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"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Evangelical Influence in Foreign Affairs

By Gary Feuerberg
Oct 02, 2006
The Epoch Times

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.

In an article appearing in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs, Walter Russell Mead makes a cogent argument that Evangelicals are making a positive contribution to the nation's foreign policy. He feels they are reinvigorating a tired and often ineffective foreign policy with their "return to power." Mead reminds us that Evangelicals were the leading force in American politics in the 19th and early 20 centuries.

Walter Russell Mead, 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 for the article, fundamentalists have three characteristics: (1) a high view of biblical authority and not hesitant 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 as 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 nonreligious 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 the fundamentalism, but they are more open to the world, probably due to American optimism, which makes them that way.

"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, e.g., a United Nations, is bound to fail. Only Christ's return will enable the future to be bright.

At the same time, unlike the fundamentalist 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 nonbelievers 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, e.g., 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 number more than 16.3 million. The black churches have the next largest evangelical denominations.

Membership in mainline Protestant churches (e.g., Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ) has sharply dropped. Among the Protestant population, identification with mainline Protestantism dropped from 59% in 1988 to 46% in 2003, according to the Pew Research Center, which Mead cites. During the same period, identification with evangelicalism rose from 41% to 54% 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 skeptical State Department watched.

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

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