I've been trying to do. And it's been a really interesting series of studies. But the conclusion is that this is a global phenomenon. Initially we thought this was a Muslim problem. But now it's become an issue around the world. And alas, it carries that tinge of exclusivity with it. In the global era, everybody can live everywhere. And this means that there is now a new kind of movement to just standardize the notion of nationalism and identify it with one particular culture. Well, that can alienate a lot of people, and sometimes, sadly, in a very brutal way.
SINGH: Thank you. I appreciate that. And Dr. Karam, I want to know what you're seeing when it comes to religious nationalism. Does it feel like it's changing, adapting growing in influence? Or does it seem like more of the same, the same phenomenon and logic and simply a new form?
KARAM: Thank you very much Simran for that excellent question. And let me begin by saying, I have to give due credit to CFR and to Irina Faskianos and the team at CFR for putting this this series of conversations together. I have learned so much and been very enriched. And I think Simran that you chose that question very deliberately, because it's a very hard one to answer. So let me just take a stab at it. I actually think quite frankly, that once we saw the big meta narratives of the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, collapse of the Berlin Wall, there was, if you will, either an intentional or unintentional search for bigger narratives, those because we're used to big narratives. There's liberalism, communism, socialism, and all of a sudden, none of that seems to have been very workable. In fact, plenty of things crumbling in terms of the ideologies.
So here we are searching for new ideas, and I think Professor Juergensmeyer had his hand on the pulse many years ago when he identified religious nationalism as an ideology. That is actually, quite frankly up and coming. Just ten to fifteen years ago, we wouldn't have dreamed of a situation where religion can become such a, as anybody heard of the Islamic State before had we would we have thought of something called an Islamic State, I mean that the fact that they dare to call themselves such in the first place, I think we realized that it has become almost normalized to identify nation with religion before we used to see two maybe nations around the world like this. Now, you realize it's a much more common tendency to see religion as very much part of a national identity, of a territorial identity. I thought we had circumvented this and grown out of it from the old empires. I mean, the old empires used to be religious in nature, right? I had assumed we had grown out of this. But clearly, the collapse of the meta narratives of political meta narratives has led to the collapse, has led to an emergence, a search, a hunger, and now, I think, a marriage of convenience that is expanding in scope, between religious and political narratives, such that sometimes it's exceedingly difficult to make the dividing line. Is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict really ever, was it ever a situation of Muslims versus Jews? Really? Since when? Palestinians are Christian too, but we see it in those terms over time that we almost don't notice that there are multiple religions at stake in this space, because it's become so religionized in the way that the discourse itself is manifested. It's become so incredibly politicized in the way that the religion is understood and practiced.
So this is now the new normal, unfortunately, and it tears my heart out. And it deeply disturbs me, because politics is about the interests of the few, to try to maximize the interests of the few. Politics has never been about the interests of everybody. There's a clear line of distinction, massive, wide expanse between philanthropy and politics. Politics is about the interest of me and you, if we happen to be on the same side, all the better, but usually, we're on different sides. So how do I get my interest? Religion isn't supposed to be in this space. It's not supposed to be about this space. And if history has taught us anything, it is that the minute this marriage happens, and it becomes normal, it becomes the new normal. That is when we unravel, we unravel as human beings, we unravel as nation states, we unravel quite frankly, our own religious institutions continue to unravel, because they're not beginning to unravel. They've been unraveling for a while, but they continue to unravel. So this unraveling may be good, maybe an opportunity, but quite frankly, it is usually associated with violence, and that violence is never an opportunity. That is deathly. That is the cost of lives. And as we're seeing today, now, in almost every corner of the world, that religious political affiliation has led to an is leading to increasing violence, which is leading to active loss of life. That formula is not good.
SINGH: I appreciate that. That's, that's really well said and Dr. Johnson, I'd love for you to take us from the global and help bring us home. Clearly, religious nationalism is not just an external problem, as we've as we might like to think we've seen the rise of white nationalism and Christian nationalism here in the US. How does what we're seeing out there, meaning other forms of religious nationalism, how does that comport with what we're seeing here in America today?
JOHNSON: Thanks so much, Simran, that's really great question. And you're right, the problem of religious nationalism is certainly not exclusive of the United States. We see multiple ways that some of the developments happening abroad in France, for example, the effort to require Muslims, Imams particularly, to sign on to a charter of French values that targets Islam as being a religion that is somehow in conflict with French values. This is a new, unique imposition onto Muslims are being asked to do things that no other religion is being asked to do, on gender parity, for example, which is not being asked to Jews or Christians. Or if we think about what's happening at the conflicts around the meaning of being a citizen of India between Muslims and Hindus in way that is attached to definition of the nation that securitizers. Or even in China. The incarceration of Muslims and forced placement into so-called training camps that are actually carceral systems. We see important and troubling parallels in the United States. We just had a Muslim travel ban in the United States, for example, for many years, we have an incredibly elaborate really deeply harmful system of securitization in the United States. That's been part of the so-called counter terrorism. One example of this is the FBI is program called countering violent extremism, which sticks out and criminalizes social activism among Muslims.
That that calls it radicalization, that actually ends up entrapping and criminalizing, particularly young Muslims who might be involved, for example, ironically, activists who target anti-Muslim bias. This gets read by the FBI and police departments as terrorists radicalization, even though it's a social justice effort. Or even the effort to raise funds in order to support indigent Muslim families of these forms of activism have for years now then classified as either precursors of, or evidence of terrorist behavior, or Muslim radicalization, and has been criminalized. And so one of the parallels we see is the association between the efforts to securer times, the state, and this form of religious nationalism, where Muslims are treated as somehow being inherently at odds with or in opposition to what it means to be truly part of the US. And there, there are other ways that this happened. So what I just described was very much about the national security entities and programs and carceral systems, that is not at all suggested separate and apart from what we may think of in a more popular fashion. As religious nationalism among non-state actors among religious communities, for example, or in popular literature, or in educational systems. And so we also see in in more popular ways of recounting the essence of the nation that is in by Christian nationalism, pointing to the roots of the United States, particularly in white Protestant religion, for instance. And then just more broadly in Christianity, that of course, that's at odds with Muslims and Jews. African religions, such as Yoruba and Santeria, for example, those have also been targeted. So both in terms of just defining what it means to belong to the United States, more culturally, and also more particularly in terms of securitization practices. These are very troubling and important parallels.
SINGH: Yeah, that's really insightful. And I think what I'm hearing from you all is both the sort of the real-life examples around the world, including at home. And also the elucidation of what's happening and why. Dr. Juergensmeyer, I want to turn to you. As we start thinking about solution building. Now we have a better sense of what religious nationalism is, we feel a sense of urgency around it. And I would love to have a little bit more clarity in diagnosing the problem. Some say religious nationalism is a chicken and egg issue. Is it religious nationalism a religious symptom of a political problem, or a political symptom of a religious problem, or is it both at the same time? So I'd love for you to help us dig into that question a little bit and better understand what's going on here so that we might address it more effectively.
JUERGENSMEYER: In my study of religious nationalist movements around the world, I think my answer is decisively the first of those two options you gave. I'm a professor of just putting together multiple-choice questions. I know, often the answer is C, all of the above. D, none of the above. But in this case, I think that religious nationalism is where religion is a symptom of a political problem. And I say that because as I studied these movements, I don't see any, or very rarely do I see people who are embracing a political perspective and a national perspective, for reasons of belief or reasons of faith. It's for reasons of identity. I mean, religion can mean many different things. It can mean, the piety of your grandmother as she's lighting a candle. Or it could mean people who don't seem to be all that religious, but they are defending Islam, or they're defending Christianity, or they're defending Buddhism. And that's a sign of religion as a part of identity, a part of a social identity. And I think this is primarily the feature of religious nationalism around the world today. There are some exceptions, but primarily. And that means the sense of a fractured identity of people who feel like they are not being represented, they're not being heard. This is fundamentally a political problem. It's a political social problem. And that it's, you know. It's not just a problem of leadership, but also a problem of the conception of a political entity, the conception of public order of public life.
And there was a time when we kind of dominated with the Enlightenment vision of secular societies. But even the Enlightenment vision thought that these would-be nation states should be around relatively culturally homogenous groups, in the European mind that spoke the same language, spoke the same religion. In an era of globalization, all this is up for grabs. The three big problems in the global era; one is identity, accountability, and security identity. Who are you if everybody can live everywhere? And does? You know, who are you? And who is the nation? And accountability? Who's in charge? If everything is made everywhere? And you're part of massive communication, global communication patterns? And how can you be secure? How can you be safe? So it's no surprise, I think, that all of these cases that we've been talking around the world, including our own country, religion is seen as a sort of antidote to these divisive features of globalization. That's not religion's fault. That happens, it's just a part of the character of societies that we're in as the world increasingly shifts towards a more globalized world. And for many of this, this is good. We enjoy personally. in Southern California, I really enjoy the diversity of ethnic communities, because I love to eat. And the kind of food that is suddenly available is just remarkably proliferating, and not just the food, but the cultures. I don't have to go to India to meet with Punjabi anymore, I could just go down the street. And there they are. So I mean, for me, this is wonderful to be in touch with all aspects of the world, just in my own backyard. But I can see how that threatens some people. Like I see how some people feel that their world is falling apart, it's not secure, they don't know what's happening. They don't know who's in charge anymore. And they don't know who they are anymore. And that's, that's very deep. This is not just a political issue, it's a personal issue. We're talking people's sense of identity; their lives were deeply touched. So you can, I think, understand the kind of passion that's so frequently associated with a passion that sometimes turns out in awful ways. And that's, of course, the problem. But at least you can understand what created in the first place.
SINGH: Thank you, Mark. Appreciate that. And Dr. Karam, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Are you seeing the same things as Professor Juergensmeyer in terms of how politics and religion are intersecting to produce religious nationalism?
KARAM: So first of all, allow me to answer that question by what I should have done before, which is to wear another hat entirely, not to speak for Religions for Peace, but to speak as the professor of religion and development at the University in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. So I can have a little bit more freedom to say what I'm about to say, which is going to provoke everybody and nobody. First of all, Professor Juergensmeyer very astutely observed that we were dominated quote, unquote, by “enlightenment thinking.” The truth of the matter is that some of us never were dominated by enlightenment thinking, because that was pretty much pertinent to the Western Hemisphere. If that whole space. I come from a part of the world where a nationalist Egyptian nationalist leader in 1919 said very clearly, at the height of the liberation struggle from the British colonial administration said, I am a Christian by religion, but a Muslim by culture. He was a Coptic, Christian and Egyptian, a liberation fighter. So I think we have to understand that for most of the world, religion has always been so integrally part of the cultural domain. So even if you were secular in your orientation, not necessarily observant in your religion, quite frankly, it didn't matter, you still belong to that religion in some way, shape, or form, which is the point I agree with Professor Juergensmeyer that it was about identity. But my point is, it been about identity forever and a day, always in some parts of the world. And I think what by not noticing this, by looking at the entire world through the prism of enlightenment thinking, we ignored, we overlooked, we sidetracked, we marginalized that appreciation for religion.
As part of our culture, as part of who we are, as part of how we speak, I have heard people around me say “inshallah” a thousand times, not because they necessarily believe that there's an Allah, but because it's a way of speaking, and I'm used to it, and they got used to it. That speaks volumes for how we have integrated the religious into the very pores and fabric of our being. And by not seeing it by consecutive Western administrations over so long, by not understanding and indeed, now seeing it, and trying to instrumentalize it, and the actors in its name to respond to those who are reclaiming the religious as the political, that are reclaiming our religious identity. They always were Muslims, or Christians or Jews, they always were. But they're reclaiming it as a political statement. They're reclaiming it as a matter of asserting an interest. And the interest is in land, or in space, or in demography, or you name it. It's about reclaiming the religious discourse, as part of our political orientation, and our interest-based negotiation with one another. This reclaiming is happening in a certain part of the world, too. It's happening right here in the United States of America. We saw quite a bit of it with the previous administration, but we're still seeing it in action today. So to think that this is a recent dimension is to continue to look through a lens that has yet to appreciate and become just minimally literate about how the rest of the world has always had religion as part of its identity.
When we spoke, and thank you so much, Sylvester, for mentioning the countering violent extremism dynamics and rhetoric, which suggested that the counter point was we had to create an alternative discourse. What? The FBI had to create an alternative Muslim discourse? Really? Since when? I mean, hallelujah, if they could I claim it, but, good grief, really? But this notion that you can use the religious because you nicely parcel it out. And now let's use it, and now let's renovate it. And let's support those who are trying to renovate, and modernize, and become moderates. Since when is my faith a tool for any politician? Since when will I cede that ground for anyone to determine how I live my faith? How I understand my reality, how I exercise my right of citizenship and essence to be? Since when does anyone take that right? Unfortunately, that right has been taken left, right, and center. On the one side by academics, on the other side by governments. And today, religious nationalism means that at the same time, as in the old days, in the 1919 era, when we were fighting off British colonialism, and British colonialism was coming back and saying, oh no no no, we're very much on the side of women, we really would like to support women and women's rights. It's all about empowering women in this country, in the street, because the religion is so anti.
I realized we're actually part of that same process again, today, in 2021. And we're still talking about trying to fend off a cultural sense of domination in the name of the religion, but actually, its politics, its interest, at the end of the day. So as I refuse to cede the grounds of my faith and its narrative, I also refuse to accept an ideology, whether it comes from within my own religious community or from outside of it, that tries to tell me that religious nationalism can actually be a good thing. It isn't a good thing, because when you nationalize my faith, you have nationalized my body. And that is not on the market, and never was and never will be. So how do we change this way of thinking? Well, we have to completely break up that paradigm that assumes that religion and faith are something that we can use, and we can nicely distill. And then let's see what we can do with it once we distill it. You can't distinguish an identity, you can't distill the way I think and break up and say, Okay, we'll take your words up to this point, the word “inshallah” will be omitted. Well, I'm sorry, inshallah was actually what I wanted to say at the very beginning. So there's a cacophony of issues here. But if I fight this struggle alone, within my own faith tradition, or within my own country, I get nowhere, really, really fast. I get lynched.
As you can see from so many examples in so many different parts of the world, what has been supremely helpful, supremely important is the alliance building that takes place between people who have their faith at the core of their hearts and identity, but at the same time, are committed to justice for everyone, including the other who's hurting me, including the other who's hurting me. And this is the call that we have at this moment in time, in Religions for Peace, that the reason I left the UN to join this because I realized that the moment is now to call for those who are hurting us to be part of the beloved community that I want to be part of. This is not the time to keep alienating and pointing fingers and saying mine or yours or this or hers. No. All religions, all faiths are tested today. All religious institutions, all religious communities, all faith-based NGOs, every single one of us is being tested today. We are people of faith. Yes, some of us the definition between those of us who are fighting and struggling for human rights for all, including our planet, and those who are deciding to carve out a space for themselves and claiming that it is for their own protection and their own their own space, as if we can live in that isolation. As if we can we have. We have a global pandemic telling us not one of us can live in safety. Yet we are fighting one another in different parts of the world. Because we think that this enclave will remain safe. Well, good luck with that. If and when religions come together, to serve together not even just to speak together, even though God knows that is brilliant. But if and when religions are capable of coming together to serve together that will break the paradigm that we are currently seeing where those who have interests to serve politically, including defunct political institutions, which are lacking in legitimacy entirely. Where those same institutions seek to serve, to take their religion to serve their interests. The only way to combat that is when the religious, the faithful comes together to serve together every other one, not only their own communities, that is the antidote.
SINGH: That's powerful. Thank you. Thank you, Dr. Karam. And Dr. Johnson over to you. I'd love to hear your reflections on the relationship between religion and politics as it comes to religious nationalism. And where do we go from here?
JOHNSON: I really want to echo the comments of the other panelists who pointed to the very troubling ways that the political domain is intersecting with religion. One of the things that has become important in trying to explain the phenomenon is called the racialization of religion. I think is very helpful for thinking about historically, across many centuries. So Dr. Karam, you were talking about these empires of old have really used this political understanding of religion. And then we have these more modern examples of this, where there was a sense of belonging to a political community that was rooted in some religious identity. So the history of Christendom, we see that in the Islamic societies, we see actually different kinds of structures that point to some possible solutions. But all of that is to say that, if we think about one of the most influential figures in shaping politics, he didn't claim to be doing this, but in relationship to religion and race. is Samuel Huntington. He wrote an article in the 1990s that was entitled The Clash of Civilizations that became a book a few years later, that unlike many books that academics write, became very common reading by people who were not even in academia, particularly those who were in the U.S. State Department. and in other countries, who were particularly in the West, thinking about the relationship of their nation states. What they were beginning to see as some Western struggle against Islam.
I say beginning, but obviously there was something called the Crusades, many, many centuries ago. So that's not the first time something like that this happened. But it is certainly a more recent iteration. And one of the things that Huntington explained is that, he said, in the past, the conflicts of the world were based on nations against nations. But in our time, we're going to see cultures against cultures. It's going to be this deep cultural thing. And he claimed to be talking about cultures. And if you actually read that book and see what he's talking about, it was against Muslims, and it was against China. And who was against Muslims and China? It was Europe. It was it was the West. And so he didn't claim to be talking about religion and rights, but what he was actually doing, and it wasn't new, I'm not trying to claim you invented racism, but he made it very popular with other people, such as Bernard Lewis, who had a similar kind of set of claims that were also widely embraced popularly, as well as by people who were in foreign policy and state policy. They were treating religion as a fundamental type that functions in the way that scholars have tried to describe what race does. And that is it's seeing this fundamental type as having a certain set of characteristics. It's not reducible to biology, even though people often think of race through biology, we have history we see it's actually all kinds of things, language, and the susceptibility to criminality, etc.
But all of that is to say that the racialization of religion really manifests this intersection of religion and politics, because what we get is an understanding of who gets to belong in our political community. You're not really a member of fill in the blank. It could be name your country. France, India, China, the United States, unless you are this. And so what we're dealing with the resurgence of Christian nationalism in the United States is this intensified emphasis on claiming a story about the roots of the West and then drilling down to the US. And then projecting that globally up. We can think of Eric Prince, for example, who was a former military person, led his own private military company of Blackwater, that generate a lot of money. It was based on an anti-Muslim bigotry, and it became part of the way the United States operationalized its struggle against Muslims in the name of securing the nation. So what does that mean for solutions? And I think that we certainly have to go beyond some of the important and necessary measures that have been talked about before of really using education of encouraging dialogue. There's certainly a place for that. We should not stop dialogue, and not stop educating people. But we also have to deal at multiple levels with this.
So in different ways, all of the panelists have been talking about a certain construction of the West, for example, that is based on a falsehood. Most people in the West have never heard of Averroës Ibn Rushd. He was celebrated in his own time that 12th century as the father of secularism. And he was especially call that by people who live in the so-called Christian West. But today we hear that Muslims somehow are beyond the pale of these formations of the secular and that there's something that is just supposed to be admissible, even though Western Europeans attributed his genealogy secularism to a Muslim scholar, it's also true. You can study philosophy today, in most western countries, and you will almost never read any writings of a Muslim. You will not be required to learn Arabic. And with rare exceptions, that is just if you understand the actual history of Western philosophy, that should be ridiculous, because the actual history of philosophy was something that was largely rooted in engagement, the Muslim thinkers. So what are we trying to say here? We have to, in a very vigorous way, really demythologize this construction of the West from the ground up and it needs to happen in at many levels and needs to be reflected in our language about foreign policy, the debate of whether Turkey should be part of the UN.
You know, the idea that it was a different continent is absurd. I mean, even thinking of Europe, as a very separate place on the earth. But we have to demythologize the West. And we have to do that in multiple levels, not just in school textbooks. But in terms of our policy and our media coverage and how we represent, we have to focus on the future of technologies. Because I do think, that when we particularly understand the securitization practices, there is so much control over populations and, as Eric Prince demonstrates, there is so much control over populations, that is happening through technology, if it's Mossad or the CIA, or the FBI. The people who are writing code, who are surveilling, who are developing algorithms that are going to be part of the securitization practices. So we have to focus on the future talent that is actually going to create technologies that can have so many consequences, that will have so many quantum consequences for human security. And we have to make sure that future talent is grounded in a very critical understanding of the things that we're talking about, which means that we have to have a much more comprehensive approach to what we think preparing future talent technology is, because there's going to be a lot more control over very vulnerable populations, through the kinds of state surveillance practices and predictive algorithms that are happening. And that is a huge, huge opportunity and an urgent need for us to actually address these issues. And finally, I would say that we have to move beyond the Manichaean divide, that we often use globally.
And this is a real problem in the West, particularly, to talk about things like human rights and rogue nations. We have to stop using, particularly, a Western bias against nonwhite governments and nonwhite populations. When we think about justice, and what government is just because if you pay attention to the way governments treat, particularly their minority populations, I don't mean that only narrowly, but also in terms of their power. You can't come up with this Manichaean binary list of good nations over here and rogue nations over there. If you look at the way the United States or any Western nation treats minority populations, then suddenly that list of who's on the good side, who's on the bad side looks very different. Why do I raise that? Because so much of the targeting of religious minorities again is happening through this securitization, discourse, and practices. And in the West, it's this idea that we need to guard against some threat from non-Western nations from non-Western culture. And in Huntington's term, you know, either from China, which he reduced to being based on the Confucian culture, or Islamic societies as the Muslim enemy. And when we pay attention to that, we will realize that binary system of dividing countries and the good and bad actually doesn't work, we need a more complicated process. And that's actually going to have very direct implications for how our foreign policies and our national security practices would otherwise get implemented. You'd have to be much bigger and more equitable.
SINGH: Thank you, Dr. Johnson. Dr. Juergensmeyer, over to you. As we, as we think about solutions, where we go from here, surely, we all know some of the most obvious ways forward, that we've repeated for decades, right dialogue, religious literacy, etc. It seems that we need to go deeper, or at least go further. And so when you envision solutions for religious nationalism, what do you see?
JUERGENSMEYER: Good question. And in an answering that, let me turn back just a second to comments from my wonderful colleagues. It's been so much fun to be a part of this discussion. Because I'd love to go out with these guys and have a chance to just chat all evening. Unfortunately, you can't do that on Zoom. But I've learned so much from Professor Johnson and Professor Karam, which I agree with almost entirely. And following up on a comment by Professor Johnson talking about the invention of secularism, which is also part of the Enlightenment project, along with the invention of religion, as if it was something different from ordinary culture. These are really recent inventions. But in doing so, they really produced alternative ideologies and some of the big, biggest threats to public life are not just religious nationalism, but anti-religious nationalism. A second are crackdowns like in, Azza Karam, I don't want to pick up on your country, Egypt, but here you have a rather striking secondary dictatorship if I can use that word. It was used to put down the threat of religious nationalism, of Islamic nationalism in the country. Well, maybe the previous government would have not been, you know, good for Egyptians but the alternative is pretty severe also. And it's done in the name of countering religious nationalism. Of course, this is China's position now, against the Muslim Uyghurs and the Tibetan Buddhist.
The threat of the possibility of religious nationalism has created its own problems, and its own kind of authoritarianism. And then a follow up on something that Professor Karam said. At one point earlier, she talked about the religion as a nation of politics, and, and how, yeah, it's true that religious identities have been part of public life for forever. But the kind of stridency in this particular politicization is a is a real thing. Let me give you a specific example. Right before the pandemic began, I was in Iraq doing research for the book that came out this year called God at War. And I met in prison with a farmer militant, while he was still militant with ISIS, although he's now in prison in Kurdistan and northern Iraq, and I was able to have some long interviews with him. At one point I was asking you, how did you have this happen? How did you get into this? Tell me your life story. And he started talking about early days in Mosul where he used to have Shia playmates, and the Shia and the Sunni, all got along together, they're all part of one family. And there's no sense of any kind of major difference. And I said, well, what happened? And he said, well, after the American invasion and the rise of Shia political power in Iraq. And then we began to realize that they were really out to persecute us Sunnis. And then he said in prison, after he had joined one of these movements, he really became radicalized and saw the Shia, not just as enemies but as demonic beings, as devils, and people who should be killed. And I said, do you still believe that? He said, yes. You know, if I had Shia around, I would kill them. And I said, what about your old playmates that you grew up with when you were a little boy in Mosel? He said yes. Even them.
What an extraordinary thing. What happened in his life, and what happened in Iraq society to make this dramatic shift? Well, if it was a cataclysmic event in which religion became politicized, or politics became religionized in a way that it hadn't been before. And I think, in different ways, that's what's happening around the world, where people used to get along with each other, they didn't think in terms of religion, and they thought about identity and getting along with each other. And now increasingly, those labels carry social freight and social significance, because the premium on it is political power, and national identity. And that's the issue. So how do you free yourself from that? I think part of it is understanding and not just dismissing the religious nationalists, the extremists, as simply crazy. The other do crazy things. I mean, January 6, was pretty crazy. And then you look at the different people who were involved. You know, they were just ordinary folks back in suburban Phoenix or wherever, and then they got on a flight, and they came up to Washington to join the cause. Well, okay. What can we do in our lives? And what can we do as a society to give a sense that this kind of multicultural experience of national community is really a wonderful thing. Is really a very positive thing. And that they are included. Because I think, ultimately, that's what fuels the passion. I grew up in a farm in Southern Illinois, that's an area that's MAGA hat country. So when I go home, as I sometimes do, and meet my all high school classmates, who are big supporters of the former administration, and they look at me and say, you're in California now. And then their face darkens and say, are you one of those liberals? And I look at them and this came to mind, I don't know why I said this, but it the right thing to say. I said, I'm your old classmate. I'm your old classmate. I'm not something. I'm your old classmate. So I guess the response to something that's very human and personal is a very human and personal response. To reach out to those old classmates. And say, you're included, and I know you're watching television, yours online, you see what looks like a wonderful party that only people on the east coast in the West Coast can take part in. But you're excluded from that party. But you are included. You're part of the party. You're part of this wonderful life and an important part of it. It wouldn't be as good without you. So don't give up. Don't despair. You're still loved. That's a tough message to get across. But I think that's ultimately, really the only one.
SINGH: Thank you. Thank you for sharing that. And at this time, I'd like to invite participants to join our conversation. With their questions. We'll do our best to get to as many questions as possible. Krista will now get instructions on how to join the question queue.
OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions)
SINGH: Thank you. I'll start with a question that's written from Satpal Singh. He says for those of us operating in local communities and congregations and classrooms, what can we be doing to help combat religious nationalism? How do we ensure that we are protecting ourselves and others from being drawn in by its allure? And how can we be proactive in rooting out religious nationalism in our own communities? So Dr. Karam, I think this might be a good one for you to start with, please.
KARAM: So I think this this resonates very strongly with a question that Professor Juergensmeyer also asked is, how do we free ourselves from this, this space where we've dehumanized one another, but at the same time, we're working together against the other? And I think the issue here is precisely what the message of Religions for Peace has been for the last fifty years. There is no escape from the fact that we have to work together for the other not just for ourselves, as long as we're continuing to work for our own interests, even if our interests are shared. But we're working from the principle of, I need to save my people, or I need to save my family, or I need to save myself that that limited interest per definition will make us draw boundaries. Whereas I think to be honest, I hate to say this, but I think the pandemic is giving us an opportunity to see how incredibly intertwined our basic survival is. It's not just the aspiration to be rich and famous. And then and but it's the basic survival is so incredibly interdependent. That pandemic is telling us this, is showing us this, if we don't seize this opportunity to realize that this is the moment that I serve you, as opposed to serving myself, that this is the moment I defend you, as opposed to only defending myself. That if we don't take that forward, and if that doesn't become our mantra, how do I serve you? How do I insist, be deliberate in serving you? And in other words, in loving you insistently even though you hurt me? How do I insist on serving you? I think if we don't start having that as our mantra collectively, teaching it to our children having this be part of the way that our families serve and operate in any given social context, I think we are going to continue to be sucked into the spaces which are built on the fear of the other as opposed to the love of the other as part of loving ourselves. I believe that's a very fundamental, by the way, every single faith tradition known to humankind, says that. Every single one. Don't tell me Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic! Every single faith tradition says that. Now surely, they can't all be wrong. That's it.
SINGH: Thank you, Dr. Johnson, please.
JOHNSON: Sure, I would certainly agree with that. And I would add for civic organizations, institutions that are trying to address these problems, they're very important strategies that should, again, should certainly include some things that we've talked about before. Education and dialogue--we should continue those things. But we also have to include things such as engaging with and changing policy. I want to just point again to the securitization role that the way that carceral systems, law enforcement, national security entities are in multiple countries, certainly, including the United States, but globally, are a significant factor and the religious nationalism and targeting religious minorities, and giving religious majority is a platform. So if you are part of a religious community, or civic organization that wants to get involved in addressing religious nationalism, you might include in the work that you do, learning about and engaging with and trying to change the policy around things such as securitization practices, if there are efforts to deprive religious groups who are actually suffering from state persecution, then that's something you can address at the level of how you vote. There are people who are running for office who have a clear set of commitments to ensuring that if if they're able to participate in governance, that they're actually going to address the problem of targeting persecuted minorities. And again, I want to be clear that persecution, for example, does not mean in the United States that you are a white Christian who feels aggrieved. And that you feel like you're being discriminated against as a white Christian, because people don't agree with your vision of the United States, it means that you're actually suffering from a violation of rights. And so I think we just have to clarify that. So engaging with the policy kind of voting that goes on. And then I think, even in terms of the international context, becoming involved in social justice, human rights work, is another way. I think it's important for religious communities to take the opportunity not to romanticize their religious history and their religious identity, but to include in whatever kind of religious education that they're doing engagement with the deep problems of that in ways, for example, that their religious history has participated in depriving others of rights, of inflicting harms upon people. And again, that's should not be seen as attacking your religion. It should be seen as understanding all the range of things that have happened in the past, so that when people are coming to be part of that religious community, what they're getting is not a romanticized view of it. They're getting a very realistic understanding of it so that those opportunities for justice and for solidarity and for coexistence said that Dr. Juergensmeyer and Dr. Karam have articulated can actually flourish.
SINGH: Thank you. And Dr. Juergensmeyer. Would you like to add to that?
JUERGENSMEYER: Yeah, and just to answer my own case that I gave about this guy in Iraq, who used to pal around with Shia, and now that he's become, you know, a hardened ISIS supporter. Well, you know, ISIS is really a movement for Sunni empowerment. And he joined it because he wanted the Sunnis in Mosul in the western part of Iraq to feel like they were included. And Dr. Johnson is absolutely right. This is not just as I indicated a human problem, it certainly is. But it's also a policy problem. Because if the Shia government reached out in a way that dramatically, for example, tried to rebuild Mosul, where it's just destroyed flat like a pancake, and so you have hundreds of thousands of people living out in refugee camps. I've seen them, I've talked with them. The United Nations has done a wonderful job in providing for these refugee camps, but they can't live there forever. So if the Shia government--it is its job, really, to make everybody feel welcome. And if it created those kinds of conditions, then I think there would be a rapid change in the response of the Sunni Arabs. And the same is true in the United States. We think of this, you know, the Christians being the dominant religion, but that's not really true. The dominant culture in the United States is a kind of secular multiculturalism. And at least that's the way it's perceived by the people in my high school back in Southern Illinois. They don't think of themselves as the majority. They think of themselves as the minority and increasingly so in a country that is becoming visibly more secular and more multicultural. Well, they need to be welcomed, they need to be, we need to reach out to them in a way that they feel like they are part of the party, and not just the unwelcome remnants of the past.
SINGH: Thank you. Krista, I'll pass it to you to answer a, or to involve a live question, please.
OPERATOR: Our next question is a live question from Rich Procida from Bible Study for Progressives.
PROCIDA: Hi. So I'm concerned with the negative definition of politics. Isn't this really the result of the failure of religion to address the important social and political concerns? Isn't the rise of nationalism a failure of religion? And isn't the solution to actually engage those issues as a faith? Not to withdraw into some personal area of personal salvation, but to actually engage as a church, as a community, in social justice, advocacy? And then maybe, one suggestion I made at our breakout group which came up, which I think is pretty good, is that the thing that unifies Americans--I always speak as a progressive Christian and American--is democracy. And isn't that something that we can all rally around? And isn't that anti-theoretical to nationalism?
JOHNSON: I think this is a great point. I we've been talking about politics in ways that I think what you're pointing to is a fair observation that we've made some assumptions and not been precise in our language. This is why I was talking about the racialization of religion as a way of understanding the problem of the intersection because I agree with you, I think that it's if we ask where is there a space that is not political? And what would it look like if religion or anything were to not be involved in any way politically? I don't even know if that's possible. But I'm reminded of in the United States, a civil rights movement was largely criminalized and criticized because it was being political. Here was a group of Black Southern Christians who organize themselves in their own language in order to fight for human rights. And as you just described, who saw their work as necessarily involving the need to change laws because they were trying to fight for social justice. And they were criticized because they we're being political. And what happened was that they actually shifted the way that so many people in the U.S. came to view the relationship between religion and politics, often to different kinds of ends. But I think your point is right. Globally, we've talked, we refer to different kinds of movements that were liberation movements happening within Islam or within Christianity. These have gone on within Judaism, Hinduism, and there's so many examples of this. So I think you make a very important observation. And I would just say we were not being precise in the language. We were referring to the nationalism particularly as a as a problem when you get a certain kind of intersection of religion and politics. But yes, you are right. Not only should people not retreat into some apolitical fear, I'm not sure is humanly possible to live in the world in a way that does not someway become political.
KARAM: Can I also just make a quick point here? I think that exactly as Professor Johnson said, the issue isn't so much that politics is good, and religion is bad, or that religion is good, and politics is bad. That's not the point. The point is that the politicization of religion or the religionization of politics, is a rather toxic equation. And that unless we understand the causes and the roots of the manifestations of this, we will end up finding what is happening now, which is contexts where certain political regimes are making use of religious discourse to justify what is fundamentally actually undemocratic. Because there is no way and there's no—there's not a single context around the world, where a political administration has decided to work with all religions, with all the religions inherent in its boundaries, in order to serve everybody. That's not what's happening. What's happening is that certain political regimes and administrations are working with certain religions in order to marginalize and or to justify the marginalization of certain interest groups. If it indeed was a multi-religious encounter to serve the political administration's interests of serving all we would find ourselves with a radically different political paradigm globally because then it would be every nation for the other. It wouldn't be this nation against that nation, and this race against that race, and this community against this community. The point here is that the alignment between religions, one religion and one political administration is harmful. When the alignment is multi-religious in nature, it is per definition for the welfare of more than one particular group, more than one particular race, more than one particular gender, more than. But that's not what we are seeing and the answer to some of the questions that have been raised before. Again, it's not about religion being good and politics being good or both being bad. It's about how can this administration that we have here, thankfully, how can this administration serve the interests of all, including races, ethnicities, genders, you name it? Well, guess what, not by working with only one religious group or community. Not by working with only one religious organization, or institution, but by working with all of them. Now, having said that, that is the hardest thing to do. The hardest thing to do. You can work with mono interests, you can work with clearly identified paradigms of us and them, it's easy. It's easy to work at even just within the Catholic community sometimes, it's easy. Not really, but just for the sake of argument. My point here is this, political administrations utilize specific religions. And in so doing, either advertently or inadvertently pit them against one another. Learn from the lessons of colonial history. They are plenty, and they are still very pertinent today. Colonialism was about (inaudible) "White Man's Burden." Remember, what was "White Man's Burden?" To bring faith to all people in the dark lens? No, "White Man's Burden" was to bring a certain interpretation of a certain faith to all the so-called "other." That was the problem. And in so doing, it positioned, the different faiths, the different cultural identities, the different ethnicities, and the different races, that positioned them as antagonistic. It was those with us and those against us. That happens when you align with one faith tradition, no matter how beautiful that faith tradition is. No matter how inclusive that faith is. It's still one faith tradition. It's still one faith tradition. And if you look at the variety of work that's been done on religion and development, over time, you will find that many nations, many governments today are indeed supporting religious organizations to do development work globally. But guess what? Each administration is supporting its own religious affiliate to do that work globally. It's not supporting multi religious development. It's not supporting multi religious collaboration. It's supporting specific religions to do their good work in specific parts of the world. That is the wrong formula. And as long as that's the formula, don't tell me good politics and democracy is going to sort that.
SINGH: Thank you. And Dr. Juergensmeyer, would you like to weigh in here?
JUERGENSMEYER: I'm just thinking of, you know, the larger issue about what we can do in our own neighborhood, in our own backyard? What if each church or synagogue or gurdwara adopted another congregation? Like Satpal Singh was saying, who asked the question initially, let me go out on a limb and guess that he's a part of a gurdwara community of Sikhs. What if they adopted a synagogue in their town or another church, and formed a kind of sister relationship between them and the two communities began to meet each other and hang out with each other and to learn from each other? Basically, it's hard to hate people that you don't know. It's hard to hate people you know, it's hard to hate people that you met with and you've learned their lives and you've broken bread with and all of these other things. So maybe it starts just with this kind of human interaction.
SINGH: Thank you. Thank you. The next written question comes from Whit Bodman. This is for you Dr. Johnson. Andrew Whitehead in his work on Christian nationalism found that among Blacks, 31% identified themselves as moderate Christian nationalists, the largest cohort in his four categories. Obviously, they are not white supremacists. This suggests that there are different kinds of Christian nationalism. Do you see this Christian nationalism as problematic, as dangerous as acceptable? And perhaps an acceptable part of the diverse fabric of America?
JOHNSON: And thanks so much for the question. I think it's a really important one and glad to answer. The quick answer is that it's problematic because this is religious nationalism. Whether these are white Christians, or Black Christians, or Latinx Christians, and they're important examples of how harmful this is. So one of the things that we we've not talked so much about are the African religions that have suffered persecution, Candomblé in Brazil, for example, which the adherents of Candomblé are particularly Black, but there is a new wave of charismatic Christianity that has targeted Candomblé as a diabolical religion. And many of these people are, of the Christians who were targeting Candomblé, are Black Christians, who see the presence of an African-derived religion as a form of Satanism, and the influence of the devil that needs to be eradicated. Or in Nigeria, which is a Black country, Yoruba, an indigenous African religion, has suffered targeted persecution and desecration by at the hands of Black Christians who believe that Nigeria should be a Christian nation. And there's also contention with Muslims as well who are fighting over the identity of Nigeria, but who particularly have targeted Yoruba as a as a diabolical religion. And in the United States, you're pointing to the statistic of black Christians who identified nationals we see this, for example, and the very harmful and unfortunate targeting in Christian nationalism, in the U.S. on trans youths, for example, transgender youths, so targeting these young people, as transgender has become a center stage platform for expounding a Christian nationalist agenda that wants to employ religious doctrine of a particular nature. So there is no one Christian doctrine on sexuality or anything else or gender on anything else, Christians disagree, but this movement asserts that it is the Christian truth that is anti-trans, and that's multiracial. You can find Black Christians who are a part of that. So the result would be that as we just as we were saying the fight over right now that trans youth would not be able to get medical services that they need at the discretion or judgment of medical experts, it would be based on anti-trans religious bias. And so those are just examples of the very harmful effects of the religious nationalism. So it doesn't matter what the racial population is. It is about the outcomes and the strategies and whether or not they're harmful. So those are just examples.
SINGH: Thank you, Dr. Johnson. The next written question comes from Katherine Marshall. She says what would be your counsel to the U.S. Biden administration? As some practical policy steps in the area of religion, symbolic actions, more pragmatic things removed from the table? What would you say?
KARAM: I actually already answered, Professor Marshall, who's my mentor, by the way, and someone I have a tremendous amount of admiration and respect for, it's really not rocket science. It is about working deliberately with all religious communities at all times to serve everybody. It is not about giving the bulk of the resources available to any one religious organization or one religious community, no matter how dynamic and fantastic its range of services around the world is. It is about quintessentially essentially having the basic religious literacy to understand that working deliberately, determinately, and systematically with all religious groups and communities and organizations, that that is the way to make a difference to serve everybody. Now that skill by the way of working with everybody is not born overnight. And it's certainly not going to be born overnight in any particular U.S. administration or any particular political administration. That's why there are multi religious organizations that have existed since 1850 that deal with this work. But are they on the horizon? Are they anywhere on the horizon, USAID just had a beautiful, remarkable event trying to look at impact of religious collaboration just last year. Noteworthy is who was not invited to that space, in spite of having tremendous experience and resilience and experience over decades. I'm sorry, political administrations, no matter who they are, are not particularly known to be inclusive in their outreach and in the skills of understanding what it is like to work multi religiously, all it takes is identifying who the multi religious actors are, where there is a track record of multi religious advocacy and service delivery, both not just one and working with those organizations to support them. I would like to see the Biden administration recognize Religions for Peace, recognize the Parliament of World Religions, recognize United Religions Initiative. So far, it has not. And I wonder why they're all based here.
JUERGENSMEYER: Yeah, I think that I agree with Dr. Karam, that would be a good approach. But I think there's also something really much more fundamental, and that is returned to America stand as a leader for human rights around the world, in all areas. Because I think that taking a very strong policy on human rights and joining that with our political and in particular, our weapons sales and other aspects of America's interaction with other countries, that human rights would become an important factor. And the treatment of religious communities, minority communities, of course, would be a very strong element of that not the only element. I mean, the treatment of gays and transgenders, and other disenfranchised ethnic communities will also be a part of the human rights agenda, whether there is a kind of autocracy that deprives of basic freedom, all those are part of the human rights agenda. But certainly that would then encompass the treatment of minority religious communities. I think that's so important. And this administration, I think, to its credit, has begun to make statements in exactly this direction. And I hope that this will continue. And that, once again, America will be seen as a leading light for human rights around the world and willing to put its money where its mouth is. Willing to stand behind these positions with its support, whether it's political or monetary, or military or whatever. We don't engage with countries that deprive people of their human rights. That is a stand I think would make a huge difference, for not only for minority religious communities, but for those who are disenfranchised from human rights around the world.
SINGH: Thank you. And over to you, Dr. Johnson. Do you have anything you'd like to add here?
JOHNSON: Yeah, I think that there certainly needs to be much more deliberate commitment to engaging with the variety of liberation struggles and the fight for justice happening globally. I would differ somewhat from some of the other panelists over human rights. The United States is overthrown multiple democracies around the world, including (inaudible), we to this day operate black sites where we torture people. We incarcerate a greater percentage of our population than any other country on Earth and we are investing even more heavily in repressive strategies. We have militarized our policing. The way it operates is actually very murderous for Black and brown communities. That's not the case for white communities. And so this is why I said earlier that, in the West, we have a discourse about judging countries based on human rights. But we don't actually judge countries based on the human rights for all peoples, we are doing that based on majority populations. We're not paying attention to how countries are treating minority populations. And we do that based on the history of Western colonialism. So I do think that we have to fight for human rights. But I think that if you make a list of the actual violations of human rights, and you make a list of the countries that are violating those human rights, I don't know--the United States would not be on the list of countries that is not severely violating human rights. Okay. We wouldn't be and I don't know what country would be on that list. We'd need a different kind of calculus. And so I don't think that means that we shouldn't fight for human rights, we do. But you can look at our policy with regard to Saudi Arabia, or Israel, or European states, and see that it's a contradiction. You know, we pick and choose. We pick our partners, and we agree with them whenever they do things that are in violation, often that we're funding, or when we do things that ourselves in violation of human rights. So we do need to fight for human rights. We do need standards around it, that I agree with. But the binary list that we have right now is really based on colonialism, race, and it does not take seriously the way minorities are treated by these nation states. So I think that for the Biden administration certainly have a very different approach, I think that we could start with radically changing our securitization practices. When I say radically, I mean that we start from the ground up and recognize that we have spent billions of dollars, and we have spent, we have built lots of infrastructure, to unfairly target Muslims as a threat to the United States. We've done that within the United States, and we've done that outside of the United States. We maintain a great relationship with India, even though they're violating the rights of Muslims. We maintain a great religious relationship with Israel. We won't even call for them to stop an air raid against civilian Palestinians right now--we won't do it, not publicly. You know, Biden wants to get on the phone and have a private conversation. But if there were a different population of people who were on the receiving end of those bombs, or if a different country were doing it, it would be different, right? So I think that we have to have a much more honest and inclusive approach to this. I think we need to support everyone's human rights; it should not matter who they are, it shouldn't matter what their race is, it shouldn't matter what their religion is, it should not matter where they live, we have to support everyone's human rights.
KARAM: And it might begin—forgive me, forgive me—it might begin with a little bit of humility, about the fact that human rights in this country still have a long way to go. We cannot at any moment in time claim to go and serve and judge anyone else out there, when our own pain exceeds our boundaries and spills over everywhere. In this country, there are human rights violations of the most egregious degree, let's name it, please. And a little bit of humility about that might have been what would have salvaged the previous Democratic administration because it wasn't a very humble one either. I think just that humility to understand that human rights begins right here. And to be examples and paragons of virtue right here before we decide to serve others will help us build the bridges we need to build for human rights with others. But where can I extend the hand when it is cut off? And how dare I think that I can extend the hand and understand the other way in my in my own home, in my own territory, in my own neighbor, I will see a sign that tells me that hatred is okay?
JUERGENSMEYER: Human rights begins at home.
SINGH: Thank you. Thank you all, I think this is a very powerful note to end on. Dr. Johnson, Dr. Juergensmeyer, Dr. Karam, thank you for joining us in this discussion and sharing your insights and your wisdom with us.