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The American public often associates evangelicals with domestic political fights over abortion and same-sex marriage. But historically, they have been no less active in shaping events on distant shores. In Evangelicals and American Foreign Policy (Oxford University Press), Mark R. Amstutz, a political scientist at Wheaton College, analyzes evangelicals' long-standing engagement on global poverty, human trafficking, international religious freedom, and Israeli statehood. CT senior editor for global journalism Timothy C. Morgan spoke with Amstutz about the motivating factors behind evangelicals' engagement in foreign affairs.
What have you discovered about evangelical global engagement?
Churches, nongovernmental organizations, lay leaders, and missionaries have played an important part in the United States' role in the world. Beyond preaching the Good News, missionaries built schools, established clinics, and learned about the world. They were really the first internationalists for the United States. Diplomats like Benjamin Franklin and John Adams went abroad, but it was really evangelicals—orthodox missionaries—who started it.
In the post–World War II era, we've seen a significant rise in missions-related organizations, groups like World Vision or, in the field of microenterprise, Opportunity International. Humanitarianism has been a very important component of evangelical action in foreign lands.
What this shows is that evangelism abroad hasn't always been propositional. Evangelical diplomats, businessmen, and physicians want to share the Good
News in places where missionaries aren't allowed, but the sharing of that Good News takes subtle forms.
Where does evangelicals' involvement in foreign affairs fall short?
The real danger comes when evangelicals speak out without adequate competence and knowledge. Church leaders can take initiatives that lack a sophisticated understanding of the issue at hand or a profound ...