“But no matter what comes before you, I pray you’ll help hurting people stay immersed in God’s Word. By remaining humble. By showing forgiveness. By listening intently and carefully and thoughtfully. By not rushing to judgment in complicated matters. By being a faithful steward. By using your time with intentionality.
“And I pray you’ll do these things not out of your own strength, but by relying on, as Paul says, ‘Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we are able to ask or to imagine.’”
These quotations are not from a Christian preacher trying to inspire his or her flock.
They were delivered by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on October 11 to a convention of the American Association of Christian Counselors in Nashville, Tennessee. (See full text of the speech, titled “On Being a Christian Leader,” here, on the State Department website.)
Pompeo’s overtly Christian, proselytizing statements were problematic on multiple levels, not the least of which was their blatant unconstitutionality. Official government promotion of any particular religion — Christianity, in this case — is explicitly prohibited by the U.S. Constitution and by our nation’s founding ethos of church-state separation.
Doubly problematic and acutely worrisome for maintenance of church-state separation is that Pompeo delivered his Christ-witnessing speech on the same day that U.S. Attorney General William Barr, the nation’s top law enforcement officer, gave a similarly sermonizing speech at Notre Dame University. Speaking at the law school — note that the media was barred — Barr, a devout Catholic, extolled Christian virtues as America’s only possible savior against the “battering ram” of “moral relativism” that he believes growing U.S. secularism is employing to hammer traditional faith.
The fundamental question is, why are two top members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet being sent out to spread the supposed “word of God” in the land? This is exactly the kind of insidious religious insinuation that the Founding Fathers feared in their then-infant republic — the insertion of coercive religion into government by the society’s dominant faith. It is the kind of thing that led to endless and disastrous religious wars in medieval Europe.
Make no mistake, what Pompeo and Barr were doing was trying to establish Christianity in the minds of Americans as the nation’s primary faith by loudly and unabashedly invoking its dogma in the public square. (See a video of Pompeo’s speech above.)
Also problematic is that both public servants assumed in their speeches that human agency is hapless and incompetent against the trials of life, and that only surrendering your will to Jesus Christ and God can save you and the country.
Nonsense. Everything that humans can do in the name of some deity, they can do without. It’s sheer invention — although an oddly popular one throughout human history — that “God” is “the answer” to every problem. Something hard-wired into human DNA seems to lead most of us to extreme insecurity about our practical capacities, even when mankind proves over and over its striking ability to survive, prosper and increasingly understand reality.Yet, there was Pompeo advising the Christian counselors:
“Scripture calls us to be ‘transformed by the renewing of [our] minds.’ And so I keep a Bible open on my desk, and I try every morning to try and get in a little bit of time with the Book. I need my mind renewed with truth each day.”
To renew his knowledge of truth, wouldn’t he be better served keeping up with objective news about realities in the nation and world? Or reading a law book? Or a book of evidence-based humanist ethics rather than an ancient tome of religious fiction?
Quoting Proverbs in the Bible — “With the humble is wisdom” — Pompeo insisted that to do his job well he must have fidelity to facts to decide effective paths on very complex issues.
“I need to admit what I don’t know and try to learn it, to ask the questions that others might find obvious and be unembarrassed, and to accept conclusions when the facts are presented that might go against whatever preconceived notion that I might have had. … Indeed, this disposition is my duty; it’s my duty to the American people to pursue the outcomes based on an honest analysis of the facts as they present themselves.”
Why should be trust him on this when he has already admitted that the core fact that rules all his thoughts and decisions is that an invisible deity totally controls them — meaning, in the end, he must rely on religious intuition and instinct over facts, especially if there seems to be a conflict between them. Like in abortion rights, same-sex marriage and other social practices — now legal in America — that the Bible condemns, as do ultra-conservative, theocracy-leaning Trump officials like Pompeo and Barr.
You simply can’t prioritize faith over facts and claim objectivity.
America’s founders, all men of the fact-loving Enlightenment, clearly aimed to create a government and public society based on reason (i.e., facts and reality), not supernatural faith.
What the Trump administration’s cabinet members are doing as they spread the “word of God” is anathema to that. A travesty.
As Pompeo told the Christian counselors:
“We should all remember that we are imperfect servants serving a perfect God who constantly forgives us each and every day.”
Well, I’m no God, and I can’t forgive the appallingly un-American nature of Pompeo’s public religious sermon, or Barr’s on the same day.