Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended being outspoken about his evangelical faith as he spoke before an annual gathering of conservative Christian voters Tuesday night, saying that religion “drives” how people think about the world and their families.
Pompeo, a former congressman and CIA director, sat down with Family Research Council President Tony Perkins for a video interview that aired during the first night of FRC’s annual Values Voter Summit, an event that traditionally takes place in-person in the nation’s capital but this year is being held online because of the pandemic.
The 56-year-old, who has often been vocal about his faith and spoken about his Christian identity in speeches overseas and at some prominent American evangelical churches, was offered the chance to defend his action of putting his faith out in the forefront despite criticism from some atheists and secularists.
“People appreciate knowing who you are, that you are authentic and that you don’t hide the things that drive you, the central underpinnings of who you are,” Pompeo said.
“For me, I am an evangelical Christian and I believe Jesus Christ is my Savior. I think when I meet with counterparts, whether they are from an Arab state that is a majority-Muslim country or in Israel, a predominantly Jewish country, I think they appreciate people who are consistent and know where you are coming from. We all have different ideas. Those three religions have some centrality. They come from Abrahamic faiths. But they appreciate that.”
Earlier this month, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice criticized Pompeo for being an “overtly religious secretary of state" after he gave a video speech played during the Republican National Convention that he recorded while he was in Jerusalem. Rice claimed that it was "problematic" because he’s "supposed to represent all of America" and its religions.
While speaking with Perkins, Pompeo referenced a speech he gave when he went to Cairo, Egypt, last year. He talked about being an evangelical Christian and how “we’re all children of Abraham.”
“I still get notes to this day from people all around the world [who say that] ‘for you to stand in Cairo and talk about your being an evangelical Christian but recognizing that the people in Egypt were predominantly from a different religion, but you could find places where you could work together and make life better for people of both countries,’” Pompeo said.
“I think that is the way diplomacy is best conducted when people are honest about who they are, what drives them. ... I swore an oath to the U.S. Constitution … but the person I am is important for people to understand.”
Pompeo shot down the notion that the faith of diplomats should be put on the back burner.
Perkins, one of the nation’s leading Christian conservative activists and a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, noted that “80% of the world is religious in orientation” who “make decisions based upon those deeply held beliefs.”
“Too often in the West, we have held to this secular mindset that religion has to be pushed out when the world makes decisions based upon their faith,” Perkins added. “So as a believer who believes that faith is real and it affects people’s lives, I think it gives you an advantage in diplomacy.”
Pompeo responded by saying that this type of mentality exists in many countries.
“When you can’t talk about it or you push it to the background or you push it aside or pretend it is not part of the process of analysis, you are taking away one of the fundamental elements of human nature,” Pompeo reasoned.
“We are all made in the image of God. That drives how people think about their lives, their families, all the things that matter and that we hold most dear. I think it is important.”
The secretary added that the Trump administration has worked hard to “maximize religious freedom for every human being all across the world.”
“There were days I wish we did better, as you know from serving on the commission,” Pompeo admitted. “There are lots of places in the world where religious freedom is not available. That saddens me and drives me every day to work to help my team to improve the lives of those people and give them more space to exercise their conscience rights.”
On Sunday, the former congressional representative from Kansas spoke at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, pastored by Jack Graham. While there, Pompeo called on Americans to keep faith in the public square.
“Faith in the public square is not only lawful but righteous. This faith is not only powerful, but required by the American tradition,” the secretary said, quoting George Washington’s farewell address: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable support.”
In October 2019, Pompeo also received criticism after he spoke at the American Association of Christian Counselors’ World Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, about what it's like to be a “Christian leader,” saying that he draws on the “wisdom of God” to help him “be a force for good in the life of human beings.”
Pompeo has spoken multiple times at the FRC Values Voter Summit over the years, going back to his days as a congressman. President Donald Trump is among many other notable politicians and speakers expected to speak at the summit this week.