April 9th, 2012

Foreign Policy and the Golden Rule

What Would Jesus Do?

It’s an important question that’s been reduced to an acronym, WWJD, presumably in order to popularize its message. That message urges each of Christ’s followers to ask themselves how he might respond in any given situation, and act likewise.

What would Jesus have done if he were in the audience at the January debate between GOP presidential contenders in South Carolina? Surrounded by a group comprised heavily of evangelical Christians, the candidates fielded questions on foreign policy. All but Ron Paul advocated increased military intervention. Newt Gingrich suggested that the approach to those he labeled “America’s enemies” was, simply: “kill them.”

Mitt Romney doubled down on the comment. “Of course you take out our enemies, wherever they are,” he said. “These people declared war on us. They’ve killed Americans. We go anywhere they are, and we kill them.”

To consistent applause, the barbaric call to invade, bomb, sanction, and occupy foreign lands was welcomed by this predominantly Christian crowd with open, eager arms. Challenging the status quo as has been his lot in life, Ron Paul then advocated a different approach to foreign policy, inviting the audience to consider what the policies they were cheering might feel like if they were on the other end:

If another country does to us what we do to others, we’re not going to like it very much. So I would say that maybe we ought to consider a Golden Rule in foreign policy: Don’t do to other nations what we don’t want them to do to us.

The audience erupted with boos at the mere mention of this most fundamental Christian concept and the suggestion that it be applied to the government’s policies. So what would Jesus have done while watching those who claimed to be his disciples displaying vocal derision regarding one of his most basic and important teachings? Might he have called them hypocrites, as he so often did the Pharisees—the über-religious segment of society whose words and actions could rarely be reconciled (see, for example, Matthew 23)? Perhaps he would have said of the audience that they “draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me” (Isaiah 29:13).

Whatever Jesus might have said or done, his teaching (known today as the “Golden Rule”) which was referenced by Ron Paul clarifies what those who follow him should say and do:

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

The Master did not accompany this instruction with any sort of qualifiers. Instead, he referenced “all things,” suggesting the universal application of this idea. Thus, the Golden Rule has as much application to foreign policy as it does between two people. One of Christ’s apostles, Russell M. Nelson, drove this point home:

Wherever it is found and however it is expressed, the Golden Rule encompasses the moral code of the kingdom of God. It forbids interference by one with the rights of another. It is equally binding upon nations, associations, and individuals. (emphasis added)

Christ also noted that this fundamental maxim “is the law and the prophets,” a phrase used to describe the Hebrew scriptures at the time of Christ. “The Law” refers to the first five books of the Old Testament, or what the Jews call the Torah. The subsequent words of the prophets, recorded in the rest of the Old Testament, were referred to as “The Prophets.” Thus, to state that “this is the law and the prophets” effectively means that it was the underlying principle pervading existing scripture; God’s law to love one another was distilled down into a single suggestion: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

And that suggestion was resoundingly rejected by so-called Christians in South Carolina.

One might say that not only does the Golden Rule apply to foreign policy, but it especially applies to foreign policy—two words that too often minimize the effects of what the policy produces, namely, death and destruction. While it’s relatively easy to apply Christ’s message to interpersonal relationships, it is imperative that we consider how our support for military engagements might change were we to consistently apply that message to the weightier matters of life and death.

The hundreds of thousands of innocent individuals who have been displaced, deprived of resources, injured, or killed in recent years as a result of the “kill them!” advocacy described above are children of God. They are endowed with the same unalienable rights as you and I, and were created by God as our equals. To dismiss or justify their premature death as a result of our government’s foreign policy is to violate the Golden Rule—clearly we would oppose another country doing the same to us.

The essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to love one another and to love God, just as we ourselves would like to be loved. Those who oppose such attitudes towards our supposed enemies fail not only to adhere to the Golden Rule, but also fail to obey Christ’s commandment to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

The words of Jesus Christ rarely offer the wiggle room that some desire to justify their unwillingness to obey. Ron Paul was right to suggest that the Golden Rule can and should be applied to foreign policy. Those pondering “What Would Jesus Do?” might do well to heed their Master’s own words.

24 Responses to “Foreign Policy and the Golden Rule”

  1. scott stover
    April 9, 2012 at 8:04 am #

    Good article, Connor. That incident in South Carolina was, I think, a damning indication of how far our country has deviated from the principles upon which it was founded. I feel both fortunate and saddened to have witnessed it (via tv, of course) myself.

  2. Rod
    April 9, 2012 at 9:32 am #

    I was contemplating this principle yesterday while explaining to someone that we (The US) have become the British Empire that our Forefathers separated from over 200 years ago. We are now the Empire in which the ‘sun never sets’ on our holdings and occupied countries. The saddest part is that we know from history what eventually happens to Empires. Our Federal Government and some states have breached every line delineated in the Declaration of independence which justified our separation.
    I agree with Conner that we must follow the Saviors instructions in all aspects of our lives including our nations. As we change our hearts to show respect and love for all – even our enemies – we will prepare ourselves to live through the Millennium and throughout eternity with our Father and his Son.

  3. Leo
    April 9, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    “Resolution of present political problems will require much patience and negotiation. The process would be enhanced greatly if pursued prayerfully.” Sounds an awful lot like diplomacy. Or as the neocons call it, appeasement.

  4. jimz
    April 9, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

    The golden rule sounds good, and maybe its good for most people. However, what if another person doesn’t want to be treated how I like to be treated? Or maybe I expect certain things and not others, that another person might expect?

  5. TRON
    April 9, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    What if foreign nations like Libya want our help? We wanted and received France’s help in our own revolution. Should we do unto Libya what France did unto us?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/01/opinion/kristof-from-libyans-thank-you-america.html

  6. Kelly W.
    April 9, 2012 at 8:11 pm #

    Romney’s comment surely shows the truth of Spencer W. Kimball’s quote: “We are a war-like people.”

  7. scott stover
    April 9, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

    Jimz – I would want them to try to understand how I want to be treated, therefore I would try to understand how they like to be treated.

  8. Jon
    April 10, 2012 at 4:38 am #

    A related quote from Ron Paul’s book Liberty Defined:

    “The basic moral principle of individualism emphasizes not only an absolute right to one’s own life but the opposite as well: that no on has a right to another person’s life or liberty or property. This principle clearly states no one has a right to initiate violence against another. There can be no individual aggression and no national aggression either. This is what the Golden Rule should mean. It’s a basic political position that has been endorsed by all the great religions of the world as well as most moral secularists.
    It’s crucial to grasp that a flawed misunderstanding of what the Golden Rule means can be used to justify violent redistribution of wealth and wars of aggression and must not go unchallenged. It’s bad enough that history has been filled with thousands who find themselves in positions of power and don’t even pretend to endorse this basic Golden Rule principle.”

  9. Nathan
    April 10, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

    I wholeheartedly agree. I didn’t agree years ago when I voted more often conservative than anything, and voted for Mitt over McCain because i knew Ron Paul had no chance and I really did NOT like my options in McCain and definitely not the other side. Since then I’ve read the scriptures a bit more and pondered on these things. Now my wife and I agree on taking the Golden Rule and applying it in ALL aspects of life – even world affairs and warfare. I sleep very well at night now too and have a feeling that the policy you have outlined above is the most Christlike one of them all.

    Not to sound too” holier than thou” or anything but methinks that perhaps those who claim to be Christian and yet yell “kill them” aren’t truly converted in their hearts or committed to trying to abide by the phrase from one of our hymns:

    “As I have loved you, love one another
    This new commandment, love one another.
    By this shall men know ye are my disciples,
    if ye have love one to another.”

    I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.

    Verily, verily, I say unto you, my servants, that inasmuch as you have forgiven one another your trespasses, even so I, the Lord, forgive you.

    I think we ALL need forgiveness, I know I do, so I try to apply this as often as possible.

    And again, this is the law that I gave unto mine ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, SAVE I, THE LORD, COMMANDED THEM.

    And if any nation, tongue, or people should proclaim war against them, they should first lift a standard of peace unto that people, nation, or tongue;

    And if that people did not accept the offering of peace, neither the second nor the third time, they should bring these testimonies before the Lord;

    Then I, the Lord, would give unto them a commandment, and justify them in going out to battle against that nation, tongue, or people.

    And I, the Lord, would fight their battles, and their children’s battles, and their children’s children’s, until they had avenged themselves on all their enemies, to the third and fourth generation.

    Behold, this is AN ENSAMPLE UNTO ALL PEOPLE, saith the Lord your God, FOR JUSTIFICATION BEFORE ME.

    And again, verily I say unto you, if after thine enemy has come upon thee the first time, he repent and come unto thee praying thy forgiveness, thou shalt forgive him, and shalt hold it no more as a testimony against thine enemy—

    And so on unto the second and third time; and as oft as thine enemy repenteth of the trespass wherewith he has trespassed against thee, thou shalt forgive him, until seventy times seven.

    And if he trespass against thee and repent not the first time, nevertheless thou shalt forgive him.

    And if he trespass against thee the second time, and repent not, nevertheless thou shalt forgive him.

    And if he trespass against thee the third time, and repent not, thou shalt also forgive him.

    But if he trespass against thee the fourth time thou shalt not forgive him, but shalt bring these testimonies before the Lord; and they shall not be blotted out until he repent and reward thee four-fold in all things wherewith he has trespassed against thee.

    And if he do this, thou shalt forgive him with all thine heart; and if he do not this, I, the Lord, will avenge thee of thine enemy an hundred-fold…

    These are more than just words on a page people.

  10. Eric Martineau
    April 10, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    Recently a friend stated to me that “We must destroy the Terrorist the say way the Nephites destroyed the Gadiantons, by force.” HUM? Not sure where my friend came up with that conclusion, but I dare say I can’t find any evidence of such an event in my copy of the Book of Mormon.

    What I do find is this.

    37 And it came to pass that the Lamanites did hunt the band of robbers of Gadianton; and they did preach the word of God among the more wicked part of them, insomuch that this band of robbers was utterly destroyed from among the Lamanites.
    38 And it came to pass on the other hand, that the Nephites did build them up and support them, beginning at the more wicked part of them, until they had overspread all the land of the Nephites, and had seduced the more part of the righteous until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their [war] spoils, and to join with them in their secret murders and combinations.
    39 And thus they did obtain the sole management of the government, insomuch that they did trample under their feet and smite and rend and turn their backs upon the poor and the meek, and the humble followers of God.
    Hel 6:37-39

  11. outside the corridor
    April 10, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    well-done, Connor.

    I have been trying to be more understanding of how *most* Americans (even LDS) think, feel, believe–

    about politics, freedom, etc.–

    and I realize that if I hadn’t turned off the television 40 years ago–

    and hadn’t begun to search for myself and spend more time reading the Book of Mormon–

    I would probably be applauding Romney now–

    :(

    sad thought, but it helps me to understand others. My journey has not been easy; it was hard listening to people pray for ‘our troops’ when I knew the real history–

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzS5Y1f8zVM

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rhgdiV7GlE

    This is only part of it; the same thing has happened in Libya–

    If *you* watch MSM you learn only what a handful of powerful, wealthy men want you to learn.

  12. scott stover
    April 10, 2012 at 3:55 pm #

    What!!! You missed all 6 seasons of Lost???!!!!!

  13. jimz
    April 10, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

    Scott,
    “I would want them to try to understand how I want to be treated, therefore I would try to understand how they like to be treated.”

    That sounds considerably closer to how things might actually work, on a certain level, but its a different statement from the golden rule.

    I have missed all seasons of ‘lost’. I am happy to say. I don’t read the BOM at all any more, unless its from results from doing a search for something specific.

  14. Russell Andes
    April 10, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

    So we should follow the Savior’s instruction in foreign policy, but not when it comes to giving money to the poor?

  15. Clumpy
    April 10, 2012 at 9:29 pm #

    @Russell,

    Even as somebody who isn’t as fiscally libertarian as he is fond of the movement because of its human rights and foreign policy stances, I can answer this one for you. Frederic Bastiat sums up one predominate line of libertarian thinking:

    Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to it being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say we want no religion at all. We object to state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting people to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.

    I hope this helps! I think that there’s room for a discussion of whether, practically, these things would happen under a libertarian society, but I also think this quote implies the need for a strong charity culture in a libertarian society. Currently I feel a combination of apathy due to the state providing a safety net for so long, and demonization of the poor has weakened our culture of charity, so that would need some rekindling were we to really remove entitlements (which honestly few libertarian candidates are even advocating to happen overnight).

  16. TRON
    April 10, 2012 at 10:27 pm #

    @Russell

    The most supported tax from libertarians is an excise tax. With a flat tax and/or sales tax as secondary. All three raise the tax rates on the poor. Which under the current system pay nothing.

    Yet the poor pay a higher percent of their income to charity then any other group.

    http://www.financialsamurai.com/2011/03/29/the-average-percent-of-income-donated-to-charity/

    Libertarians would tax them more and help them less.

  17. scott stover
    April 11, 2012 at 6:31 am #

    Wouldn’t it be possible for either and excise tax or a sales tax to exclude taxes on essentials such as food, shelter (within an allowance) and clothing? It’s a question.

  18. outside the corridor
    April 11, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    What IS “Lost”?

    :)

  19. TRON
    April 12, 2012 at 6:18 am #

    @scott

    We have that now. It’s called an income tax. And it makes sure right now that the poor pay no taxes. The libertarians want to get rid of it.

    Proverbs 14:31

    31 He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker: but he that honoureth him hath mercy on the poor.

  20. scott stover
    April 12, 2012 at 6:56 am #

    Tron, thanks for engaging. I love these discussions. The problem with income tax is that it is exacted by force or the threat thereof. It is the forceful taking from one person and redistibuting it to the another. It violates the principle of the God given right to property. I’m not an expert on the IRS, but my understanding is that they have extra-legally taken upon THEMSELVES the power to seize personal property if these taxes are not paid, and that when one has the courage to challenge that power in court they actually can win. It is, of course, an age-old story – “pay or else”, but in my mind it’s still wrong. A tax tied to discretionary purchases is incurred voluntarily. If I choose to save my money, it’s not taxed until I spend it. The poor are protected by, as I said, excluding survival purchases from the tax. The rich pay more because they purchase more, the poor pay less because they purchase less. Just makes sense to me.

  21. Clumpy
    April 13, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    @scott

    Going to play devil’s advocate here. By that standard, a tax tied to property is incurred voluntarily, when you decide to acquire property. I also can’t think of a tax that is not enacted through force. If a businessowner charges only the non-tax price they’ll face consequences. If a consumer slams a $5 bill on the counter for something that’s $5.30 with tax and leaves, same thing.

    You say the poor are “protected” through an exemption through survival purchases. I might read that as “the poor are imposed with a barrier to leaving poverty by the exclusion of survival purchases.” If tax brackets are supposed to scare the potentially upwardly mobile into avoiding further wealth, wouldn’t this policy institutionalize poverty by increasing the cost of escaping it?

  22. jimz
    April 13, 2012 at 6:37 pm #

    Clumpy,
    You said a few things about socialism that sounds interesting. There are ancient origins to socialism? I thought it could be dated to the 1800′s. I don’t see any necessary ‘marriage’ between atheism and socialism, but I seem to hear people reference those together as if they are naturally associated.

    I know of many cultures that were/are serious capitalists, which are not christian, there seems to be a subliminal message that christianty and capitalism are necessarily ‘married’ together. The association is not necessary so.

  23. Clumpy
    April 16, 2012 at 9:48 pm #

    @jimz

    I’m not necessarily standing by every word of the quote – it’s a commonly used quote to point out the disconnect between wanting something to occur in a society and requiring the government to ensure that it happens.

    It is only really in a modern context that socialism and Communism have begun to be inextricably linked. Socialism is really just an economic system of collective ownership and isn’t mutually exclusive with religion. You could find religious ideas to support or oppose either system. Marxism/Leninism/Maoism on the other hand, absolutely require as a rule the forcible removal of religion from society, it being a perpetuator of false consciousness and whatnot. Socialism isn’t necessarily irreligious any more than capitalism is. It simply doesn’t tread into that ideological territory. Communism, on the other hand, steps so thoroughly into ideas as destructive or constructive forces that you pretty much have to terraform a citizenry’s entire thought process through force to implement it.

    Oh, and while socialism wouldn’t have been identified as a philosophy until Marx/Engels, there is some precedent for socialistic ideas prior to that (for example, Plato’s philosophy of public education and communal raising of children): http://www.marxists.org/subject/utopian/index.htm

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