Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered an address last week to the American Association of Christian Counselors World Conference in Nashville, titled “Being a Christian Leader.” As of Monday, the top item on the State Department’s main webpage was a post promoting the address in bold type.
In his speech, Pompeo said he would “use my time today to think about what it means to be a Christian leader, a Christian leader in three areas.” They included disposition, dialogue, and decisions.
“And my focus too, to be quite candid, is not just on being a leader,” he explained. “I learned how to lead at whatever level I’m blessed with during my time at West Point and other experiences, but I want to talk today about being a Christian leader. I learned that through a very different experience, an experience with God and my own personal faith in Christ.”
It was unclear whether Pompeo was appearing in his official capacity as secretary of state or as an individual. The State Department’s press team did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the address and its front-and-center placement on the official State.gov website.
“It’s perfectly fine for Secretary Pompeo to be a leader who is Christian,” Americans United’s president and CEO Rachel Laser said in a statement. “But he cannot use his government position to impose his faith on the rest of us — that is a fundamental violation of the separation of religion and government. Secretary Pompeo’s speech on how being a Christian leader informs his decision-making and the posting of the speech on the State Department website sends the clear message that U.S. public policy will be guided by his personal religious beliefs.”
But this is not the first time Pompeo has ignored the historical norms of secretaries of state presenting neutrality at home as they represented the United States internationally.
According to the department’s mission statement, its purpose is to lead “America’s foreign policy through diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance by advancing the interests of the American people, their safety and economic prosperity.” It is not to advance a particular religion in a country whose constitution expressly prohibits “establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Indeed the nation’s first secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson, is believed to have coined the term “separation between church & state” in an 1802 letter. He wrote: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
Published with permission of The American Independent.