To Bring the Good News to All Nations: Evangelicals, Human Rights, and U.S. Foreign Policy, 1969-1994

Turek, Lauren, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Leffler, Melvyn, Department of History, University of Virginia

“To Bring the Good News to All Nations: Evangelicals, Human Rights, and U.S. Foreign Policy, 1969-1994,” traces the development of evangelical Christian foreign policy lobbying groups in the United States beginning in the 1970s. In contrast to scholarship on the ascendancy of the religious right as a domestic political force, this dissertation focuses on how foreign missionary work contributed to the creation of an influential evangelical lobby with distinct interests in the trajectory of U.S. foreign relations. The vast expansion of evangelical Christianity throughout the world during the 1970s and 1980s nurtured ties between American evangelicals and their co-religionists abroad, creating a diffuse yet energetic global network of faith-based non-state organizations and actors. Drawing on materials from religious as well as government archives in the United States, Guatemala, and South Africa, this project reveals that American missions in Central America and Africa, and efforts to support persecuted evangelicals in the Soviet bloc, played a decisive role in shaping U.S. foreign relations. It argues that evangelicals pushed Congress to grant aid to favored yet repressive regimes in countries such as Guatemala while imposing economic and diplomatic sanctions on nations that persecuted Christians, such as the Soviet Union. In the process, evangelicals developed a limited yet unique perspective on human rights abuses in Eastern Europe and the Global South, which interacted in powerful ways with the revival of human rights activism in the 1970s more broadly.

This dissertation adds an important cultural dimension to the study of American foreign policy and politics. In elucidating the international outreach efforts of an influential, globally interconnected group of co-religionists, it places the rise of the religious right in the United States in a global context. Evangelicals viewed themselves as members of a transnational community of believers, and this identity provided the foundation for their political activism. Furthermore, this project exposes how Christian interest groups blended their religious beliefs and conservative political ideology to drive national discourse about American foreign relations. In so doing, it shows that their lobbying efforts guided official decision making on key issues. Finally, this dissertation contributes to the growing literature on human rights during the 1970s by demonstrating that evangelical lobbyists used human rights language to influence how policymakers interpreted state violence and repression abroad. In this manner, it uncovers the important role that religious non-state actors have played in shaping international politics and human rights norms.

By interrogating the complicated interweaving of evangelical religious convictions, human rights, anti-communism, and foreign affairs, “To Bring the Good News to All Nations” advances our understanding of the diverse factors that drove international relations in the twentieth century. It also underscores key historical moments when religious and ethical values infused American foreign policy, illuminating how American religious culture has melded with core national values to shape the role of the United States as a world power.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
American history, U.S. foreign relations, foreign policy, religion, evangelicalism, human rights
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