KIM LAWTON, correspondent: At a State Department ceremony on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry officially launched a new Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives, which he said would help build better relationships with religious leaders and organizations in the US and abroad.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: (at ceremony) Its mission is as clear as it is compelling: It is to engage more closely with faith communities around the world, with the belief that we need to partner with them to solve global challenges, and there is an enormous partnership, I believe, there for the asking.

LAWTON: Kerry spoke of his personal interest in religion and said he has high hopes this office can play a crucial role in US diplomacy.

KERRY: (at ceremony) We need to recognize that in a world where people of all faiths are migrating and mingling like never before, where we are this global community, which we always talk about, we ignore the global impact of religion, in my judgment, at our peril.

LAWTON: Heading the office is Christian ethicist Shaun Casey, who is taking a leave from Wesley Theological Seminary. Casey said the office observe the lines between church and state.

SHAUN CASEY (State Department Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives): (at ceremony) We will ensure that our engagement efforts will be consistent with the United States Constitution and other laws, both in terms of the spirit and letter of the law.

LAWTON: After the ceremony, I asked him to outline specific areas where he sees his team being effective.

CASEY: The public and political impact of lived religion across the planet is huge, it's almost impossible to measure, it's so large, so if we're going to be promoting human rights, if we're going to be doing development, if we're going to be trying to build for peace and mitigate conflict, we have to understand the religious dimensions of all of those sectors, and frankly in the past we probably haven't had the capacity we should have in our diplomacy.

LAWTON: And he said they will not shy away from addressing the places where religion is part of the problem.

CASEY: So it's not just dealing with the "good religious people" and ignoring the negative aspects of religion in politics, so it's going to be very dicey, it's going to be very complicated, and we have to have some sophistication about how to engage, particularly in those areas where religion may be a source of conflict.

New State Department Faith Office

Critics have long charged that the US government has not done a good job in understanding the relationship between religion and foreign policy. This week, Secretary of State John Kerry launched the new Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives in hopes of better engaging religion in US diplomacy. Christian ethicist and Wesley Theological Seminary Professor Shaun Casey is directing the office.