The 2012 presidential election is in full swing. The Republicans have lined up to vote for whomever they think shares their values and will beat Barack Obama. There is a large segment of the Republican base known as social conservatives and the “Religious Right.” Often these Christian voters focus on issues like abortion, gay marriage, prayer in schools, etc. However, Christians should also focus on more foreign policy issues, like war and peace, international development, and conflict zones.

Christian ethics necessarily means that they have to reject certain international relations concepts, like realism and isolationism. Realism holds that all that matters are power and security; morals and ideals take a back seat. States may act however they wish as long as their strategic objectives are achieved. The three most famous proponents of this theory are Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Kissinger. Machiavelli famously quipped, “Those cruelties we may say are well employed, if it be permitted to speak well of things evil, which are done once for all under the necessity of self-preservation.” Hobbes believed in a war of all against all, and Kissinger applied these principles to his work as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. These principles go against the teachings of Christ and the Bible, wherein reciprocation and ethical behavior is commanded.  Jesus said, “Do unto others as you have them do unto you,” and “These things I command you, that you love one another.”

Texas Rep. Ron Paul

Isolationism is equally un-Christian because it calls for national withdrawal from the international arena. It is true that there are two kinds of isolationism, economic and non-interventionism. Isolationists today do not usually go the route of economic protectionism, but the policies of libertarians, like Ron Paul, do call for a non-interventionism that is distinctly un-Biblical. Jesus called for his followers to engage the world whenever and wherever they could.

This begs the question: how should Christians look at foreign policy? Historically, the Church has used the “Just War” doctrine, originally articulated by St. Augustine of Hippo, as a lens to look at the world. Just War holds that sometimes an act of war is necessary and is in fact an act of love. Caritas, which is often translated as charity, is the theological concept of neighborly love. And how do we express neighborly love in foreign policy?  It comes in two fashions, either by using military force or through developmental aid.

Many think that military actions are incompatible with Christian values, but this is far from the case. Military intervention is not only appropriate, but preferred in certain circumstances. The first is self-defense; states are called to defend their citizenry from outside attacks and provide them security. People often propound World War II as the moral paradigm of self-defense. Everyone knows that Germany and Japan’s imperialist aggression led them to invade Europe and attack the United States. The Allies had a moral responsibility to protect their people from the enemy. Jesus represented this belief when he said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

The other form of military intervention allowed with Just War theory is to avert or stop genocide and acts of mass murder: humanitarian intervention. States that are able to help should interdict to stop atrocities from occurring. A few examples exist in history of the US and others doing this, but many cases come to mind where the great powers did not respond. One of the most egregious cases was Rwanda. There, a minority of Hutus went on a killing spree against their Tutsi neighbors. As many as 800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered by being hacked to death with machetes, sometimes even students who were sitting in their seats at school. This is the perfect example of when a power should intervene for humanitarian reasons.

Developmental aid also expresses the neighborly love Christians are supposed to have. St. James wrote in his epistle that “[r]eligion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Many people cite the fact that about one third of the world lives on less than $2 per day. Much of the world is in desperate need of development, and the industrial world has enough money to support them. There are a plethora of projects throughout the world that give relief to poverty stricken areas. Take USAID’s (United States Agency fr International Development) operations in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. The government agency distributed food to 3.5 million people, provided emergency shelter to 1.5 million people, and vaccinated 1 million people in the aftermath of the earthquake. These efforts were essential in mitigating the catastrophic effects of the earthquake.

Christians need to seriously consider these issues, and they should support candidates who follow their values. Those who profess Christ as their savior need to keep caritas, neighborly love, at the center of any policy discussion. God commands throughout the Bible to take care of your fellow man, whether it was a mitzvah in the Torah or Jesus’s parable on the Good Samaritan. Christian voters need to evaluate the foreign policy objectives of politicians based on Biblical ethics and apply that standard to issues in international relations rather than focusing solely on social issues.

Treston Wheat // Georgetown University // @TrestonWheat