Eric Atcheson: Mike Pompeo’s ‘Christian Leader’ Speech Goes Only as Far as Trump Allows

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looks on as President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House on Oct. 16, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The Rev. Eric Atcheson is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the author of “Oregon Trail Theology: The Frontier Millennial Christians Face — And How We’re Ready.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.


I’m not so different from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. We are both devout Christians who hail from Wichita, Kansas — I by birth, he by relocation — and, if his words at his address Friday (Oct. 11) to the American Association of Christian Counselors are accurate, we both once harbored pipe dreams of playing for the NBA.

But while my vocational desires and meager basketball skills took me into ordained ministry, Pompeo’s took him into politics, and an office from which he has executed President Donald Trump’s foreign policy. In Pompeo’s speech in Nashville, Tennessee — which has been posted to the State Department’s website — he explained how he goes about “Being a Christian Leader.”

To hear Pompeo describe it, service as a Christian leader comes down to three d-words: disposition, dialogue and decisions. Pompeo buttresses these three characteristics with sprinklings of Scripture and amusing anecdotes, but in so doing, he boxes up Christianity and its teachings in a way that insulates him from applying Christian ethics any further than he absolutely must.

But this is precisely the difficulty with Pompeo publicly styling himself as a leader who takes his cues from the New Testament. It takes a strong sense of compartmentalization to square Christianity’s ethical demands for truth-telling, integrity and human rights with the Trump White House’s elastic relationship with the truth, comfortableness with corruption and cavalier attitude toward human rights.

Take Pompeo’s invocation in his speech of the saying from the letter to the Colossians, “Let your speech always be gracious.” Does Trump always, or even often, let his speech be gracious? How does a Christian leader comport his own speech with a president who refers to nonindustrialized countries as “s***holes”?

I am not saying that there is no way for a Christian to serve as a leader in this administration: There is, and Pompeo is exhibiting it.

The first of the three traits Pompeo discussed, disposition, might be the hardest to pin down. He defines it in his speech as how “one carries oneself in the world.” In Christian terms one might be expected to carry oneself forthrightly and bravely. Yet after dissembling for weeks, Pompeo belatedly acknowledged that he had in fact been in on the now infamous July 25 conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Whether or not you believe the conversation’s dealmaking to be an impeachable office, Pompeo’s lack of candor doesn’t speak for his disposition.

Dialogue, the next of Pompeo’s big three, also clashes with Pompeo’s refusal to cooperate with the House’s impeachment probe. In his remarks, Pompeo framed dialogue as the art of listening: “Everyone should be quick to listen, and slow to speak,” he noted, citing the Book of James, and he advised “not rushing to judgment before you hear every side of a particular fact set.”

But in a nation increasingly fractured under the president Pompeo serves, we’re more in need of hearing the truth from his side. “Truth-telling isn’t just a matter of private conversations for me,” said the secretary. “It’s what I try to do publicly as we lay down President Trump’s foreign policy to keep Americans safe and secure.” That’s the kind of dialogue we’re looking for.

Lastly, there has not been much evidence of Christian decisionmaking in the administration’s foreign policy, particularly in the recent defenestration of the Syrian Kurdish fighters and the population they protect.

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Source: Religion News Service