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What do evangelicals want from Trump on foreign policy?

President Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sentosa Island, on June 12, 2018, in Singapore. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(RNS) — President Trump met with an avowed enemy with great fanfare this week, following a blast of fiery tweets aimed at the Group of Seven nations meeting in Quebec last week. 

Meanwhile, halfway through his second year as president, Trump’s domestic agenda has largely run its course. 

Of all the voters that put Trump into the White House, the happiest bunch to this point might be evangelical Christians.

Name any of the administration’s achievements — the successful nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, say, or an executive order rolling back an Obamacare requirement for employers to insure women’s birth control coverage, or even last year’s massive tax cut —  and it is likely to be something on which evangelicals staked their vote for a thrice-married New York billionaire.

Now evangelical Protestants must come to terms with the truism that the American presidency, by design and by evolution, has more power and latitude in foreign relations than it does at home.

Certainly, there are lower court judicial appointments to be made and advantages to seek in further small-government rule-making. While he may get another shot at nominating a new justice, his legislative prospects are dim: The next speaker of the House, presuming he or she is a Republican, will surely be as hamstrung as the retiring Paul Ryan.

This political reality poses a provocative question for white evangelical Protestants, who went 81 percent for Trump in 2016. What do American evangelicals want out of foreign policy?

Evangelicals are so closely tied to culture-war issues like abortion and same-sex marriage that we forget to connect them to any international policy. Yet evangelicals do have an agenda for the rest of the world.

In its most hopeful and generous self-expression, an evangelical foreign policy prioritizes human dignity, government as a God-ordained protector of the communal order, responsibility for poor and vulnerable people and the imperative to protect human freedom.

During the George W. Bush administration, evangelicals urged the president to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa and fight human trafficking. While they had less influence in the Obama White House, an innovative ecumenical alliance called the Evangelical Immigration Table sought comprehensive immigration reform, adopting principles that most evangelicals affirmed.

Evangelicals have also cheered as the Obama administration, prompted by the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, has opposed blasphemy laws, advocated for prisoners of conscience and condemned human rights abuses. Established in 1998 under President Clinton, the commission has long had considerable support from evangelicals.

Yet American evangelicals lag behind the Catholic Church, their frequent partners on sexuality and gender issues, in thinking systematically about international relations. They are often slow to extend the religious freedom protections they demand for themselves to foreign groups. White evangelicals, for instance, largely supported Trump’s proposed temporary ban on Muslims from other countries entering the United States.

But more broadly, their overwhelming support for the president leads to incoherence on foreign affairs. Trump’s nativist rhetoric and policies should offend their values. His “America first” appeals are out of sync with an evangelical view of the rest of the globe as a mission field.

One sign of a growing maturity on these matters is a 2-year-old magazine, Providence, sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Democracy and the Philos Project, two Christian organizations funded by conservative donors.

Providence focuses on Christianity and American foreign policy, filling a gap left by what it considers liberal Protestants’ de facto pacifism and abdication from realistic engagement in issues of war and peace.

In its pages, experts such as Rebeccah Heinrichs and Walter Russell Mead debate military issues, human rights and the promotion of democracy. Recent articles examined “Protestant Roots of U.S. Foreign Policy Divisions” and “American Power and the Ways the World Ends.”

I asked Chelsen Vicari, evangelical program director at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, about how evangelicals’ foreign policy goals match with those of the Trump administration. She pointed to the high degree of consensus on religious freedom, while noting its lack on issues like trade and nuclear nonproliferation.

Even where evangelicals’ opinions differ, Vicari told me, they are motivated by a desire for human flourishing around the world.

Evangelicals share “the belief that every person is created in God’s image with dignity, loved by Him and in need of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ.” 

Which brings us back to Trump. Earlier this year, in a meeting with lawmakers on immigration issues, the president referred to certain poor nations with nonwhite populations as “shithole countries.”

If evangelicals are to embrace a more cohesive foreign policy, they will have to accept that some of Trump’s policies are as un-Christian as his manners. He may yet deliver them “wins” on foreign policy as he did on domestic issues, but it could come at a cost to their reputation, and the integrity of their witness.

(Jacob Lupfer, a frequent commentator on religion and politics, is a writer and consultant in Baltimore. His website is www.jacoblupfer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jlupf. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

About the author

Jacob Lupfer

A contributing editor at RNS, Jacob Lupfer is a writer and consultant in Baltimore. His website is www.jacoblupfer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jlupf. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.

20 Comments

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  • There is no (NO) “witness” which comes at a “cost to reputation and integrity” except an echo-chamber “witness” which resonates only (ONLY) within the brainwashed tribe. It is not possible to diss everything connected to actual human rights except so-called “religious freedom” (to perpetuate myths) and come out smelling like a rose to the rest of the world. The problem with Trumpism is not that Trump is a thrice-married billionaire. The problem is not that he was busy doing extra-marital women throughout his life, that his TV show was basically anti-social in its emphasis on firing people, or that Trump University was an out-and-out fraud. The PROBLEM is that he has told over three thousand lies since taking office and the crazy end of church defends them all. He is de facto head of Christian religion in the United States until further notice. It looks real bad abroad BECAUSE it actually is real bad here. There is no decent head of state anywhere on earth who is not privately asking “Where went America”?

  • They want a patriarch and bully to make them feel safe and cozy and secure. They don’t care how disastrously he runs things, or how inhuman his policies are toward the sick and and poor and stranger, as long as he talks tough and makes them feel powerful by proxy. And mainly, they want anti-abortion judges, and they don’t care what kind of vulgar, unfaithful, violent, dishonest thug they have to suck up to in order to get them. And the fun part is, these self-proclaimed servants of Christ still have the nerve to lecture people on morality!

  • Trump and evangelicals are two of America’s most odious and noxious diseases. Fortunately, both are in decline.

  • What do evangelicals want from Trump on foreign policy?
    To tick off Israel’s neighbors as to usher in Armageddon. “Faux” Armageddon that is.

  • Have the evangelicals that “believe every person is created in God’s image with dignity” condemned Trump head counsel Rudie Giuliani’s statement that Stormy Daniels is beneath “respect” because she’s a porn star?
    IMPORTANT NOTE: Don’t confuse what Stormy did with, for example, nude modeling alongside other women, or cameoing as yourself in softcore Playboy videos. The first makes you subhuman, the second two entitle you to be First Lady or President of the United States.

  • “If evangelicals are to embrace a more cohesive foreign policy, they will have to accept that some of Trump’s policies are as un-Christian as his manners. He may yet deliver them “wins” on foreign policy as he did on domestic issues, but it could come at a cost to their reputation, and the integrity of their witness.”

    Some of President Trump’s statements do sound rather un-Christian. However, we should judge his actions more strongly, and his latest bold move of going to meet with Kim Jong Un was, to me, a very Christian act. I believe it was a sincere attempt to bring peace to that region of the world. Let’s not forget that Christ was often, himself, called “The Prince of Peace.”

    Naysayers, of course, think that it was just political window dressing, but in addition to taking a big risk of failure, it took some real humility from someone like Donald Trump, to lower himself to such a level that allowed the North Korean dictator to appear to be his equal in front of the North Korean people. That’s a level of humility that no recent president has ever shown. Instead, they’ve chosen to put themselves far above this leader, who possesses nuclear weapons and threatens war with the US.

    And humility is, indeed, a Christian virtue.

  • “Some of President Trump’s statements do sound rather un-Christian.
    However, we should judge his actions more strongly, and his latest bold
    move of going to meet with Kim Jong Un was, to me, a very Christian act.”

    Sorry Buddy, but a person who spent the last two years talking trash about how bad prior diplomatic agreements were and how he was such a great negotiator doesn’t get a “participation trophy” for making a lazy, half baked effort to no tangible effect.

    Worse still, if a Democrat political leader acted the same way and had the same results, conservatives would be up in arms and screaming at the top of their lungs in anger.

    No you he doesn’t get credit for doing what the last 11 presidents would have considered a “bonehead play” too ridiculous to consider.

  • So you consider Barak Obama’s giving away the farm to get a flimsy agreement with the Iranians, to buy him some kind of legacy for his presidency, a GOOD diplomatic agreement, Spuddled-in-your-pants?!

    If a “Democrat political leader acted the same way,” we wouldn’t even know about it. The liberal media would have covered things up for him. Why do you think it has taken honest, uhbiased journalists so long to find out all the stuff Obama gave away at the expense of patriotic Americans? The liberal media covered everything up for him, of course.

    I believe there’s much more substance to the negotiations that President Trump has undertaken with North Koreas’s Kim Jong Un. And I believe President Trump will finally get us some fair trade agreements so America can stop subsidizing the economies of China and the European Union, like we’ve done for so long in the past.

    President Trump is a real negotiator, with skills well honed in the business world. Obama started out as a community organizer, then became an adjunct law professor, teaching ONE class about voting rights. No wonder he didn’t/doesn’t have good negotiating skills, and has to give away a huge amount of stuff to try and buy a name for himself. We’re getting a better idea of just how puny his negotiating skills are, as honest journalist learn more about his largess at the American people’s expense.

    Wise up, dude! Your Trump-hating, Democrat biases are showing, big-time here!

  • You are wildly misinformed and supporting an incompetent.

    If you think Obama was “giving away the store” you were not keeping yourself informed of the facts here. The Iran deal actually resulted in the US taking virtually all of Iran’s very expensive and difficult enriched uranium. Iran was complying with the agreement and dismantling its equipment. The Iran nuclear program was largely a bluff by the time Obama took office. The bluff was called and an international incident and pretext for conflict was defused.

    Trump being a trash talking fool, by abrogating it WITHOUT EVEN ATTEMPTING A RENEGOTIATION just enabled Iran to resume efforts with impunity out in the open. Essentially for them to try to manufacture international incidents and conflicts for its own sake.

    “I believe there’s much more substance to the negotiations that President Trump has undertaken with North Koreas’s Kim Jong Un.”

    You are mistaken there too. The real negotiations were done months ago with China and both Koreas without any US presence. The Singapore meeting only served to bolster Kim Jong and make Trump look like a bigger fool. Don’t even pretend the detainee release was significant. Presidents have been paying off North Korea for such releases for decades. Its standard operating procedure, not an act of skilled negotiation.

    Do you honestly think anything can be done on the Korean peninsula without China and SK’s direct input? Of course not. They are plotting their own course and kiddie tabling the incompetent belligerent in the White House. Again, pretending a participation trophy is an award for championship. Especially after the trash talk Trump made about prior effort. Give me a break. The best way Trump could achieve peace there is by staying away. South Korea has already made that clear.

    “President Trump is a real negotiator, with skills well honed in the business world.”

    Also a ridiculous assertion.

    Trump is the classic “born on 3rd base and brags like he hit a triple”. He inherited his money and has been slowly squandering it ever since. His skills as a negotiator are notoriously crap. (See his effort to buy an NFL team). He burns his own investors and partners and bails out when management is required. He abuses legal process to avoid paying people for their work. As a business leader, the man is not fit to wipe Warren Buffet’s behind after Berkshire Hathaway’s annual chili cook-off.

    If you want to see an example of his incompetence just take a walk down the Boardwalk in Atlantic City and see the myriad of crumbling and closed casinos which bore his name. Whatever red state you came from, you really don’t know much about the guy besides what his PR team has told you. Donald Trump is a local boy for me. His antics and his trail of failed ventures have been well known for people in the NY Metro area for decades.

    Face it, you are either a complete dupe or someone dishonestly rattling off canned talking points. You have no connection to reality or facts at all.

  • My, that was a quick turn-around, responding to my well-thought-out message! Do you have tons of boilerplate of this crap on your computer, to spew forth when someone disagrees with your “highly enlightened opinions?! RNS even had to hide at least half of your rantings here, and if we wanted to read the rest, we had us hit the button, “to read more!”

    Talk about canned talking points, you sure demonstrated yours here! I stand by everything I’ve said here!

  • You didn’t give a well thought out message. You gave me PR and apologia. You were flat out wrong on important facts and made assertions which have no basis in reality. Take your tone trolling and shove it.

    As I said, someone who talks trash about predecessors has a duty to outdo their efforts if they want to be taken seriously.

    Trump is [email protected]$$ing it when it comes to foreign affairs and yet expects to be treated like those who make actual and substantive efforts in that regard. Laziness to say the least.

    Nope. He doesn’t deserve a break here. He brought that on himself.

    In the end you are not addressing what was said and are playing avoidance games. Since you didn’t bother to read my prior post, I will break it down to you in nice digestible terms:

    1. Trump was a terrible negotiator in business and his failures are legion
    2. He is completely out of his depth in foreign policy yet talks trash about doing a better job
    3. He is lazy and makes little effort there
    4. He does not get to be praised for doing substandard work after all his boasting.

  • How does “nude modeling alongside other women”make you subhuman — or, in the alternative, who says that it does?

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