Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is facing criticism for talking publicly about what it's like to be a “Christian leader” in a speech that was that posted to the State Department’s website over the weekend.
On Friday, Pompeo spoke at the American Association of Christian Counselors’ World Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. In a speech titled “Being a Christian Leader,” Pompeo told the counselors that just like them, he draws on the “wisdom of God” to help him “be a force for good in the life of human beings.”
“Now, I know that even having just said that, I know some people in the media will break out the pitchforks when they hear that I ask God for direction in my work,” he said. “But you should know, as much as I’d like to claim originality, it is not a new idea. I love this quote from President Lincoln. He said, quote: ‘I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.’”
While Pompeo said he learned how to be a leader while serving at the U.S. Military Academy West Point, he stressed that his “focus” is not just being a leader but also being a “Christian leader” — something he learned through his “experience with God and my own personal faith in Christ.”
Pompeo explained that he and his wife, Susan, put “Christ at the center” of their lives and recalled how they served as Sunday school teachers.
He added that he keeps a Bible open on his desk and tries to get a little bit of time in with Scripture every morning.
“Scripture calls us to be ‘transformed by the renewing of [our] minds,’” he said. “I need my mind renewed with truth each day. And part of that truth is, as my son reminds me, is to be humble. Proverbs says, ‘With the humble is wisdom.’”
Pompeo also spoke about the importance of forgiveness, citing the story of the Prodigal Son, and how he applies the parable in his own work as secretary of state.
“The people who work for me know this too: I have high standards for excellence. I hold them accountable and give them authority. I hold myself to that high set of standards because there is so much riding on what we do to keep the American people safe that we can’t accept anything less,” he said. “But when there is a failure, when the people close to me misfire, I don’t strip away their responsibilities. I don’t cut them out of meetings. I keep them in the fold. I keep giving them important work. That’s what Christ does for us; we have an obligation to do the same.”
The former director of the CIA and congressman continued by telling the counselors they need to remember they are “imperfect servants serving a perfect God who constantly forgives us each and every day.”
“He keeps using us to do a higher work,” Pompeo contended. “And my work at the State Department, as it is for those who work alongside me, is to serve America each and every day.”
The transcript and a video of Pompeo’s speech were posted to the State Department's home page, which drew the ire of commentators from the Muslim, Jewish and secularist communities who feel it might have overstepped the lines of separation of church and state.
The American Humanist Association released a statement saying that it is “deeply troubled” by Pompeo’s “advancement of Christian leadership” and the State Department’s “promotion” of the speech on its homepage.
“While today may be a great day to be a Christian nationalist, it’s a terrible day to be a person who cares deeply about the United States of America, religious plurality and diversity, or true religious freedom,” AHA spokesperson Sarah Henry argued in a statement.
AHA President Roy Speckhardt accused the Trump administration — which is no stranger to having cabinet members talk openly about their faith in Christ — of “religious favoritism.”
“This religious favoritism is the kind of abuse of their duty to represent all Americans equally that demonstrates how fundamentalism is the driving force of this administration’s agenda,” Speckhardt claimed.
Aaron Keyak, the former head of the National Jewish Democratic Council, questioned whether Pompeo was using his platform to promote Christianity, according to Times of Israel.
“He’s an American leader, who is also a practicing Christian,” Keyak was quoted as saying. “Him talking as a Christian leader and billing it as such is an affront to our separation of church and state.”
In a statement posted to Twitter, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which the UAE considers to be a terrorist organization, condemned Pompeo’s speech, saying that it was “really inappropriate.” CAIR contended that Pompeo shouldn’t be a Christian leader but rather an “American leader” who is “leading a nation of people who have different faiths and no faiths."
While some were critical of Pompeo’s speech, the speech was seen as a blessing to those in attendance at the AACC event.
“We were so blessed to hear Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the American Association of Christian Counselors world conference today in Nashville,” tweeted the Disciple Heritage Fellowship, an organization that assists pastors and churches in their mission to make disciples for Christ. “Encouraged to know he keeps an open Bible on his desk at all times, to seek God's wisdom in the decisions he makes!”
Pompeo’s speech came on the same day Attorney General William Barr criticized secularism in a speech at the University of Notre Dame Law School in Indiana. Barr spoke about the “consequences of moral chaos” and decried those who speak out against religious values.
According to USA Today, Barr noted that about 40% of American children are being born out of wedlock and said that the figure climbs to over 70% in many large urban areas.
“Along with the wreckage of the family, we are seeing record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence and a deadly drug epidemic,” Barr said. “By any honest assessment, the consequences of this moral upheaval have been grim. Virtually every measure of social pathology continues to gain ground.”
Appealing to his Christian conservative base, President Donald Trump spoke on Saturday at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., one of the most prominent annual Christian conservative political conferences.
“But despite the delusions of the radical left, all of us here today know that our rights come from God almighty, and they can never be taken away,” Trump said.
Trump accused the political left of “trying to silence and punish the speech of Christians and religious believers of all faiths.”
"They are trying to hound you from the workplace, expel you from the public square and weaken the American family and indoctrinate our children,” Trump said.