Peace Corps Enters the Religious Domain: Read How. But Why?

Last February, Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet spoke at Calvin University. The article reports Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet saying:

““Peace Corps does not mind at all if people practice their faith; in fact, we welcome it,” she continued. “We do discourage proselytizing because we are a government agency. But I think individual Christians are able to live their faith and are able to participate in local faith communities as members.”

In part as a recognition of this, Hessler-Radelet explained, the Peace Corps recently started a new faith initiative which intends both to connect with faith-based NGOs and networks in the United States, and also to better support communities of faith overseas. While this initiative is a new step for the Peace Corps, Hessler-Radelet does not see it as a dramatic change.

To read her comments, here is the link: http://www.calvin.edu/chimes/2015/02/12/peace-corps-director-opens-up-on-faith-development-and-changes-in-the-peace-corps/

I made a Freedom of Information Request, March 30, 2015, to learn more about this program. In May, I was told that materials had been found and would be processed and forwarded; two months later I was told that there were no such records. I appealed this decision. I spoke with the Freedom of Information Officer and finally, a document describing the program was released. Here is that document, in text format:

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Statement of Work

Faith Based Advisor
Office of Strategic Partnerships

Background:

The Office of Strategic Partnerships (OSP) intends to build on President Obama’s commitment to supporting effective partnerships with communities of faith and neighborhood organizations as key partners in service.

Public engagement and outreach are core elements of OSP’s approach to delivering on Peace Corps’ mission to promote world peace and friendship while increasing our development impact. Given the agency’s priorities around recruitment, diversity, support to Volunteers currently serving, and to Volunteers upon return from service abroad, the ‘faith’ lens offers a unique opportunity to connect to this community more deliberately. It also offers an opportunity for inter-faith dialogue, faith learning in preparation for service, and the recognition of faith as an expression of service for Volunteers and for staff.

Scope of Work:

The Faith Based Advisor, under the direction of the Director of Intergovernmental and External Affairs will serve as the main point of contact for all components related to the Agency’s Faith Based Initiative.

Major Duties & Responsibilities

Lead the agency’s Public Engagement and Outreach strategy and approach:

  • Develop and communicate a comprehensive strategy for the Agency’s Faith-based agenda that speaks to our broad goals and objectives alongside tactical engagement priorities.
  • Work with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which coordinates federal agency Centers for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, as well as partnering with other federal agencies with faith-based offices.
  • Elevate the Peace Corps’ mission and its relevance by engaging communities of faith. Develop a cohesive strategy to better leverage the nearly 250 Peace Corps donors that come from faith-based organizations.
  • Collaborate with the Agency’s diversity and inclusion efforts in order to include faith as an element of diversity. Partner with faith-based organizations, where appropriate, that may wish to work with the Peace Corps around the life-cycle of the Volunteer, from recruitment, to overseas site assignments and collaboration, to hiring of returned Volunteers and becoming employers of nationals service (this includes organizations such as World Vision, Caritas, Habitat for Humanity, and Catholic Relief Services, all NGOs that have worked with Peace Corps posts over the past three years).
  • Support and promote faith-based service-related events, religious holidays, and conferences.

Lead the Internal Affinity and Support:

  • In collaboration with faith-based employee resource groups, recognize and support faith-based principles and their alignment with the Director’s objectives of an inclusive, human-centered, and mission driven organization.
  • Support Posts that wish to engage with faith-based organizations in-country by providing guidance and context regarding the organizations’ relationship with the agency.
  • Support OPATS to develop cultural awareness and faith-centered materials and trainings for Volunteers who serve in faith-centered communities.
  • Support Volunteers and staff who pursue service as an expression of faith.
  • Advise the agency in policies and practices that are focused on Faith-based issues (e.g. , diversity, accommodations, religious holidays. Etc.)
  • Provide support across the agency in Faith-Based Intercultural Competencies.

Desired Qualifications:

  • Ability to work well independently and in a collaborative team environment.
  • Experience in partnership development in international development context.
  • Ability to represent the Peace Corps externally in meetings and public settings.
  • Ability to manage external relationships while coordinating internal efforts across multiple offices.

To read the PDF document; here is the text to link: statement-of-work-faith-based-advisor-15-0122-2:

I welcome comments and will post my own analysis.

9 Comments

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  • Are we talking at best about the long-time approach the the American Friends Service Committee espoused?

    That seemed swell to me when I was young, but this growing soft-on-religion movement is not.

    I try to be respectful, but want safeguards against what were in the past called the “true believers” in any culture’s faiths.

  • Edward,

    I know nothing more about this Faith Initiative beyond what is written in the Statement of Work. I do know that there was nothing mentioned in the Performance and Accountability Report for FY2014 about such a program. I do know that there was nothing mentioned in the five year old Agency Assessment Report of June 2010. I do not think that there was any mention of such an initiative in the Strategic Plan 2014-2018. I do not know if this is an idea of the Peace Corps Director or if it was “suggested” by the State Department or the White House. I have many questions and even more concerns.

  • Sounds like this parallels President Obama’s desire to have “effective partnerships with communities of faith.”

  • Leo,
    The Faith Based Advisor is charged with cooperating with the White House Office of Faith Based and Communities. However, the reach of that office and those laws are confined to the United States.

  • I think there were Turks who believed we were Christian missionaries, although I don’t know what they would have made of me. However, Peace Corps partnerships with faith-based initiatives could raise suspicions among host country nationals (is that term still used?).

  • If a faith based initiative is already in the country of service then it has the approval of the host government.

    Faith is universal, not national. It does not stop at national borders.

    • Excellent question. I do not know. There are no serving Peace Corps Volunteers today. They were all evacuated in mid-March. The Washington Peace Corps staff is still working. I will do a Freedom of Information request to see if I can get information to answer your question.

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