Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1, KJV)

Director Carrie Hessler- Radelet did not quote the King James Bible when she introduced the Peace Corps new Faith Based Initiative at Calvin College last February. She did announce that the purpose was to “connect with faith-based NGOs and networks in the United States, and also to better support communities of faith overseas” Here, again, is the link to her remarks:

How will Peace Corps implement its Faith Based Imitative when there is no agreement among religions on how to translate Faith into practice? Description of what is planned: statement-of-work-faith-based-advisor-15-0122-22

Two main categories of questions need to be answered, I think:

How will the religious and legal environment in host countries impact this Faith Based Initiative?

Will the demands of the Faith Based Initiative burden further overseas staff, 90% of whom are Host Country Nationals, responsible for the training, site selection and support of Volunteers?

I welcome comments and suggestions, especially from those who have current experiences overseas.

Despite the legal protections of the First Amendment, religion in the United States is political and increasingly polarizing. From the “Little Sisters of the Poor” to same sex marriages, the public square is alive with religious controversies.  Will the Peace Corps find itself embroiled in these disputes?

Peace Corps Volunteers do not serve in the United States. They serve in foreign countries, and only by invitation. Volunteers do not have diplomatic immunity, but serve subject to their host country laws. Host countries may not have First Amendment type laws. There may be laws favoring one religion over another or restricting the practice of certain religions. It would appear that Peace Corps must create strategic partnerships with “faith based” NGOs and networks” under US law and then send Volunteers to countries that may have different laws.

Certainly, if these “faith based” NGOs are already active in a host country, then one can presume that these organizations are compliant with the host countries’ laws. Still, Peace Corps Volunteers represent the United States.Will the Peace Corps “brand” appear to endorse specific religions?

There are two important issues that have religious implications. The Roman Catholic Church Doctrine forbids the use of all artificial contraceptives, with the exception of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDs. (Pope Benedict mandated this exception in 2010.) Can Peace Corps create formal strategic partnerships with Catholic NGOs, even though family planning is critical to most Peace Corps health programs? Volunteers have served in Catholic institutions since the beginning, but absent a “strategic partnership” with the Church.

The right to marry a same sex partner is a constitutional right, now, in the United States. Peace Corps pioneered same sex partners as Volunteers last year.  So the agency does have experience with placing these Volunteer couples. However, again, many religions do not accept same sex marriage. Will this be a barrier in creating the new strategic partnerships with faith-based NGOs?

It is not clear how the existing overseas administrations will be involved with these new strategic partnerships.The Office of the Inspector General completed an evaluation of the Training of Overseas staff, dated September 30, 2014. The report detailed problems and make recommendations for improvement. Here is the

On Page 34 of the Performance and Accountability Report for 2014, Peace Corps acknowledged the problems with this statement: “challenges remain in ensuring that overseas posts are staffed appropriately to meet the agency’s ambitious site development and monitoring goals and in providing training and support beyond pre-service training throughout Volunteers’ service.”

On page141 of PAR, Peace Corps summarized the OIG report and noted that it had hired a training manager.  But evidently it will be the  Faith Based Advisor who will “support Posts that wish to engage with faith-based organizations in-country by providing guidance and context regarding the organizations’ relationship with the agency.” Link to the report:

It is hoped that all of these questions will be answered as the Faith Based Initiative develops.

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