When government embraces religion

A speaker at the National Press Club called for making religion central to our foreign policy. He made a lot of sense at first, but then fell off the deep end:

The best way to address Jihadist terrorism is to make religion a central component of American foreign policy, according to Douglas Johnston, an expert on foreign policy and religion, who spoke at the National Press Club on June 23.

“We’re dealing with symptoms and not the real cause,” Johnston said in a critique of current U.S. policy. “And that’s the problem.”

The International Correspondents Committee hosted the event to coincide with the launch of Johnston’s new book, “Religion, Terror, and Error: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Challenge of Spiritual Engagement.”

The book argues that what is required today is a longer-term strategy of cultural and religious interaction, backed by a deeper understanding of how others, especially the Muslims, view the world and what is important to them.

As a first step, the State Department must immediately appoint religion officers at its embassies overseas, just like the military attaches, according to Johnston. They must be given a prominent role with clear-cut policy directives based on the fundamental American principle of tolerance and accommodation with other religions.

In this context, he suggested the experiment should begin at home with American Muslims. He lamented the fact that they feel alienated and shunned.

“It’s a shame that we’ve failed to embrace them wholeheartedly,” Johnston said.

As a first step, he said efforts should be made to arrange for Imams of mosques in America to deliver sermons at churches, and pastors should go to mosques to talk about their religion.

Johnston, who runs the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy in Washington, added that the whole approach should demonstrate the essence of what he called “organic suasion,” meaning “change and healing from within.”

He also advocated spreading Madrassa education with emphasis on critical thinking.

“We’ve got very positive results through our projects in Pakistan and how it can change the attitude of Madrassa students,” said Johnston, a former Naval officer and veteran of the intelligence community who holds a Ph.D. in political Science from Harvard.

Most of the panelists essentially agreed with Johnston’s premise, saying religion should take center stage, rather than a back seat, in the formulation of American foreign policy.

Arrange for Muslims to preach in Christian churches, and vice versa?  The government would arrange that, as a “first step”?  Surely it would be better for the government to keep religion in the back seat–or even persecute it–than to give it “center stage” in an inevitably syncretistic civil religion.

via Johnston: To counter Jihadists, put religion at center of foreign policy | The National Press Club.

HT:  Aaron Lewis

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    In reality, what you have here is a person who doesn’t understand religion telling others they need to understand religion. He has hit upon a very important note. However, he has failed to grasp his advice and apply it to his own life.
    And that perhaps is the biggest weakness the west has today, we understand not our own culture, but we seek of necessity to change others. He’s right, we need to start addressing the causes, and not the symptoms. I think some of that needs to start at home.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    In reality, what you have here is a person who doesn’t understand religion telling others they need to understand religion. He has hit upon a very important note. However, he has failed to grasp his advice and apply it to his own life.
    And that perhaps is the biggest weakness the west has today, we understand not our own culture, but we seek of necessity to change others. He’s right, we need to start addressing the causes, and not the symptoms. I think some of that needs to start at home.

  • Dennis Peskey

    The mission of ICRD is to address identity-based conflicts that exceed the reach of traditional diplomacy by incorporating religion as part of the solution.
    What are the qualifications required (if any) to obtain a Ph.D. from Harvard? Perhaps a better question would be are there any qualifications required to obtain a Ph.D. from Harvard.

    Upon reading the mission statement of the ICRD, I suffered a flash-back from Vietnam. No, not combat related but reality related. What immediately came to mind was David Halverstam’s The Best and the Brightest. It’s deja vu all over again (or the Lutheran perspective – kyrie eleison).

    This man exhibits a frightening deficiency of knowledge relative to his field of “expertise” not only in religious beliefs but constitutionally and in international politics. If he represents our best hope for peace – well, our only prayer is maranatha. Rest assured, as I draw breath, there will be no iman preaching from our pulpit. Johnston should consider how the jihadists accended to center stage in our current global environment. My suggestion would be for him to read the Koran – then try reading the Bible. He might actually learn something like darkness and light do not mix well.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Dennis Peskey

    The mission of ICRD is to address identity-based conflicts that exceed the reach of traditional diplomacy by incorporating religion as part of the solution.
    What are the qualifications required (if any) to obtain a Ph.D. from Harvard? Perhaps a better question would be are there any qualifications required to obtain a Ph.D. from Harvard.

    Upon reading the mission statement of the ICRD, I suffered a flash-back from Vietnam. No, not combat related but reality related. What immediately came to mind was David Halverstam’s The Best and the Brightest. It’s deja vu all over again (or the Lutheran perspective – kyrie eleison).

    This man exhibits a frightening deficiency of knowledge relative to his field of “expertise” not only in religious beliefs but constitutionally and in international politics. If he represents our best hope for peace – well, our only prayer is maranatha. Rest assured, as I draw breath, there will be no iman preaching from our pulpit. Johnston should consider how the jihadists accended to center stage in our current global environment. My suggestion would be for him to read the Koran – then try reading the Bible. He might actually learn something like darkness and light do not mix well.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Kirk

    I think we might be throwing out the baby with the bathwater here. I agree that the government couldn’t possibly “require” churches to host imams or Mosques to host pastors, but I don’t think it’d be a terrible thing to have a little more interfaith dialogue (sorry for the terrible hippy buzzword).

    Coming at this from the perspective of a white Protestant, the only expositions on Islam that I’ve heard are from other white Protestants. Generally, my opinion of these is that they’re un-nuanced strawmen designed to show the superiority of Christianity over Islam. Perhaps, if we actually are interested in learning about Muslims, it’d be beneficial to learn from the religion’s actual practitioners. This could be useful from a national and international policy perspective, from a purely academic perspective, and from the perspective of people that genuinely want to love and understand our neighbors.

    I’m not sure how Christianity is presented by Muslims to other Muslims, but I’m guessing that it’s a similar deal to what we hear from other Christians.

    Should the government be mandating any of this? No, I don’t think so, but promoting understanding seems like a good suggestion to me.

  • Kirk

    I think we might be throwing out the baby with the bathwater here. I agree that the government couldn’t possibly “require” churches to host imams or Mosques to host pastors, but I don’t think it’d be a terrible thing to have a little more interfaith dialogue (sorry for the terrible hippy buzzword).

    Coming at this from the perspective of a white Protestant, the only expositions on Islam that I’ve heard are from other white Protestants. Generally, my opinion of these is that they’re un-nuanced strawmen designed to show the superiority of Christianity over Islam. Perhaps, if we actually are interested in learning about Muslims, it’d be beneficial to learn from the religion’s actual practitioners. This could be useful from a national and international policy perspective, from a purely academic perspective, and from the perspective of people that genuinely want to love and understand our neighbors.

    I’m not sure how Christianity is presented by Muslims to other Muslims, but I’m guessing that it’s a similar deal to what we hear from other Christians.

    Should the government be mandating any of this? No, I don’t think so, but promoting understanding seems like a good suggestion to me.

  • Carl Vehse

    “So well is the helplessness of preachers who have discarded the Gospel of Jesus Christ that the Federal Government is now stepping in and is supplying the preacher with texts, topics, and sermon outlines. The U.S. Department of Labor from its Bureau of Naturalization last year sent out a letter requesting the cooperation of Lutheran church-papers for the establishment of July 2, 1916, as Citizenship Sunday. On that Sunday sermons were to be preached on Citizenship as part of the movement for the ‘education and betterment of the resident foreign body in this country’…

    “However we do not blame the Government for coming to the aid of ministers with such schemes as the naturalization propaganda. There is such general confusion regarding the function of the ministerial office, because the clergy has become a meddler in every form of social, intellectual, and political activity, that our Department of Labor may be forgiven for believing that the Lutheran ministry, too, will welcome Naturalization Sunday as a means of supplying a sermon topic which may hold the dwindling July audiences.

    “And now we had Liberty Loan Sunday. The Treasury Department issued a set of sermon outlines May 23 which the preachers were to select from for their discourse on Sunday, June 3… But what does this bond issue to do with the Christian pulpit? Is the Chuch of God a house of merchandise? Does it come within the function of the American Government to suggest texts and sermon outlines – there are five in the circular before us – to Christian preachers? Does it not argue a fundamental misconception of the purpose which the Christian Church is to serve that it is called upon to cooperate in a financial campaign?

    – Excerpted from The Lutheran Witness, Vol. XXXVI, No. 12, June 12, 1917, p. 182.

  • Carl Vehse

    “So well is the helplessness of preachers who have discarded the Gospel of Jesus Christ that the Federal Government is now stepping in and is supplying the preacher with texts, topics, and sermon outlines. The U.S. Department of Labor from its Bureau of Naturalization last year sent out a letter requesting the cooperation of Lutheran church-papers for the establishment of July 2, 1916, as Citizenship Sunday. On that Sunday sermons were to be preached on Citizenship as part of the movement for the ‘education and betterment of the resident foreign body in this country’…

    “However we do not blame the Government for coming to the aid of ministers with such schemes as the naturalization propaganda. There is such general confusion regarding the function of the ministerial office, because the clergy has become a meddler in every form of social, intellectual, and political activity, that our Department of Labor may be forgiven for believing that the Lutheran ministry, too, will welcome Naturalization Sunday as a means of supplying a sermon topic which may hold the dwindling July audiences.

    “And now we had Liberty Loan Sunday. The Treasury Department issued a set of sermon outlines May 23 which the preachers were to select from for their discourse on Sunday, June 3… But what does this bond issue to do with the Christian pulpit? Is the Chuch of God a house of merchandise? Does it come within the function of the American Government to suggest texts and sermon outlines – there are five in the circular before us – to Christian preachers? Does it not argue a fundamental misconception of the purpose which the Christian Church is to serve that it is called upon to cooperate in a financial campaign?

    – Excerpted from The Lutheran Witness, Vol. XXXVI, No. 12, June 12, 1917, p. 182.

  • CRB

    Bror,
    Your comment, “we understand not our own culture, but we seek of necessity to change others.” reminds me of a quote by T.S. Eliot:
    “The world is trying the expeiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail, but we must be very patient in awaiting it’s collapse, meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the world from suicide.” from “Thoughts after Lambeth”

  • CRB

    Bror,
    Your comment, “we understand not our own culture, but we seek of necessity to change others.” reminds me of a quote by T.S. Eliot:
    “The world is trying the expeiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail, but we must be very patient in awaiting it’s collapse, meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the world from suicide.” from “Thoughts after Lambeth”

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    I find it deliciously ironic that his proposal illustrates his main point. They don’t understand religion. It is one thing to have advisors and ambassadors who understand the indigenous culture, it is another to suggest that we open our places of worship to people of other religions.

    @#3 As somebody who researches cults and other religions for fun (yes, you may call me weird), I recommend delving into their writings. Usually, you can get an idea who their influential thinkers are then you can go read their beliefs from the source. Admittedly, it is harder with Islam because of their insistence on Arabic and the complete lack of an established clergy. Makes it harder to discern who the hacks ala Osteen are.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    I find it deliciously ironic that his proposal illustrates his main point. They don’t understand religion. It is one thing to have advisors and ambassadors who understand the indigenous culture, it is another to suggest that we open our places of worship to people of other religions.

    @#3 As somebody who researches cults and other religions for fun (yes, you may call me weird), I recommend delving into their writings. Usually, you can get an idea who their influential thinkers are then you can go read their beliefs from the source. Admittedly, it is harder with Islam because of their insistence on Arabic and the complete lack of an established clergy. Makes it harder to discern who the hacks ala Osteen are.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    The ruling class of the West, sees Islam as a tool to weaken the Christian Church.
    Islam, sees the ruling class of the West as a naïve tool to facilitate the Islamization of Europe and America.
    We, in the Church, whose fate is being planned, have no input, except for being cynically used by politicians every election cycle.
    The Church has no friends.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    The ruling class of the West, sees Islam as a tool to weaken the Christian Church.
    Islam, sees the ruling class of the West as a naïve tool to facilitate the Islamization of Europe and America.
    We, in the Church, whose fate is being planned, have no input, except for being cynically used by politicians every election cycle.
    The Church has no friends.

  • DonS

    As a first step, he said efforts should be made to arrange for Imams of mosques in America to deliver sermons at churches, and pastors should go to mosques to talk about their religion.

    It’s interesting that he proposes that Imams preach sermons in Christian churches, and pastors got to mosques to talk about their religion. I don’t know if that reflects the fact that he knows Christian pastors would never be allowed to preach the equivalent of a sermon in the mosque, or if he just didn’t know what it would be called.

    In our church’s old location, it was one block from a mosque. Our pastors went out of their way to reach out to the Islamic religious leaders at that mosque — they had frequent lunches together, our pastor spoke in a meeting at the mosque with interested Muslims about Christianity, and an Imam spoke at our church in a meeting with interested congregants about Islam. It was fascinating and an excellent example of how to reach out to neighbors and show tolerance in the classic meaning of that term, not to mention a great opportunity to gain perspective, on both sides. But there is no way in the world that we would ever have had the Imam preach a sermon from the pulpit, nor would the Muslims ever permit a Christian pastor to teach in an authoritative way in the mosque.

    It would be a good idea for the government to have “religion officers”, but for the purpose of teaching government officials that religion is an important aspect of many peoples’ lives and should be better respected as such by government, rather than trivialized into syncretistic meaninglessness.

  • DonS

    As a first step, he said efforts should be made to arrange for Imams of mosques in America to deliver sermons at churches, and pastors should go to mosques to talk about their religion.

    It’s interesting that he proposes that Imams preach sermons in Christian churches, and pastors got to mosques to talk about their religion. I don’t know if that reflects the fact that he knows Christian pastors would never be allowed to preach the equivalent of a sermon in the mosque, or if he just didn’t know what it would be called.

    In our church’s old location, it was one block from a mosque. Our pastors went out of their way to reach out to the Islamic religious leaders at that mosque — they had frequent lunches together, our pastor spoke in a meeting at the mosque with interested Muslims about Christianity, and an Imam spoke at our church in a meeting with interested congregants about Islam. It was fascinating and an excellent example of how to reach out to neighbors and show tolerance in the classic meaning of that term, not to mention a great opportunity to gain perspective, on both sides. But there is no way in the world that we would ever have had the Imam preach a sermon from the pulpit, nor would the Muslims ever permit a Christian pastor to teach in an authoritative way in the mosque.

    It would be a good idea for the government to have “religion officers”, but for the purpose of teaching government officials that religion is an important aspect of many peoples’ lives and should be better respected as such by government, rather than trivialized into syncretistic meaninglessness.

  • Michael Z.

    Reminds me of the religion in “Dune” a weird synthesis of Islam and Christianity.

  • Michael Z.

    Reminds me of the religion in “Dune” a weird synthesis of Islam and Christianity.

  • Pingback: Does the U.S. Need a Religious Foreign Policy? | Unsettled Christianity

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