WASHINGTON (ABP) – It took 10 months, but on April 14 the U.S. Senate approved President Obama’s nomination of a new ambassador at large for international religious freedom.
Obama originally nominated Suzan Johnson Cook, an American Baptist pastor, Christian author and motivational speaker, last June. The Senate let the nomination expire, amid questions about her lack of experience with foreign policy.
Johnson Cook, founder and president of Wisdom Women Worldwide, an international, interfaith center for women leaders, will move from her native New York to Washington. Her website called her confirmation an answer to prayer.
Described in a New York Times book review as “Billy Graham and Oprah rolled into one,” Johnson Cook goes by the nickname Dr. Sujay in various ministries described as cutting edge.
She made history in 1983 as the first woman to become pastor of the historic Mariners’ Temple Baptist Church in New York City, an American Baptist church and the oldest church site in Manhattan. During her 13 years there she began holding “Lunch Hour of Power” lunchtime services for city, civic and court workers.
She founded Bronx Christian Fellowship Church in 1996 and served as senior pastor until her retirement in 2009.
She is the author of several books and has toured nationally with Texas mega-church pastor T.D. Jakes. She was a domestic-policy adviser for President Bill Clinton and also advised Obama when he was in the Senate.
The ambassador-at-large position was created in 1998 by the International Religious Freedom Act. The job is to monitor violations of religious freedom abroad and to advise the State Department on how to respond.
Religious and political leaders criticized the president for taking so long to fill the position as apparent indifference about the issue.
Johnson Cook, who was on hand April 19 for the White House Easter Prayer Breakfast, said in a recent keynote address at a Seventh-day Adventist religious liberty dinner that it is the responsibility of the United States and others to support reform movements in governments seeking to make freedom a central principle in their governing documents.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.