Obama Names Religious Freedom Ambassador

President Barack Obama has nominated Bronx pastor Suzan Johnson Cook for the vacant position of Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom.

Described by the New York Times as "Billy Graham and Oprah rolled into one," Johnson Cook is currently serving as Senior Pastor of Bronx Christian Fellowship Baptist Church. She is also an author, the founder and president of the Wisdom Worldwide Center, and the owner of Charisma Speakers.

While many observers agree that Johnson Cook is "outstanding" at what she does, concern has been expressed over her lack of experience in foreign policy.

Mark Silk, professor of religion in public life at Trinity College, said that the Ambassador-At-Large position "is a tricky one."

"Not only does the office holder have precious little line authority but also has to deal with both the State Department's need to balance human rights against other policy priorities and the free-wheeling U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which has its own funding and staff, and no qualms about taking potshots at U.S. allies with less than stellar religious freedom records," he said.

"In short, this is not a bully pulpit. Which is the one place where Johnson Cook seems to know her way around," he added.

Former diplomat Thomas Farr was also skeptical about Cook's nomination and questioned whether the Obama administration is taking the position seriously.

"If the Obama administration were taking this issue seriously, it would choose an expert in international religious freedom with experience in foreign affairs," Farr told the Washington Post. "It would choose a proven leader who can change things at the State Department and re-energize our flagging [international religious freedom] policy."

"Perhaps Rev. Cook will surprise the skeptics and prove to be that leader. I hope so, and will certainly do everything I can to help her," he added.

Along with Johnson Cook, Obama also named two appointees to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), including Philadelphia-based Baptist pastor William Shaw and Jewish community leader Felice Gaer.

President Obama had previously received criticism for not taking the initiative to fill the ambassador position, which has remained vacant since the start of his presidency.

Faith leaders of various religions as well as the USCIRF had expressed alarm about the position being left open, which they called a "critical issue…of grave and urgent concern."

"Congress intended the Ambassador-at-Large to be a 'principal adviser to the President and the Secretary of State regarding matters affecting religious freedom abroad,'" a report from the USCIRF stated, "but USCIRF is concerned that the position may have been diminished within the State Department hierarchy."

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