John Kerry Says Faiths are Linked on Environment

John Kerry Speaks on Faith-Based Communities and the Environment

The important relationship between faith-based communities and the environment was stressed in a speech last week by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. “Our faiths are inextricably linked on the environment,” stated Kerry. “For many of us, respect for God’s creation also translates into a duty to protect and sustain His first creation, Earth, the planet.”

The respect for God’s creation lies not only in respecting the environment, but in respecting each other’s faiths. Kerry made this poignant message clear while speaking at a ceremony to honor Shaarik Zafar as the State Department’s new Representative for Muslim communities in the U.S. and abroad. Zafar is now responsible for driving Secretary Kerry’s engagement with Muslim communities around the world on issues of mutual interest, in support of shared goals, and to advance American foreign policy.

Stewardship of Earth Is a Responsibility From God

Continuing his message on the environment, Kerry said, “Before God created man, He created Heavens and Earth. Confronting climate change is, in the long run, one of the greatest challenges that we face, and you can see this duty or responsibility laid down in scriptures, clearly, beginning in Genesis. And Muslim-majority countries are among the most vulnerable. Our response to this challenge ought to be rooted in a sense of stewardship of Earth. And for me and for many of us here today, that responsibility comes from God.”

This particular message of Secretary Kerry has received heavy criticism in the media. Aside from the usual islamophobic rantings, the main argument is that Kerry shouldn’t be referencing religion when speaking about U.S. State Department matters. However, Kerry is the principal architect of a whole new office within the State Department for doing just that.

The State Department’s Newest Venue: The Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives

The new Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives is the State Department’s venue for engaging religious leaders and organizations around the world. Headed by Special Advisor Shaun Casey, the office reaches out to faith-based communities to give their voices a platform during policy-making processes. Showing respect for the faiths of others has become a State Department priority.

Drafted by newly appointed Shaarik Zafar, The U.S. Strategy on Religious Leader and Faith Community Engagement guarantees State Department commitment to faith-based communities.  Engaging with these communities is a new priority for Department bureaus and for posts abroad. The office seeks to equip U.S. foreign and civil service officers with the knowledge and skills necessary to engage faith-based communities effectively and respectfully.

Uniting Faith-Based Communities Is a New Core Mission

In fact, religion is a subject in which many U.S. government officials are very well versed. The new Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives is in good company with strong ties to other U.S. offices focused on religious issues, including the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, and the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Kerry addressed the need for such offices in his speech, saying the effort to unite faith-based communities is a core mission at the State Department. “That’s what Shaarik is leading as our Special Representative to Muslim Communities,” Kerry said. “That’s what Ira Forman is leading as our Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. And that’s what David Saperstein is leading; when confirmed, he will be our new Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. And that’s what my friend Shaun Casey is doing in his special job in order to have a faith – interfaith office here at the State Department itself.”

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“Our Faiths and Our Fates Are Inextricably Linked”

Continuing, Kerry commented, “Now people ask me why. Why now have we made this such a mission at the State Department? Why elevate our engagement at a time when world events to some people seem so hopelessly divided along sectarian lines? And the answer is really very simple: It’s a delusion to think that anyone can just retreat to their own safe space, not when people of all faiths are migrating and mingling as never before in history. The reality is that our faiths and our fates are inextricably linked. And that is profoundly why we must do this now, because they are linked.”

Kerry stressed that the great challenge we face when confronting climate change is an interfaith link we share because of our religious responsibility to protect the earth. He also stressed other links, such as universal human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the most basic freedom to practice one’s faith openly and freely.

“America’s faith communities,” Kerry said, “including American Muslims, are sources of strength for all of us. They’re an essential part of our national fabric, and we are committed to deepening our partnerships with them.

Instability Follows From Lack of Dignity and Respect for the Human Person

Pointing out, “when people don’t have a job, when they can’t get an education, when their voices are silenced by draconian laws or by violence or oppression,” Kerry continued, “we’ve all witnessed the instability that follows from that, from the lack of dignity and respect for the human person.”

“To meet the demands of these populations for dignity and opportunity, frankly, requires new and creative partnerships. That’s why Shaun is here. That’s why we’re here today. We need to reach beyond government to include religious leaders and faith communities, entrepreneurs, civil society groups, all of them working together to invest in a future that embraces tolerance and understanding, and yes, even love.”

The Golden Rule Is the Universal Link

Offering an eloquent comparison of the fundamental ideology linking most faiths, Kerry summed up his speech in the following messages:

“…there is a commonality in the Abrahamic faiths particularly, but in all faiths and in all philosophies of way of life and thinking, even Native Americanism or Confucianism and others, and that is every single one of them contains a fundamental basic notion of the Golden Rule — the importance of charity, compassion, and human improvement.

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“When Jesus was asked, ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law,’ he replied: the first, ‘you shall love the Lord your God’ and second, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself… In everything, do unto others what you would have them do to you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.’

“What prophets was Jesus talking about? He was talking about Moses, or Moshe, or Musa. He was talking about Abraham, or Avraham, or Ibrahim. And ultimately, he was talking about Shalom, Salam: Peace.

“As the Talmud says: In Roman times, a non believer approached the famous rabbi, Rabbi Hillel, and challenged him to teach the meaning of the Torah while standing on one leg. Without missing a beat, holding up one foot, Hillel replied: ‘What is hateful to yourself, do not do to another. That is the whole of the Torah… the rest is commentary.’

“The Prophet Muhammad said of loving your brother, ‘Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.’

“Buddhist scriptures teach us to ‘treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.’ And Hinduism proclaims, ‘This is the sum of duty: Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.’ Our faiths teach us that we are more than the sum of our differences. We share a moral obligation to treat one another with dignity and respect. And I am so proud that at the foundation of everything that this Department and that our foreign policy tries to do are those fundamental values.

“Today, we need to draw on that common faith and what must be our common hope to work for peace and put our universal commitments and universal beliefs into action. That’s the road ahead, and I am privileged to share that road with Shaarik and with all of you. Thank you.”

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Please note – this article is not a complete transcript of Secretary Kerry’s speech. Please visit the website of the U.S. State Department to read Kerry’s timely and sensitive speech online in its entirety.

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About the Author

Aisha Abdelhamid (Birth-name Kathleen Vail) is a freelance lifestyle and environmental science writer currently living in Vancouver, BC. Her interests include environmental conservation, climate science, renewable energy, faith-based environmental activism, sustainable economics, corporate social responsibility, creative lifestyles, and healthy living.