byFaith | 1.9.17
Providence | 1.12.17
By Alan W. Dowd
The editors of the journal Providence recently crafted “A ChristianDeclaration of American Foreign
Policy.” Dozens of scholars, theologians, political scientists, historians, policy
analysts, retired military officers and former policymakers have signed the
declaration. The document not only raises important issues; it raises some
important questions for people of faith: Is our country’s foreign policy of
interest to Christians? Does it affect our witness and the way we live out our
issues and these questions are important because America’s role in the world
affects all of us; because as Christians and Americans (in that order), we
carry a special burden and a special responsibility in the world; because, to
paraphrase a famous adage, whether or not we’re interested in death-wish dictators,
radicalized regimes, murderous movements, failing states and rising powers,
they’re interested in us.
Foreign policy is not off-limits to people of faith, and our faith should
inform our views on foreign policy. Although they “do not presume to speak for
all Christians,” the declaration’s authors contend that “Christians who take
seriously the roles assigned by God to the church and the state, and who value
the equal importance of justice and ordered liberty, should not be silent.”
Some believers may disagree, but the Lord encourages His people to enter the
public square: Joseph served as prime minister of Egypt. Moses was called into
the public square to argue that God’s people had a right to assemble and
King David served as a political and military leader. Queen Esther used her
political position to rescue God’s people from a holocaust. Paul participated
in the Roman legal
systemand spoke at government
We must never put our nation ahead of
our faith, and we should always seek Christ’s kingdom first. But as Philip
Yancey reminds us in “The Jesus I Never Knew”, we are dual citizens. Christ
followers “live in an external kingdom of family and cities and nationhood,
while at the same time belonging to the kingdom of God.” Paul saw himself as a
citizen of Rome’s earthly kingdom andChrist’s eternal kingdom, brandished his Roman citizenship, and called
believers “Christ’s ambassadors.” Yes, that means “our citizenship is in
heaven.” But to extend Paul’s metaphor, it also means that where we live right
now matters enough that God has posted us here to represent His interests.
One of those interests is order. Genesis tells us God brought form and order
out of chaos. Paul writes that God is not a God
of disorder, and he urges us to pray for “all those in authority that we may live peaceful and quiet
lives.” The implication is clear: Legitimate governments exist to promote
order—within and between nation-states.
The natural order of the world is not
orderly. At the international level, there are no police to enforce the rules,
settle disputes or keep the peace. Those tasks fall to responsible powers like the United States.
declaration’s writers suggest, “The routine work of foreign policy and
maintenance of the international system might be considered a contemporary [outworking]
of the creation mandate to cultivate the garden (Genesis 2:15). The ‘garden’ in
this case, extending to the international social system—or, more concisely,
world order. Cultivating the garden of world order means tending to the tasks
that uphold public safety, execute justice and promote human flourishing…those
of us who live in a powerful country have special stewardship
the United States plays a vital role in preserving and promoting a liberal
international order characterized by self-government, the rule of law, individual
freedom, open markets, human rights and human dignity, respect for borders, etc.
Since the end of World War II, America and its allies have promoted these
ideals around the world through “the regular management and implementation of
policies to preserve order,” the declaration points out.
example, the U.S. provides a security umbrella to more than 50 nations, keeps
the sea lanes open, polices the world’s toughest
neighborhoods and answers the world’s 9-1-1
calls. It usually does these things by invitation: Ukraine, Poland and
the Baltics want America’s help today. The Iraqi government begged America to
return in 2014. Libyans appealed to the U.S. for
protection in 2011. Kosovo, Korea, Kuwait, Jordan and Japan, want U.S. troops
to maintain regional stability. From Germany to Georgia, those who remember a
Europe of concrete walls and iron curtains want U.S. forces on their soil as a
hedge against Russia. And across the Asia-Pacific region, those who fear
China’s rise are strengthening their ties with America.
short, many in Europe and America take it for granted; Beijing, Moscow, Tehran
and Pyongyang resent it; our jihadist enemies are actively trying to undo it.
But America’s role as the world’s system administrator makes it possible for hundreds
of millions to live in relative peace.
world is fortunate the U.S. — even with its flaws — emerged from World War II
and the Cold War as the dominant power. Had the Axis won in 1945, the world order
would have been characterized by godless racialism and fascist totalitarianism.
Had the USSR won in 1989, the world order would have been characterized by godless
collectivism and Leninist totalitarianism. And if the jihadists have their way —
ISIS and al Qaeda take literally Muhammad’s injunction “to fight all men until
they say, ‘There is no god but Allah’” — the world order would be characterized
by ruthless conformity and theocratic totalitarianism. God’s crowning creation cannot
flourish under these extremes.
As Robert Kagan of
the Brookings Institution observes, “Every international order in history has reflected the
beliefs and interests of its strongest powers, and every international order
has changed when powers shifted to others with different beliefs and
interests.” He suggests that the United States is “essential to keeping the
present world order together” and that the alternative is “not peace and harmony
but chaos and catastrophe—which is what existed before the American world order
came into being.”
This is why some foreign policy experts worry about America’s drift “from its
historic post-World War II role as the guarantor of international peace and
security” and growing political support for “withdrawal from world leadership.”
percentof Americans “want the U.S. to deal with its own
problems, while letting other countries get along as best they can” — up
from 30 percent in 2002 and 20 percent in 1964. Reflecting the national mood, President Barack Obama employed phrases like “nation-building here at home”
to explain his stand-off foreign policy. President-elect
Donald Trump embraced the historically-fraught
“America First” label used by isolationists in the 1930s.
rejected isolationism after World War II because of what happened after World War I, when the country withdrew from the
world for a generation — then came Nanking and Munich, Poland and Pearl
be sure, there are costs to engagement. The Cold War cost Americans 104,000 military
personnel and $6 trillion. Post-9/11 wars have claimed more than 6,800 military
personnel and consumed nearly $2 trillion. (The human and material costs of war
serve as an argument for deterrence, discussed below.) But there are also costs
to disengagement: Pearl Harbor in 1941; Korea in 1950; post-Soviet Afghanistan,
which spawned the Taliban, which provided safe haven to al Qaeda; Iraq and Syria today, which
we often overlook the benefits of engagement. During World War II, U.S.
engagement prevented a return to the Dark Ages. During the Cold War, U.S.
engagement preserved free government, elevated human rights, rehabilitated
Germany and Japan, and transformed Europe from an incubator of war into a
partnership of prosperity. For 70 years, U.S. engagement has prevented war
between great powers, which was the norm from 1745 to 1945.
is a solemn moment for the American democracy,” Winston Churchill said after
World War II. “For with primacy in power is also joined an awe-inspiring
accountability to the future.” In the peace they made, the enemies they
deterred and defeated, the international order they built, the American people
lived up to Churchill’s charge. They did so not only for their own good — like
other nations, the U.S. is motivated by self-interest — but also out of a sense
of responsibility to others. According to the Providence declaration, “Uniquely among nations, Americans have
been given unprecedented power, wealth and political rights…Our Christian faith
gives us a deep sense of responsibility to see such power used well.”
recalls something Christ said about responsibility: “From everyone who has been given much,” He explained, “much will be
demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be
asked.” In light of how much we Americans have been
given and entrusted with, why wouldn’t heaven expect more of us?
is not a license to dominate the weak or remake the world in America’s image. We
must always respect other cultures and be aware of the effects of our influence
— economic, cultural, political, military — on them. However, it is a reminder
that America has a responsibility to lead. A liberal international order
doesn’t run on autopilot or grow by magic. As the declaration notes, nation-states
(Russia in Syria and Ukraine, China in the South China Sea, Iran in Syria and Iraq)
and non-state actors (ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Hezbollah in Syria) “with scant
regard for the responsible use of power have stepped into the vacuum created by
stands to reason that when the United States pulls back, other countries do the
same. Recent history bears this out. “American involvement is often the
catalyst for broader involvement in the community of nations,” President George
H.W. Bush observed in 1992.
after the Indian Ocean tsunami, Washington dispatched an armada of ships,
helicopters and planes to provide food, medicine, fresh water and shelter. When an Ebola outbreak threatened
to mushroom into a pandemic, America’s military raced to West Africa to set up
treatment facilities; deliver medicine, doctors and aid; and smother the killer virus. When ISIS was on the
verge of wiping out Iraq’s entire Yazidi minority, U.S. warplanes dropped
pallets of food to help the Yazidis — and bombs to halt the ISIS blitzkrieg.
each instance, other nations helped. But in each instance, the U.S. served as
the catalyst for action.
list of U.S. military interventions goes on. Some are launched to defend U.S.
interests, some for humanitarian purposes, some to preserve order, some to defend
freedom. Some have been heroic and selfless. Some have been well-intended but
ill-thought. Some have been less than honorable. Some have been the result of
bad deals with bad people. The U.S. government is an imperfect institution run
by imperfect people. Thus, it has deployed the U.S. military in the wrong ways
and in the wrong places at times, used the military when it shouldn’t have, and
even not used the military when it should have.
This is why Christ followers need to care about America’s foreign policy and play
a role in shaping it. We are called to be the conscience of our government. We
can only do that if we are aware of what our government is doing.
leadership is imperfect,” as the declaration’s authors concede. However, “We do not see a plausible
alternative and are concerned about what kind of world would grow under
Ponder that. If America stops serving as civilization’s first responder and
last line of defense, who will? The tyrants in Moscow and Beijing? The United
Nations? The European Union? Wall Street? Wal-Mart?
counter the temptations that come with being a great power, the declaration
calls on American policymakers to “heed the counsel of voices outside
government, especially in America’s religious communities…cultivate an
awareness of history, replete with the folly of self-aggrandizing power…respect
the checks and balances of our system of government…[and] expose American
policy to the iron-sharpening-iron accountability of multilateralism.”
other words, if at all possible, neither the president at home nor America
abroad should go it alone.
to stop a bully on the playground or to turn back tyranny on the battleground, there
are times when force serves a higher good, and there are even times when the
absence of force, however unwittingly, serves the enemies of that higher good.
people of faith oppose all uses of military force. This is understandable in
the abstract, but we should keep in mind two truths.
As the Providencedeclaration argues, “Christians
have erred by holding the state to the same standard as the church or the
individual, resulting in pacifism.” Governments
are expected to do certain things individuals aren’t expected to do — and
arguably shouldn’t do certain things individuals should do. A government that
turned the other cheek when attacked would be conquered by its foes, exposing
its people to harm. A government that put away the sword — that neglected its defenses
— would invite aggression, thus leaving innocents defenseless.
document also urges Christians to embrace “a biblical understanding of…the use
of force.” The sheriff who uses force to apprehend a murderer is decidedly
different than the murderer. The policeman posted outside a sporting event to
deter bad guys is decidedly different than the bad guys. Surely, the same
principle applies to nations.
imperfect means we employ to protect innocents and preserve order — a judge
banishing serial killers to super-max prisons, a president banishing mass-murderers
to Guantanamo Bay, a SWAT team lobbing superheated flash-bang grenades into a
drug house, an airman firing missiles into a terrorist hideout — are sometimes
the only way innocents can be protected. “We take, and must continue to take,
morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization,” as Reinhold Niebuhr
to deterring bad guys, too many people of
faith forget that the
purpose of deterrent military strength is, by definition, to prevent war. The lesson of history
is that maintaining a military capable of deterring war is far less
costly — in treasure and blood — than waging war. Yet the U.S. defense budget
has fallen from 4.6 percent of GDP in 2009 to 3.1 percent today. These cuts
might make sense if peace were breaking out, but we know the very opposite to
a superpower with a conscience is no easy task. It is a thankless, endless
exercise in searching for the least-bad option, which is why we need to offer “petitions,
prayers and intercession” for the president, Congress and “all those in
Likewise, being a dual citizen is not easy. In addition to
praying for our leaders, we
shouldresist the temptation to avert our
gaze from the world. As followers of Christ, we
cannot keep our heads in the clouds and declare ourselves above the
brokenness of the world. And as citizens of a democratic republic, we cannot
put our heads in the sand and pretend we know nothing about what our government
does (or doesn’t do) to address that brokenness.
as America needs to remain engaged in the world, Christians need to remain
engaged in the public square. God wants us to wrestle with these hard issues, to ponder them and pray
on them, to reason
together. This declaration about faith and
foreign policy is an invitation to do so.