Religion and American Foreign Policy: The Story of a Complex Relationship

Religion and American Foreign Policy: The Story of a Complex Relationship

Mini Teaser: The historical connection between American religion and foreign relations may be explored on four levels.

by Author(s): Leo Ribuffo

Certainly there would be gray areas in the definition of both religion and persecution. Moreover, these areas of contention would inevitably multiply as religious interest groups pressured the Office of Religious Persecution Monitoring to broaden its activities, and the law's provision for withdrawing aid from governments that merely acquiesce in persecution would encourage this tendency. Are Muslims - who are cited frequently in the Wolf-Specter bill as perpetrators of persecution - themselves victims of persecution in India? Does Germany persecute Scientologists? Does Israel persecute Reform Jews or the non-Jewish spouses of Jews? Does the domination of Nigeria by Muslims reflect religious bigotry, ethnic solidarity, majority rule, or all of the above? To what extent would victims of persecution be eligible for asylum in the United States? Would the president ask Saudi Arabia to grant Christian and Jewish soldiers stationed there the right to practice openly their own faiths and perhaps to proselytize?

Finally, is it ever acceptable for countries to, preserve atheistic systems or religious homogeneity? If not, then non-Christians might plausibly complain that the Wolf-Specter bill promotes the world's foremost evangelical religion, Christianity, which also happens to be the majority religion of the United States. When many Americans remember missionaries in China, they think of their denominational heroes and heroines; but when many Chinese remember missionaries in China, they think of the "unequal treaties" imposed on their country. To some readers of this journal my concern about cultural imperialism may sound like an archaic echo from the Sixties. But the practical and ethical complexities will not disappear.

Leo Ribuffo is professor of history at George Washington University. This article is adapted from a paper that was delivered at the January 1998 conference on "Religion and American Foreign Policy", sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, DC.

Essay Types: Essay