Engaging Because Religion Matters
By Dialogo August 07, 2015
In a September 2014 speech, Secretary of State John Kerry stated: “When Shaarik started drafting the U.S. Strategy on Religious Leader and Faith Community Engagement, he began with two words: ‘Religion Matters.’ We’re making that a mantra here at the [U.S.] State Department in our foreign policy, and I see it every single day,” at a ceremony in honor of Special Representative to Muslim Communities Shaarik Zafar.
The U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) Religious Affairs Office (RAO) is applying this mantra of “Religion Matters” in its engagement strategy as well. The goal is to develop a better understanding of how religion matters by building networks of religious people, caring for the needs of military members and their families, bringing together partner nation countries for mutual dialogue, and action in order to discover commonalities towards a consensus document on religious rights and religious relationships.
At SOUTHCOM, one of the Commander’s priorities is building partner nation security capacity. SOUTHCOM builds regional security through sustained engagement in order to deter adversaries, preserve stability, support allies and partners, and cooperate with others to address common security challenges. “We recognize building effective relationships takes time and effort. Therefore, we are committed to key leader engagements to ensure the U.S. and partner nations have a shared understanding of our security challenges,” according to the Message Guidance 2015 document.
There is increased interest among partner nations and SOUTHCOM’s RAO in understanding the role that religion plays in building security through multi-faith gatherings where constituents can dialogue on theologies, philosophies, and methodologies that promote healing, reconciliation, hope, and mutual understanding. The RAO has established annual symposiums as a forum for key senior religious, academic, and military leaders to dialogue and develop a strategic plan to effectively address issues.
Through key leader engagements the RAO seeks to place a focus on two important areas: (1) how religion matters as a factor for analysis in strategic and operational planning, and (2) the power and place of religion as a positive factor for healing, hope, and reconciliation instead of a negative factor or threat. We expect to work with partner nation chaplaincies to give each focus a prominent place in strategic planning.
The first focus allows us to encourage military planners to be mindful of the religious factors present when planning for contingencies, humanitarian /disaster relief, and exercises. Planners should consider religion as a factor in planning as they do with political, military, economic, social, information, and infrastructure.
The second focus allows us to place attention on the positive factors that religion offers. In current operations and media coverage, religion is seen as a threat due to terrorist activities around the world.
In the SOUTHCOM area of responsibility (AOR) there are many positive factors that religion provides and the mantra of “Religion Matters” will help to emphasize them more. In the end, religion provides additional critical knowledge to guide in better decision making. So we continue to engage because religion matters.