The Joint National Association of Schools and Colleges of the United Methodist Church (NASCUMC) and International Association of Methodist Schools, Colleges and Universities (IAMSCU) Conference

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs 
The W Hotel
Washington, DC
July 27, 2011

Good morning. It’s a pleasure to be with you today and be able to speak to such a distinguished audience.

I know that you have spent a lot of time this week talking about how we can prepare future leaders to meet global challenges. The events of recent months remind us that there are no shortage of these challenges -- from famine in the Horn of Africa to the democratic revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. While the enormity of the problems is daunting, it is the promise of someday solving them that drives each of every day.

As the wife of a Methodist preacher and University Chaplin, I know a little something about your work. But perhaps more pertinent to this discussion, as Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs, I am compelled by the potential progress that lies in working with religious groups, educators and youth around the world.

Of course, it may be obvious to those of you in this room -- but perhaps not to others in government -- that organized religion makes up the largest part of civil society around the world. Eighty-five percent of people worldwide participate in a faith tradition. Faith groups run many of the world’s schools and health care facilities. Major development and charitable groups are run by religious organizations or are founded upon a religious commitment to compassion. Indeed, these activities of these groups are a crucial thread in the economic and political fabric of society. So, we need to engage with religious communities and educators in order to have a holistic understanding of the factors at play in any given country.

Under the Obama Administration, we have seen a shift in dialogue towards mutuality and partnership with religious communities. We have challenged discrimination and intolerance, and fought to protect religious freedom, both at home and abroad. The US government has condemned acts of religious intolerance -- whether they are against Copts in Egypt, Buddhists in Tibet, or Muslims in Dearborn, Michigan.

The assassination of Pakistani Minister of Minorities Shabbaz Bhatti earlier this year is a tragic reminder that none are immune from this trend. Violence in the name of religion is an insult to the religion itself. Any society that does not protect religious freedom cripples the pursuit of the stability and prosperity of its people.

At the State Department, we know that if we’re going to tackle our toughest problems, from religious tolerance to climate change, we must also tap the talents and passions of young people. Their youthful energy, ideas and creativity are critical to finding new solutions to old problems. That is why President Obama and Secretary Clinton have made engagement with youth across the world a priority.

The global issues that we face today require passion and commitment. With today’s technology and global connections, youth are empowered with access to knowledge and resources unlike any generation before. I challenge you to prepare your students to take on these issues -- whether it be strengthening democracy and protecting human rights, combating climate change, counterterrorism strategy or humanitarian relief. These are complex challenges that require the best and the brightest minds.

In closing, let me reiterate my appreciation for your work to educate the world’s future leaders. I look forward to working with you and the young leaders you are educating. Thank you.