Posted by: austind90 | January 8, 2012

Christians on Foreign Policy?

Recently, Alex Marshall and I had a Twitter discussion after I posted a comment in a book I am currently reading of foreign policy: Negotiation, reason, & discussion are sufficient to overcome global threats. War disqualifies itself as a way to end international conflicts. (American Foreign Policy: Past, Present, & Future-Glenn P. Hastedt) The tweet was sent and Alex soon pressed me on it. We both agreed this would be a good discussion for this forum.

How should the Church engage and influence American foreign policy? What is the Church’s role when it comes to war-efforts overseas? Does Scripture give us principles to guide our beliefs and ideas concerning governmental efforts in other countries (dignity of life, just war ideas, genocidal cleansings of the OT, etc.)? Looking at our country as a whole, there seems to be evangelicals on both sides on issues such as those listed: Wayne Grudem writing a book like Politics According to the Bible which has a “conservative” outlook in contrast to someone like Jim Wallis who writes God’s Politics which has a more “liberal” outlook. Yet, in the South, it seems to be a true assumption that evangelicals tend to support our government’s war efforts and our country’s militarism abroad (obviously this is based upon my reflection and experience with various Christians in my own setting). Should this be so? Should the Church stand as the prophet and denounce the government’s use of war or military efforts overseas or submit to the authority that God has placed in power (Rom. 13:1-7)?

I think there are three positions to take on foreign policy: interventionist, non-interventionist, and isolationist. Interventionists are those who see America as having a global responsibility to prevent and punish evil outside of their borders and promote the good of other nations militarily, financially, and diplomatically. Non-interventionists avoid wars that are not related to direct self-defense. This is based on the respect for principles of state sovereignty, allowing nations to govern themselves as they choose. Isolationism is a foreign policy in which a country abstains from all alliances with other nations, applies strong limitations on foreign trade and maintains a virtually anti-immigration policy. Various presidents have been supporters of one of the three foreign policy positions adding legitimacy to the fact that all three are valid American positions (Bush and Wilson being interventionists, Taft and Monroe being non-interventionists, and Washington, Jefferson, and Adams being isolationists).

I will reveal my cards to start the discussion.  I am a non-interventionist that would allow special cases for military interventions. Non-interventionists would generally support the following:

  • Use our military for national defense & not world policing.
  • As with everything else, do not spend it if you can’t pay for it. That includes nation building & world policing.
  • Wars are not to be entered into lightly. No pre-emptive strikes & only go in with a clear objective & congressional approval.
  • Do your best to trade with countries, rather than fight with them.
  • The Golden Rule: We would not want others interfering in our leadership, setting up bases on our soil or occupying our lands. We don’t need to do the same to them.

When should our government get involved? I would want the special case to meet certain qualifications: if it furthered our national defense, if we had the financial ability, if we had the American people’s general consent through either electoral accountability (politicians letting their constituency know what they would do in foreign affairs) or some sort of polling of the public , if all diplomatic avenues have failed, if there were clear-cut lines drawn about who is right and who is wrong within the struggle, and if the right side sought our help after maybe not being about to get help from the U.N. It would at least have to meet some of those requirements. What are your thoughts? I hope this will be a worthy topic for discussion.



  1. Good post, Austin!

    I have two concerns about “non-interventionism.” First let me say that I think the Christian faith pushes us toward the goal of promoting peace. So if peaceful solutions exist, I think they are certainly the most desirable solution to choose in a conflict. However, I’m not a “committed pacifist” because I’m not sure that peaceful solutions are always possible or viable. (This is not necessarily to cast you as a pacifist, I’m not sure if you would take that label, but just to provide a little bit of background for where I’m coming from).

    My first problem with non-interventionism is that I fear it can turn into complicity in acts of injustice and violence. There is a famous moral dilemma of seeing someone drowning in a pond while walking to work. You have the ability to save the drowning individual, but it is of some inconvenience to you (involves jumping into the water in a business suit, will probably make you late for work). Are you morally obligated to help? Are you in some way complicit in the person’s drowning if you don’t help? Now obviously the second question is far more complicated and difficult to prove. But on the level of foreign policy, I think there is an analogy. In situations where a group of people are being slaughtered by another (I’m thinking genocide in Rwanda as an example) and the international community has the ability to put a stop to it at relatively little cost to them, does the international community have an obligation to intervene? By not intervening, is the moral community implicitly condoning the acts of violence? By not intervening we are certainly allowing the violence to continue (I think in most of these kinds of situations it seems pretty apparent that the aggressor will not stop unless they are forced to). Does that “allowing” turn into an implicit condoning? I suspect that it may, would be interested to hear what you think.

    My second problem with non-interventionism is related to the first. I think non-interventionism, by focusing on avoiding military engagements and preserving trade relations, makes the goal of our foreign policy making money and not preserving peace, a goal which I think is morally dubious. I actually think that promoting trade relations is one of the best ways to “open” countries up to freedom and democracy, which in turn promotes peace. However, in a situation where injustice and violence are being actively perpetrated by a government, I’m worried about the moral implications. Is it right for American companies to profit from injustices abroad? I’m not sure the argument that “its none of our business” works for getting us out of this.

  2. I think I agree with Alex’s points, but to take one of his questions even further, he said:

    “But on the level of foreign policy, I think there is an analogy. In situations where a group of people are being slaughtered by another (I’m thinking genocide in Rwanda as an example) and the international community has the ability to put a stop to it at relatively little cost to them, does the international community have an obligation to intervene?”

    To this I would merely add with an amen, even if the cost was great!

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