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US Statecraft 'Inherently Theological'


As long as there is a United States, with its particularly religious history, its foreign policy will always be inherently theological, according to Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, USA.

Mohler, who describes himself as “a theologian with an interest in public policy and international relations,” told a gathering of scholars at the University of Texas (Austin) that American foreign policy, especially in the 20th Century, repeatedly revealed itself to be religious and theological in nature, despite the trend toward secularization of recent years. 

Placing US statecraft in the context of “moral man and immoral foreign policy,” Mohler (pictured) recalled the Spanish-American War (1898), which took place just prior to the US joining the world's great powers.  A remarkable justification for that brief war was then-President William McKinley’s goal to “Christianize the heathens” of the Philippines, one of Spain's colonies.  

While that statement shows hubris and glaring ignorance – the Philippines had been Christianized since Catholic Spain claimed the archipelago in 1521 – it was symbolic of the rising nation’s posture toward the international arena. 

Mohler remarked that McKinley's overtly evangelistic language is patently unacceptable to modern presidents, but the religious undertones of US foreign policy have remained consistent. 

As the US became an established world leader, American leaders generally hewed to the ideals of Christian Realism, a framework articulated by Reinhold Niebuhr in the wake of World War II, which loomed over the Cold War and on into the present era of American global military dominance.   In all that time, Mohler argues, US presidents have been dependably Christian in their religious affiliation, whether Baptist or Presbyterian or Episcopalian or Catholic. 

The basic tenets of Christian Realism are non-sectarian, according to Mohler, and include a rejection of utopia and pacifism, and a commitment to do good in the international arena, seasoned with a sober awareness that the desire to help sometimes also brings harm.

Ultimately, it is a very clear view of the insidious, toxic consequences of sin – in individuals and communities - that marks the Christian Realist.  At its best, Mohler believes this understanding of Christian Realism will “chasten” US leaders, forcing humility on them as they recognize their limitations and the chaos of unintended consequences.  

Mohler says that beginning in the 1970s, however, the modesty fell away. Conservative evangelicals’ “embarrassing American triumphalism” and secularists’ outright rejections of the influence of religion have trampled those Christian elements, leaving behind a naked political Realism. 

Mohler believes that while secularism has now decisively won the minds of US elites, it is still in foreign policy where he says the United States’ greatest theological achievements are found.   Mohler says the US’ deepening commitment to global religious freedom is his country’s most significant example of religious statecraft.

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