But once he is confirmed -- and I think he will be -- what are the challenges he faces representing the Trump administration and all U.S. citizens in monitoring and promoting religious liberty around the world?
There are many, as this interesting Foreign Policy piece notes. And if Brownback is to be effective, he will need to assert his independence from the often-rambling and often-misguided president and his sometimes-offensive views on this subject.
As the Foreign Policy piece notes, ". . .despite the president’s many blunders on religion-related issues, there are signs of a more conventional and constructive focus on religious freedom at the State Department."
The piece also describes Brownback with the kind of praise he's had almost none of as governor: ". . .most significantly, the administration has nominated a highly qualified, highly respected religious freedom ambassador. During his many years in Congress, in the House and then Senate, Brownback was a well-known champion of religious freedom and myriad humanitarian causes. His nomination has been praised by a wide spectrum of religious leaders and religious freedom advocates — including some who have been intensely critical of Trump."
My expectations of Brownback aren't nearly that high, but perhaps there's more to be hoped for than I imagined. So what should Brownback do as religious freedom ambassador? The Foreign Policy piece lists several tasks:
-- Emphasize early and often that religious freedom is a universal principle, not identity politics.
-- Especially reassure and defend vulnerable Muslims. (Is Brownback willing to be noticeably different in this regard than Trump? I hope so, but I'm not holding my breath.)
-- Communicate the value of religious liberty in language that appeals across the ideological and theological spectrum. (This may be no easy task, given that "religious liberty" has come to mean [to many] the freedom to engage in even unconstitutional behavior, such as businesses denying service the way some used to deny service on the basis of race.)
-- Champion democracy and the full range of human rights.
-- Defend and collaborate with the State Department’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs.
This ambassador position can provide lots of opportunities to raise up religious liberty around the globe, especially in countries that really do persecute people of faith (and there are many).
If Brownback is confirmed, let's hope he's wise enough to pledge allegiance to this universal human right and not to a narrow, partisan view of it.
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REVIVING VATICAN II REFORMS
Pope Francis says that the reforms to liturgy that were made at Vatican II will not be rolled back. This is one more piece of evidence backing my belief that the primary thrust of his papacy is to implement the Vatican II reforms that were stalled by his two predecessors and to recapture the open spirit of the Second Vatican Council for a new era.
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P.S.: I've written several times in different venues about the need for Sabbath, for sabbaticals, for retreats, for just some time off to refresh our spirits. Recently I learned about another approach to all of this. It's called Renewal in the Wilderness. As the organization's website to which I've just linked you explains, "We consider engagement with wilderness to be a spiritual practice. Our approach is rooted in the understanding that wilderness has a lot to show us as we navigate our way toward a more compassionate world." Have a look and see if you or someone you know might benefit. And if you're looking for a few days away at somewhere beautiful that won't be physically demanding, I hope some of you will join me at Kirkridge Retreat and Education Center in Pennsylvania in late April when I lead some discussion growing out of my latest book, The Value of Doubt. Details about the Kirkridge offering are here.
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ANOTHER P.S.: My latest Flatland column -- about clergy gathering together to help fix education in Kansas City -- now is online here.