Tony Perkins: Pompeo's faith is not a liability - it's an asset

Tony Perkins is President of Family Research Council. This article appeared on Fox News on April 5, 2019.

In the latest example of the Left’s growing hostility toward Christianity and public displays of faith, the New York Times published a “news analysis” piece over the weekend questioning the extent to which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Christian faith is influencing American diplomacy, particularly the Trump administration’s dealings with Israel.

Pompeo’s innocuous acknowledgment that he holds a faith shared by many others in public office, including many on the Left, was apparently too much for The New York Times.Throughout the article—which documents Pompeo’s religious background, reading of the Bible, and concern for religious freedom—the conclusion that Wang apparently wants readers to reach is that Pompeo’s Christian beliefs are somehow antithetical to his work as Secretary of State.

Unfortunately, this attack on a public official’s religion is not new. In fact, the attempt to portray Pompeo in a malevolent light is like the religious tests Senate Democrats have sought to establish in recent years on judicial nominees. Perhaps the most infamous example is Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., when she questioned then-U.S. Circuit Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s faith in 2017. At the time, Feinstein told Barrett she feared “the dogma lives loudly within you,” and implied that the nominee’s adherence to her faith was “a concern.” Even the New York Times called these remarks“symptomatic of a repressive turn among Western liberals.”

Feinstein’s 2017 comments, like the questioning of Secretary Pompeo’s faith, are deeply problematic and reveal a misreading of the Constitution.

The Founder’s intention was clear—Congress could not establish a national church or denomination. However, they did not intend to erect a “wall of separation” between all expressions of faith in God and all aspects of public life. Americans, including public officials, have every right to bring their religiously-informed moral values to bear in public policy decisions. Historically, this has not been controversial. Bigotry against people of faith was rightly viewed as unacceptable by members of both political parties.

However, media, cultural, and political elites are now demanding that public officials check their faith at the door before entering the public square. For many, “free exercise” has been re-interpreted to mean “freedom of worship” which means people are free to worship within the walls of their churches but must not invoke religion when they return to work. 

This is a misunderstanding of the First Amendment and is a dangerous departure from how Americans have historically understood the relationship between faith and public life. In fact, it was the religiously motivated views of the Founders—belief in the sovereignty of God, the dignity of human beings, the reality of human sin, etc.—that informed their worldview as they wrote the Constitution.

Thus, against what the New York Times is implying, Christians, following the precepts of the Bible, are not dangerous or subversive. Instead, Christians contribute transcendent moral values, and animated by the core values of the Judeo-Christian worldview, are the most stalwart defenders of human rights. This should not be surprising given the Bible’s teaching that everyone is made in God’s image and consequently possesses inherent dignity. In fact, this belief is a major reason Christians support religious freedom for religious minorities. Even the Times mentions Pompeo’s support for the rights of Muslims oppressed by certain Asian nations such as China and Myanmar. The fact that Pompeo expressed solidarity with the persecuted Coptic minority in Egypt should be cause for celebration instead of criticism.

Despite highlighting Pompeo’s work for international religious freedom, Wong gives special attention to the Trump administration’s policies toward Israel, highlighting the decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem. According to Wong, the move was “intended to please evangelical voters in the United States.” He suggests that because “white evangelicals are a big part” of Trump’s voter base, some of his major foreign policy moves, particularly related to Israel are “intended to shore up political support.” The fact that Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and the vast majority of Democrats in Congress supported the embassy move is left unmentioned.

However, faith in the public square isn’t an exclusively “white” issue. In fact, in the same 2005 poll cited by Wong, black evangelicals register higher levels of support for Israel than white mainline Protestants or Catholics.

Straightforwardly, Wong’s article is attempting to perpetuate the idea that evangelicals should stay out of the government or at least refrain from the public display of their faith. The idea that Christian theology is somehow subversive to American foreign policy is rooted in the belief that the public square must be thoroughly desacralized and that only secular worldviews are admissible. However, this is not true. The values of Christianity have provided the moral framework that has allowed the United States to be a champion of freedom and human rights for decades.

Pompeo’s work around the world for religious minorities is itself a testimony that his religious beliefs do not privilege the rights of Christians over other believers. Instead, Pompeo’s religiously informed approach to foreign policy, informed by his Christian worldview and the values embodied in America’s founding documents, is precisely what is needed in a world where 84 percent of people affiliate with religion. If anything, Pompeo’s faith is an asset, not a liability.