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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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In contemporary US foreign policy the narrative describes entire nations supposedly held captive by barbarian leaders such as communist dictators, Muslim terrorists, anti-colonial nationalists.

In 1941 Henry Luce, enormously influential publisher of Time and Life magazines, wrote an editorial titled “The American Century.” He said that the US “was destined to be the Good Samaritan and the powerhouse of the ideals of Freedom and Justice.” Luce argued the United States had, “the right to go with our ships and ocean-going airplanes, however we wish, when we wish, and as we wish.”

Today this missionary zeal is still linked with what the US considers its responsibility to bring US-defined modernity, democracy and most recently, free markets, human rights and civil society to other peoples - almost always against their will and with the use of overpowering force. Those who lose in struggle with us (the Russians or Saddam Hussein) are confirmed as evil, and our every victory is taken as a sign of divine providence and the country's exceptional goodness.

Of course, if a government sees itself as anointed by God and carrying out God’s mandate, then there is no moral or legal standard it need accept about its actual behavior. As cultural historian Robert Jewett has noted, this leads to “a problematic sense of innocence, moral superiority, and entitlement … [because] … If you believe you are already virtuous, you feel automatically entitled to reform others.” Or, as Graham Greene described a typical American in his novel The Quiet American, “He was impregnably armoured by his good intentions and his ignorance.”

Finally, it becomes easy to blame what some may be call a failure in US foreign policy on the resistance of other peoples to one’s efforts to help them, rather than on the intrusiveness of the United States’ military/missionary actions.

Faith-Based Initiatives

Faith-based initiatives - and the benefits they provide to Christian groups - are not new, but they have received more prominence in recent years because of former president George W. Bush’s programs and President Obama’s extension of them when his administration began.

This round of faith-based initiatives actually began under President Clinton when he signed the 1996 US Welfare Reform Act, which allowed some houses of worship to receive tax dollars for delivery of social services. This law eliminated safeguards intended to prevent recipients from subjection to unwanted proselytizing, the display of large religious icons in areas where services were provided and other forms of captive-audience religious expression. Since the US government has relaxed guidelines for the separation of church and state in this area, more than 100 cities and 33 states have established similar faith-based social service initiatives.

Christian organizations have strongly lobbied for cutbacks in government services and the privatization of education, health care, housing, and other public programs. This lobbying is obviously self-serving if the groups opposing public service then turn around and request government funding for providing the same service, but without government control or standards. In 2009, groups self-described as faith-based received $2.2 billion in grants from federal agencies, according to documents provided by the White House.

While religious charities receive billions of dollars, funding for federal programs continues to be cut. This is neither accidental nor unintentional. As Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM), the largest Christian prison program in the country has said, referring to a lawsuit, "What's at stake is not just a prison program, but how we deal with social problems in our country. Do we do it through grassroots organizations [sic] or big government? We know what works."