The Foreign Service Journal - December 2017

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | DECEMBER 2017 19 Religious Diversity Benefits the State Department BY PH I L SKOTTE FSO Phil Skotte has served in the Philippines, the Vatican, Hong Kong, Budapest and Moscow. Domestically, he has worked as a foreign policy adviser for special operations at the Pentagon and director of American Citizen Services worldwide; he currently serves as the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ liaison with the intelligence community. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, he worked as a commercial fisherman in Alaska, a schoolteacher, an athletic director and a ship’s carpenter, and earned master’s degrees from the National Defense University and Princeton Theological Seminary. He is the author of Why Jesus Won’t Go Away—A Diplomat Reflects on Faith (WestBow Press, 2014). Phil and Maribeth have three daughters. The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and not necessarily those of the U.S. government. R eligious diversity matters to the work of the State Department. In this brief essay I will provide some critical personal examples of that fact, but let me start with an intro- duction and some background informa- tion about why having a faith can matter. I was raised in a family that had a strong Christian faith, and we attended our Swedish Baptist church twice on Sun- days and on Wednesday nights, too. Mis- sionaries came to our church and showed slides of faraway places, and sometimes we even hosted them in our home. Above my bed was a “monkey rug” (made from the skin of nine monkeys) brought from Ethiopia by my missionary uncle. My mom put her wedding ring in the offering plate after a particularly compelling pre- sentation by a visitor fromAfrica (my Dad said it was OK). Having completed university, I went to PrincetonTheological Seminary with the intention of becoming a minister or a missionary myself. However, life took some unexpected turns, and instead I joined the Foreign Service—but not before serving as a volunteer aboard the Christian service vessel MV Logos as a ship’s carpenter. It was there that I met my wife. For many years, I taught Sunday school (although not as faithfully as Jimmy Carter), and my wife and I partici- pated in Bible studies and tithed (gave away 10 percent of our income). Many of my State Department friends and colleagues find my back- ground a little unusual and, in fact, unintelligible. But when I joined the Foreign Service in 1993, I brought this identity and these commitments with me. Even though the State Depart- ment does not, at this writing, have any religion-based affinity groups, religion can be every bit as important as race, gender, sexual orientation and other aspects of our identity. Now, after almost 25 years serving mostly as a consular officer, I can look back and see how my identity as a Chris- tian person has been of great value to the State Department and its mission. Here I offer a few examples as evidence that reli- gious diversity matters to the work of the State Department. I am sure many others from various faiths could offer their own examples of the value that faith-based people bring to diplomacy. Education and Assistance From the outset of my career, I sought out missionaries abroad for friendship and mutual encouragement. They edu- cated me and showed me parts of foreign countries I would never have seen in my capacity as a diplomat. For example, a missionary in Manila took me on her nightly rounds working with glue-sniffing street children. Another introduced me SPEAKING OUT Religion can be every bit as important as race, gender, sexual orientation and other aspects of our identity.