Love, War, and Peace: Christians and Foreign Policy

The 2012 presidential election is in full swing. The Republicans have lined up to vote for whomever they think shares their values and will beat Barack Obama. There is a large segment of the Republican base known as social conservatives and the “Religious Right.” Often these Christian voters focus on issues like abortion, gay marriage, prayer in schools, etc. However, Christians should also focus on more foreign policy issues, like war and peace, international development, and conflict zones.

Christian ethics necessarily means that they have to reject certain international relations concepts, like realism and isolationism. Realism holds that all that matters are power and security; morals and ideals take a back seat. States may act however they wish as long as their strategic objectives are achieved. The three most famous proponents of this theory are Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Kissinger. Machiavelli famously quipped, “Those cruelties we may say are well employed, if it be permitted to speak well of things evil, which are done once for all under the necessity of self-preservation.” Hobbes believed in a war of all against all, and Kissinger applied these principles to his work as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. These principles go against the teachings of Christ and the Bible, wherein reciprocation and ethical behavior is commanded.  Jesus said, “Do unto others as you have them do unto you,” and “These things I command you, that you love one another.”

Texas Rep. Ron Paul

Isolationism is equally un-Christian because it calls for national withdrawal from the international arena. It is true that there are two kinds of isolationism, economic and non-interventionism. Isolationists today do not usually go the route of economic protectionism, but the policies of libertarians, like Ron Paul, do call for a non-interventionism that is distinctly un-Biblical. Jesus called for his followers to engage the world whenever and wherever they could.

This begs the question: how should Christians look at foreign policy? Historically, the Church has used the “Just War” doctrine, originally articulated by St. Augustine of Hippo, as a lens to look at the world. Just War holds that sometimes an act of war is necessary and is in fact an act of love. Caritas, which is often translated as charity, is the theological concept of neighborly love. And how do we express neighborly love in foreign policy?  It comes in two fashions, either by using military force or through developmental aid.

Many think that military actions are incompatible with Christian values, but this is far from the case. Military intervention is not only appropriate, but preferred in certain circumstances. The first is self-defense; states are called to defend their citizenry from outside attacks and provide them security. People often propound World War II as the moral paradigm of self-defense. Everyone knows that Germany and Japan’s imperialist aggression led them to invade Europe and attack the United States. The Allies had a moral responsibility to protect their people from the enemy. Jesus represented this belief when he said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

The other form of military intervention allowed with Just War theory is to avert or stop genocide and acts of mass murder: humanitarian intervention. States that are able to help should interdict to stop atrocities from occurring. A few examples exist in history of the US and others doing this, but many cases come to mind where the great powers did not respond. One of the most egregious cases was Rwanda. There, a minority of Hutus went on a killing spree against their Tutsi neighbors. As many as 800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered by being hacked to death with machetes, sometimes even students who were sitting in their seats at school. This is the perfect example of when a power should intervene for humanitarian reasons.

Developmental aid also expresses the neighborly love Christians are supposed to have. St. James wrote in his epistle that “[r]eligion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Many people cite the fact that about one third of the world lives on less than $2 per day. Much of the world is in desperate need of development, and the industrial world has enough money to support them. There are a plethora of projects throughout the world that give relief to poverty stricken areas. Take USAID’s (United States Agency fr International Development) operations in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. The government agency distributed food to 3.5 million people, provided emergency shelter to 1.5 million people, and vaccinated 1 million people in the aftermath of the earthquake. These efforts were essential in mitigating the catastrophic effects of the earthquake.

Christians need to seriously consider these issues, and they should support candidates who follow their values. Those who profess Christ as their savior need to keep caritas, neighborly love, at the center of any policy discussion. God commands throughout the Bible to take care of your fellow man, whether it was a mitzvah in the Torah or Jesus’s parable on the Good Samaritan. Christian voters need to evaluate the foreign policy objectives of politicians based on Biblical ethics and apply that standard to issues in international relations rather than focusing solely on social issues.

Treston Wheat // Georgetown University // @TrestonWheat



  1. “God helps those who first help themselves.” If we don’t fix our economy and the dollar all this foreign aid is going to come to an end eventually. I consider myself a good Christian but I get disgusted when people quote Bible Scripture to suit their own agenda. You can take many passages in the Bible to and use them in a perverse way to suit any situation. First of all stop it. Our foreign policy has gotten way out of hand and I doubt bombing bad guys and killing innocents (calling them collateral damage) is justified under Christianity. The Church used perverse methods during the Crusades and killing untold amounts of people and still lost Jerusalem. WWJD, “Turn the other Cheek”? Mathew 5:39, “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” New Testament not the Old Testament. If you are so HELL bent on going to war or fighting in an unjustified conflict for someone else’s agenda based on false intelligence I suggest you step up to the front of the line after you have joined the Armed Forces. Put ACTION to your MOUTH. PRACTICE what you PREACH, etc.

  2. I think the New Testament is clear that Christians are to give, but directly rather than through the paws of government bureaucrats. Americans are generous. Christian missionary organizations are much more efficient in using our money than any government program that has ever existed.

  3. I agree with @gmmtnman. A friend recommended a book on that, and I wish I could remember what it was called. Here’s a verse that I think illustrates the point:

    Mark 7:9-13
    9 And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.” 11 But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), 12 then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

    I also just took Contemporary Christian Ethics at my university. My professor held that charity made people “feel” bad, so it’s better to pay higher taxes and let the government do the charity work anonymously. But that’s a little bit like taking care of your parents with your tithe—it doesn’t require any extra giving on your part.

    Thanks for writing such a well-thought out article. I really enjoyed it.

  4. I have a few issues with this post. First of all, in a free society, the church and the state should be sepearated. This isn’t to say that the state shouldn’t be influenced by Christian ethics and that it doesn’t have a responsibility to behave morally, but the state is not an organ of the church and Christians should not expect the gov’t to do the church’s bidding just as they shouldn’t expect the church to do the gov’ts bidding. Bottomline, the state is not a Christian entity.
    Also, massive government and international foreign aid programs are terrible policies. A good read about this is Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid. There is strong evidence to support that foreign aid is one of the biggest factors holding back third world development. Not surprising considering foreign aid is by its nature of the leftist persuasion. For me, this is a moral issue. Bad Western policies that steal dignity and hinder progress from the third world should not be encouraged. There are much more sensible and practicle solutions to development issues. Also you said, “Much of the world is in desperate need of development, and the industrial world has enough money to support them.” That is a dangerous sentence, my friend. That exact sentence is what the leftist say in order to lobby for their terrble policies. The West cannot “support” development into being a reality and paying for it is not the answer. The onus for third world development has to be with the third world for their to be progress.
    Lastly, intervention based on humanitarian reasons can turn into a sticky situation. Obama’s Libya intervention is a great example of this. Europe and the U.S. went in under the guise of humanitarians in order to save the surrounded rebels assuming that the regime could not survive under that much pressure. But Qaddafi did…for quite a while. U.S. military action should be used to further U.S. national objectives and to defend U.S. national interests only. Now I’m a huge proponent of having a ridiculously strong military and the ability to export violence on various scales at anytime, anywhere around the world. I mean, just typing that sentence made me skin tingle, but we shouldn’t be the world police even if we have the ability to be. If anyone should feel guilty for Rwanda, it should be Europe, particularly France. They introduced ethnic divisions into that country and they only intervened after it was far too late. My point is that not every problem is an American problem.

  5. An interesting post to say the least. We, as Christians should follow what the Bible commands when it comes to government, etc. Yes we are supposed to help the needy, but the government is not the institution to channel that assistence through. Yes we should not isolate ourselves, but we should also not give out money to every needy country that desires it. If they truly need it then let private charities take care of that need.

    Furthermore, preventing heinous genocides is an action the entire nation community should deal with. However, it should be dealt with in reason. Ron Paul has said that he would not have intervened in WWII only for the moral reason to save the Jews being exterminated in Germany. I believe that is a totally immoral position and that Ron Paul is wrong for saying that.

  6. I’m confused. We entered WWII in December, 1941, so we were already engaged in war; we also began the Lend/Lease Program (law signed March 11, 1941) before that which effectively ended our neutrality in the war.
    My point being how could we have stopped the extermination of the Jews? Is it not true that it was not widely known and understood to have happened until after the war was over? Plus I don’t understand how Paul’s saying he would have tried to stop the killing of the Jews is an immoral position.
    And yes, I too thought the article was extremely well-written. But to Kyle, I ask, what are you quoting with this: “God helps those who first help themselves.” It’s not in the Bible. Just one more thing: when you quote Matthew 5:39, you need to understand who Jesus was addressing. It was His disciples, who were about to go out into the world and spread the Gospel. He was not speaking to all of us. To His disciples He was trying to prepare them for what was to soon happen to them. As you may well know, some were skinned alive for their beliefs and actions.
    Christians are not second-rate citizens and should not be expected to take a back seat to anyone. We are expected to defend ourselves. Psalms makes this very clear:
    Ps:35:1: Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me.
    Ps:144:1: Blessed be the Lord my strength which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight:
    Ps:144:2: My goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust; who subdueth my people under me.
    I agree many people quote the Bible out of context, and for their own personal agendas. I hope you don’t think I am guilty of these actions. I love the Bible, and would rather quote from it than any other source. Unless one can scan the whole Book at once, it’s kinda hard not to just cite certain Verses. In many cases I like to at least include several Verses around the subject one, even the whole Chapter if it’s relevant.

  7. Don Freeman says:

    Engaging the world, as a Christian, does not mean going to war. I’m amazed, and sickened, that militarism seems to be wearing a cloak of Christianity for many conservative Christians. You need to rethink that.

    Ron Paul is the only genuine Constitutionalist in the race, yet he gets little love from so many so called conservatives. Why? Because he doesn’t want to use the military as the primary agent of foreign policy. Conservatism had gone mad.

    I suggest you read, “Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedom” by Ron Paul, and stop being a warmonger.


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