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Christian Policies Saturate the U.S.--What Can We do About It?

"Living in the Shadow of the Cross" explains how to understand and resist the power and privilege of Christian hegemony.

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US Foreign Policy

Christian Dominance is visible at every level of US foreign policy from the concept of a cosmic battle between good and evil to a belief in our Manifest Destiny to bring various kinds of salvation to benighted peoples. As religious historian Andrew Preston has extensively documented, “American foreign relations retained core features developed early on … not merely over decades but down through the centuries.” He further explained, “In the American context, this has often meant waging war in the name of God, or at least in the name of serving him and fulfilling his will. This is familiar rhetoric in the history of American exceptionalism: the stuff of providence, manifest destiny, a New Jerusalem, and a shining city upon a hill.” Sometimes American exceptionalism led to policies of compassion, charity and peace. More often it promoted land theft, war and other forms of aggression.

Influential leadership groups such as the Family and Council on National Policy, powerful international Christian missionary/aid organizations such as World Vision and networks of organizations such as those constituting the Christian Zionist lobby are vehicles through which Christian power and privilege are expressed. The reach of the US Empire is enormous, affecting lives in all parts of the world. As examples below will demonstrate, it is not surprising much of the world views the US Empire as a Christian one. This is what some people want; it is what many people fear.

Us and Them

The oft-used phrase “You’re either with us or against us” encapsulates the belief in a cosmic battle between good and evil. Early Christians offered pagans and Jews a choice: “Convert or die.” Centuries later, crusaders offered Jews and Muslims the same choice. Later still, indigenous peoples in the Western Hemisphere were told to convert and give up their land or be killed. Today the US offers similar ultimatums to countries like Iraq, Afghanistan or North Korea. Accept our terms or we will "bomb you back into the stone age,” as US presidents, policy makers and military officers have phrased it.

Dominant Christianity has cloaked its violence under the mission of saving people. In a relatively recent example, the US under President Bill Clinton bombed Yugoslavia for 78 days and nights, destroying one of the most progressive countries in Europe. But this was called humanitarian intervention and is still widely seen as such by most people in the US.

Even today, no matter how many wars we fight, how much we are complicit with the conditions that impoverish people, people in the US pride ourselves on our generous and benevolent motivations in invading other countries. These relations of rescue, whether individual or national, continue to justify interventions rarely beneficial to those receiving such so-called help.

Another recent example of this dynamic is the response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti. The charitable response of individuals in the US was needed, substantial and well intended. However, the U.S. has long supported economic policies that deliberately impoverished Haiti and provided military support for dictatorships. The US participated in deposing Haiti's democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide. The US used the humanitarian crisis to send in large numbers of troops and slow down the distribution of aid from around the world, setting the stage for further economic exploitation. At the same time, US media blamed the Haitians for lack of infrastructure - infrastructure that had been deliberately sabotaged by US policies which prevented importation of certain kinds of needed materials. Confirming their sense of the US as a generous Christian nation, people could feel good about their charitable response, blame the Haitians for their problems and ignore the devastating centuries-long impact of US interventions.