What does the Bible say about foreign policy?

Posted on August 6, 2013 at 11:22 am,

This is the latest in our series critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. So far we’ve looked at the first eleven chapters. Today, we begin the chapter on foreign policy, looking at the bits that talk about the principles of foreign policy.

Self Defence

Grudem starts by saying that foreign policy should start from the principles established in the chapters on government in general (chapter 3) and on defence (chapter 11). In particular, governments should defend themselves and their citizens against threats from other nations. Grudem cites Romans 13:3 and 1 Peter 2:14. Grudem also notes that he has already said that defensive alliances (e.g NATO) are an appropriate way of doing that.

Grudem then goes on to claim that, by protecting their own sovereignty, governments protect nations from “the horrible tyranny that would result from … the establishment of one worldwide government”. Grudem’s objection is that such a government would have far too much power, which would lead to immense corruption, which would then lead to terrible oppression, from which there would be no place to flee.

Obviously fears about a worldwide government come across as rather paranoid. Attempts to create such a government by conquest have always fallen apart. The largest empire ever created was the British one, and we eventually realised that the cost of maintaining it was far greater than the benefit we gained. Attempts to create continent-wide (let alone world-wide) governments by consent have also proved troublesome. The European Union has proven to be mired in bureaucracy, and relatively weak in terms of its powers over member nations. The United States has a system of government that is in perpetual deadlock. India and China are the closest to success stories, but China is an ancient empire with a long common history, and India was formed from the bits of the subcontinent that were culturally similar. Neither is much of a guide to how a hypothetical worldwide government could be workable.

Even if we agree with every part of Grudem’s concerns (which, despite being in a section labelled “Biblical Teaching” are not drawn from the Bible), they beg the question of just how big a country can be before it has too much power. And whether we should be working towards the creation of more, but smaller, countries as an antidote.

Seeking good for other nations

Grudem points out that the command to love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:39) gives us good reason to seek to do good for other nations. Though he maintains that the first duty of government is to defend and seek the good of its own citizens. He points out that there are a wide variety of ways in which this can be done. Grudem points out a number of ways in which he believes the US does this. Firstly, he says that the US Navy do the lion’s share of protecting commercial shipping from piracy. Secondly, he says that they maintain the Internet, and says that turning control of it over to an international organisation like the UN would be harmful because some countries (like China) oppose free speech and others (like the European Union) have “anti-market impulses”.

Thirdly, he cites NASA satellites that monitor the atmosphere. Fourthly, he cites maintenance of telecommunication lines. Fifthly, he cites the fact that the UN headquarters is in New York, though he claims that this is a mixed benefit. Finally, he cites foreign aid – both public and private. He uses absolute figures here, which show the US giving more than other nations (because the US has a much bigger economy than other nations). If he had cited the figures as a percentage of the US economy or of government spending, then the figure would have been far less impressive.

Freedom and human rights

Grudem says that the United States should use non-coercive means (i.e. diplomacy, cultural/educational exchanges, public relations, media reporting, and foreign aid) to promote greater freedom and human rights in other nations, and points out that he is talking about influencing other nations, rather than imposing American views on others (I would point out that using foreign aid in this way can sometimes cross that line).

Grudem says that slavery and oppression are always viewed negatively in the Bible, whereas freedom is viewed positively. He cites Exodus 20:2, Leviticus 25:10, Deuteronomy 28:28-29, 33; Judges 2:16-23, and Isaiah 61:1 in support of this. Grudem expanded on this view of freedom back in chapter 3, where we saw that his idea of what freedom means seems somewhat skewed. He also refers to his claim that the Bible offers indirect support for the idea that democracy is the best form of government from the same chapter (a claim which we established was somewhat shaky).

Grudem then goes on to the US Declaration of Independence, which proclaims the concept of human rights. This is, of course, irrelevant to a specifically Christian view of politics – being a propaganda document that was actually written after the American colonists began to wage their war of independence. This is, presumably, why Grudem talks about the United States in particular in this section. Grudem says that it means the US is committed to the principle of liberty, and that governments only have the right to rule by the consent of their citizens.

Grudem also says that promoting human freedom and democracy in other nations is an act of self-interest. He says that genuine democracies are less likely than other forms of government to launch aggressive attacks against other countries (a claim that looked somewhat exaggerated when he made it in the chapter on defence as part of his reasons why Iraq and Afghanistan were Just Wars). This, presumably, means that he disapproves of American foreign policy during the Cold War that sought to help overthrow democratically elected governments who tended towards communism.

Grudem bemoans budget cuts to Voice of America radio, which he considered to be one of America’s most effective means of promoting freedom and democracy. He claims that American political leaders are confused and embarrassed about advocating freedom and democracy, particularly when it comes to saying that freedom of religion is better than oppressive governments that seek to impose Islamic law and practices on their populations.

Conclusions

There is nothing particularly controversial about what Grudem says in this section of the chapter. Yes, some of what he says is significantly overstating the case (mostly things which he argues for in other chapters, and simply mentions here). There is a lot of scope for different views of how to apply the principles, but we’ll be covering that over the next few weeks as we go through the rest of the chapter.

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