A Christian Declaration on American Foreign Policy aims to equip American Christians with principles rooted in our faith about our country’s moral responsibilities in the world at this unique time in history
The summer issue of Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy has recently begun to circulate. Releasing quarterly in print, this latest issue is Providence’s fourth and continues the journal’s mission to bring the Christian intellectual history to bear on matters of foreign relations, national security, war, ethics, political philosophy, and the like. Present at its birth, Providence attracted me through its commitment to push back against various inclinations in the West, including and especially the Christian West, toward pacifism, neo-isolationism, cynical realism, and indiscriminate, knee-jerk anti-Israelism.
Providence positions itself in the Augustinian camp of the Christian realist tradition. As such, it is grounded in the basic assumption that a Christian political ethic is necessarily an ethic of responsibility. We take for granted that those who love God are bound to love what He loves. So we love the world, if for no other reason, because history proves that He loves the world. To love something means you desire to see it flourish. However, if nothing else does, 20th century history informs us that things in this world do not tend to flourish on their own. They often have to be helped to. So human beings who love the world that God loves have been called by Him to share in His providence—called to mirror His protective care in and for the world. This is what I take to be the core of that declaration in Genesis in which God proclaims, “Let us make mankind in our image.” The most basic interpretation of this is found by what immediately follows: “Let us make mankind in our image and let him have dominion over all the fish of the sea, the bids of the sky…and over all the earth.” We are made to exercise dominion—care—over all creation. It is a delegated responsibility in history for the conditions of history.
Of course, this is not to be taken to mean that history finally depends on us. Our responsibility is neither final nor ultimate but rather something more modest. We are to resist evil, to do no harm, and to help where we can. This modest responsibility, moreover, is not simply individual but corporate. In the thirteenth chapter of his letter to the church in Rome, Paul attests that God has delegated to the governing powers of this world the same, indeed primary, responsibility to preserve the justice, order, and peace of the political community over which it rules. Of course, if nothing else does, then the 20th century, once again, informs us of the horrors that result when governments grasp for some sort of ultimate role in history. A government’s power must be informed not simply by responsibility but by limits as well. Precisely how responsibility and limits relate to one another when dealing with real world crises has always been tricky to discern.
In the Providence summer issue’s feature essay, “A Christian Declaration on American Foreign Policy”, the editors take a stab at thinking the matter through. Regarding the feature, Providence co-publisher and IRD president Mark Tooley observes, “Christians more than ever need thoughtful counsel rooted in historic church teaching about God’s purpose for government. The Declaration aims to equip American Christians with principles rooted in our faith about our country’s moral responsibilities in the world at this unique time in history.”
Articulating a baseline Christian approach to foreign policy, the Declaration begins by setting the present context. America, long ambivalent about its place in the world, has in many present locations come to embrace a character marked by a paradoxical combination of implacable hardness toward her enemies and withdrawal from the world leadership. Advocating instead a commitment to American leadership marked by prudence and virtue in the exercise of power abroad, the core of the Declaration consists of two short sections on world order and America’s role in it. These are followed by discussion regarding human nature, reflection on the relationship of the state and the church, including as it touches on religious liberty, and by examination of the use of force. The Declaration concludes with a consideration of what’s at stake in getting all this right.
America, uniquely among the nations, has been granted unprecedented power, wealth, and political rights. Because of this, America also has an unprecedented responsibility to use them wisely, not simply for her own good but for the wellbeing of ordered liberty across the globe. For the past eight years, America has at many points abdicated this responsibility, abandoning its historic role as guarantor of international peace and security, even as dangers close in on us, our allies, and the community of nations of goodwill. As Providence’s second co-publisher and Philos Project president Robert Nicholson asserts, “Thoughtful Christians who take seriously the roles assigned by God to the church and the state, and who value the equal importance of justice and mercy, should not be silent in the face of this shift. We believe it is our responsibility to speak out at this time in order to provide a much-needed corrective to the current polarization of foreign policy views.”
If you’re interested in hearing more, Providence is hosting a public launch to discuss the declaration, to be held at Washington DC’s Mayflower Hotel at 6:30 PM on September 27th. Main Speakers include three of the declaration’s signatories, including the document’s primary drafter and Providence contributing editor Paul Miller, of the University of Texas at Austin’s Clements Center; former National Security Council Staffer and CEO of Applied Grand Strategies Mary Habeck; and John Owen, the Taylor Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia. More information and the opportunity to RSVP can be found here.