Evangelicals put mark on U.S. foreign policy

Epoch Times Washington, D.C. Staff
Oct 27 - Nov 2, 2006

The recent popularity of Christian evangelicalism among the electorate and politicians was bound to impact American foreign policy. It has recast the country's political scene with dramatic implications for foreign policy. Walter Russell Mead, the Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, has been described as a leading interpreter of the history of U.S. foreign policy and America's role in the world. He is the author of the award-winning book "Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World."

Mead strives to understand contemporary Protestantism—historically, the dominant religion in America—as derived from three traditions: fundamentalism, liberal Christianity, and a broader evangelical tradition. These theological differences, sometimes quite subtle, can make enormous differences in foreign policy.

Fundamentalists—by the Book
The fundamentalists are a diverse group, but the way Mead uses the term in the article, fundamentalists have three characteristics: (1) a high view of biblical authority, with no hesitancy to accept the literal truth of the Bible, including the doctrine of Original Sin; (2) a strong determination to defend the faith against secular and non-Christian influence; and (3) the conviction that believers should separate themselves from the non-Christian world.

Though cut from the same cloth as evangelicals, fundamentalists are more interested "in developing a consistent and all-embracing 'Christian worldview’ and then systematically applying it to the world." Mead says evangelicals may also reject Darwinian evolution; however, they don't offer "an alternative paradigm of scientific creationism, and write textbooks about it."

Fundamentalists tend to be hostile to the idea of a world order based on secular morality and on global institutions such as the United Nations. They "see nothing moral about cooperating with governments that ... forbid Christian proselytizing, or punish conversions to Christianity under Islamic law." They also hold an apocalyptical vision of the end of the world, and are expecting the fulfillment of prophecies like those in the Book of Revelation.

Liberal protestants—saved by good works
Liberal Christianity emphasizes the ethical teachings of Jesus and eschews the , doctrinaire, according to Mead. "Rather than believing that Jesus is a supernatural being, liberal Christians see him as a sublime moral teacher whose example they seek to follow through a lifetime of service." Good works and fulfilling the moral law is the road to God—a view that fundamentalists and evangelicals reject.

Mead thinks that liberal Christianity plays down the differences between Christian and non-Christians because they believe that ethics are the same all over the world. Every believer, including "Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jews, Muslims, and even non-religious people can agree on what is right and wrong." On that basis, the United Nations, which contains many diverse religions, was created.

"Liberal Protestantism dominated the worldview of the U.S. political class during World War II and the Cold War. Leaders such as Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dean Acheson, Dwight Eisenhower, and John Foster Dulles were, like most American elites'at the time, steeped in this tradition."

Mead sees a crisis—although he doesn't use that word—in liberal Christianity today. It tends to slip into secularism easily. As a consequence, mainline denominations are shrinking quickly. Liberal Christians are attacked for their frequent support for abortion and gay rights. Their influence is on the decline.

Evangelicals—optimistic believers
Evangelicals stand as a sort of the middle way between these two kinds of Christian practices, says Mead. They share core beliefs with fundamentalism, but they are more open to the world, probably due to American optimism.

"Like fundamentalists, evangelicals attach great importance to the doctrinal tenets of Christianity, not just to the ethical teachings." Believing in 'good works' and high ethical standards will not save you; only Christ's crucifixion and resurrection can redeem man in the evangelical point of view.

They also share with the fundamentalists the belief in the biblical prophecies. They hold that mankind's efforts alone to build a peaceful world, for example, a United Nations, is bound to fail. Only Christ's return will enable the future to be bright.

At the same time, unlike the fundamentalists, and similar to the liberal Christians, evangelicals believe strongly in the Christian responsibility to the world. For this reason, they are often open to "social action and cooperation with no believers in projects to improve human welfare." The demands to save souls for Christ, help the needy, and proclaim the gospel, have a special urgency for the evangelicals.

They are also more willing to live with contradictions, for example, rejecting Darwinism while endorsing the scientific community and its accomplishments.

The leading evangelical denomination in the United States is the Southern Baptist Convention, which Mead says numbers more than 16.3 million. The black churches have the next largest evangelical denominations.

Membership in mainline Protestant churches (such as the Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ) has sharply dropped. Among the Protestant population, identification with mainline Protestantism dropped from 59 percent in 1988 to 46 percent in 2003, according to the Pew Research Centre, which Mead cites. During the same period, identification with evangelicalism rose from 41 percent to 54 percent of those of Protestant persuasion.

Implications for foreign policy
In the area of human rights crafted by liberal and secular humanists, evangelicals have put the spotlight on religious freedom, including the freedom to proselytize and to convert. "Thanks largely to evangelical support (although some Catholics and Jews also played a role)," said Mead, Congress passed the International Freedom Act in 1998 as a somewhat sceptical State Department watched.

Another development that indicates evangelical humanitarian efforts is Bush's policy to give aid to Africa, which is up 67 percent, including $15 billion to combat HIV and AIDS, due in no small part to the advocacy of Bush's senior policy adviser and speechwriter, Michael Ger-son, an evangelical.

Fervent evangelical support for Israel as the liberal, established religions' support wanes is another example of evangelicalism behind renewed U.S. support for the Jewish homeland.

"Unlike many other Christians, evangelicals also believe that the Jewish people have a continuing role in God's plan," says Mead. That the Jewish people have miraculously survived the ordeals of the 20th century is proof that they are watched over by God and "reads like a story out of the Bible." They see the God of Abraham blessing the United States if we stand by Israel.

Matters of Faith