Skip to main content

Evangelical Global Engagement and the American State after World War II

  • AXEL R. SCHÄFER (a1)

The resurgence of American evangelicalism since the 1940s unfolded in conjunction with efforts by policymakers to instrumentalize religion for the assertion of empire. Missions and foreign aid are two key areas where these dynamics intersected. They show that evangelicals were both at home in the “American century” and deeply critical of global power. Rather than being a weakness, however, these tensions enabled the movement to become a crucial arbiter at a time when the country's new role was not yet firmly legitimized at home. In particular, evangelicalism helped reconcile isolationist, antistatist, and antimilitarist sentiments with hegemonic aspirations, the national security state, and the military–industrial complex.

Hide All

1 Henry Carl F. H., The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1947), 68 .

2 Herzog Jonathan P., The Spiritual–Industrial Complex: America's Religious Battle against Communism in the Early Cold War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 6 .

3 The term “militarized globalism” is taken from Michaela Hoenicke Moore, “Rethinking the Triumph of US Internationalism: A Joint Project on Nationalism and Internationalism in Domestic Debates over America's Role in the World,” at, accessed 3 July 2015.

4 Dow. Philip E.Romance in a Marriage of Convenience: The Missionary Factor in Early Cold War U.S.–Ethiopian Relations, 1941–1960,” Diplomatic History, 35, 5 (November 2011): 859–95.

5 Marsden George, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 97 .

6 On this issue see Nichols Christopher McKnight, “The Enduring Power of Isolationism: An Historical Perspective,” Orbis, 57, 3 (Summer 2013), 390407 ; Gunn T. Jeremy, Spiritual Weapons: The Cold War and the Forging of an American National Religion (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2009), 23 ; Sparrow James, Warfare State: World War II Americans and the Age of Big Government (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); Young Nancy Beck, Why We Fight: Congress and the Politics of World War II (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2013); Hunt Michael, Ideology and U. S. Foreign Policy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009); and Hixson Walter, The Myth of American Diplomacy: National Identity and US Foreign Policy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008).

7 Sherry Michael S., In the Shadow of War: The United States since the 1930s (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995) 78 . Hall Peter Dobkin, “The Welfare State and the Careers of Public and Private Institutions since 1945,” in Friedman Lawrence J. and McGarvie Mark D., eds., Charity, Philanthropy and Civility in American History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 363–83. Hall maintains that US state building in the postwar period was “devolutionary and privatizing from its inception” (380).

8 Research exploring the broader connection between religion and empire suggests a similar duality. Ian Tyrrell, for example, argues that late nineteenth-century humanitarianism both encouraged imperialist intervention and championed the United States as an anti-imperial force. See Tyrrell Ian, Reforming the World: The Creation of America's Moral Empire (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010). Likewise, Heather Curtis in her forthcoming book explores the frequently contested links between practices of Christian charity and US imperialism. See Heather Curtis, Holy Humanitarians: American Evangelicals and Global Aid (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, forthcoming), and in her article in this issue. See also Wessel Martin Schulze, “Religion, Politics and the Limits of Imperial Integration: Comparing the Habsburg Monarchy and the Russian Empire,” in von Hirschhausen Ulrike and Leonhard Jörn, eds., Comparing Empires: Encounters and Transfers in the Long Nineteenth Century (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011), 337–58.

9 Rosenberg Emily, Spreading the American Dream: American Economic and Cultural Expansion, 1890–1945 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1982).

10 See, for example, Friedman and McGarvie; Nichols Bruce, The Uneasy Alliance: Religion, Refugee Work, and U. S. Foreign Policy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 207–8; Laville Helen and Wilford Hugh, eds., The US Government, Citizen Groups and the Cold War: The State–Private Network (London and New York: Routledge, 2006); McCleary Rachel M., Global Compassion: Private Voluntary Organizations and U. S. Foreign Policy since 1939 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

11 Hall.

12 Rachel M. McCleary and Robert J. Barro, “U. S.-Based Private Voluntary Organizations: Religious and Secular PVOs Engaged in International Relief & Development, 1939–2004,” NBER Working Paper No. 12238, May 2006, 3, at, accessed 9 Sept. 2015.

13 Gary R. Hess, “Waging the Cold War in the Third World: The Foundations and the Challenges of Development,” in Friedman and McGarvie, 319–39.

14 Religious private voluntary organisations (PVOs) made up 17% of all agencies in 1940 and 52% by 1962. Real revenue for religious PVOs increased from 18% of the total in 1940 to 78% in 1952. McCleary and Barro, 11–12. Among recent books on the global activism of religious groups and its intersection with foreign policy are Wuthnow Robert, Boundless Faith: The Global Outreach of American Churches (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009); Tyrrell; and Preston Andrew, Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy (New York: Random House, 2012).

15 US Congress, House, Subcommittee of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Final Report on Foreign Aid, Report 1845, 80th Cong., 2nd sess., 1948; Section 202 of amended Agricultural Trade and Development Assistance Act; Section 635(c) of the Act for International Development (PL 87–195).

16 McCleary and Barro, 13–14.

17 Flipse Scott, “To Save ‘Free Vietnam’ and Lose Our Souls,” in Bays Daniel H. and Wacker Grant, eds., The Foreign Mission Enterprise at Home: Explorations in American Cultural History (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2003), 206–22, 208–9. See also Inboden William, Religion and American Foreign Policy, 1945–1906: The Soul of Containment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 35 .

18 “The Peace Drive in the Churches.” Christianity Today, 13 April 1959, 20.

19 For recent examples see Herzog, Spiritual–Industrial Complex; Wolfe Audra, Competing with the Soviets: Science, Technology, and the State in Cold War America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013).

20 Maier Charles, “Consigning the Twentieth Century to History: Alternative Narratives for the Modern Era,” American Historical Review, 105, 3 (Fall 2000), 807–31.

21 Conroy-Krutz Emily, Christian Imperialism: Converting the World in the Early American Republic (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015). See also Rosenberg, Spreading the American Dream.

22 Joshua H. Mather, “Citizens of Compassion: Relief, Development, and State–Private Cooperation in U. S. Foreign Relations, 1939–1973,” PhD dissertation, St. Louis University, 2015.

23 Stephen Warren, “Rethinking Assimilation: American Indians and the Practice of Christianity, 1800–1861,” in Friedman and McGarvie, Charity, Philanthropy and Civility, 107–27; Tyrrell, chapter 8; Sharkey Heather J., American Evangelicals in Egypt: Missionary Encounters in an Age of Empire (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).

24 Henry Carl F. H., Confessions of a Theologian: An Autobiography (Waco: Word Books, 1986), 119 . See also Henry , Remaking the Modern Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1946), 20–22, 25–26, 267. On postwar neo-evangelicalism see, for example, Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism, 68–70, 100–1; Carpenter Joel, “Revive Us Again: Alienation, Hope, and the Resurgence of Fundamentalism, 1930–1950,” in Bradbury M. C. and Gilbert James B., eds., Transforming Faith: The Sacred and Secular in Modern American History (New York: Greenwood Press, 1989), 105–25, 111, 115–16; Hunter James Davison, American Evangelicalism: Conservative Religion and the Quandary of Modernity (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1983), 4145 ; Hatch Nathan O. and Hamilton Michael S., “Taking the Measure of the Evangelical Resurgence, 1942–1992,” in Hart D. G., ed., Reckoning with the Past: Historical Essays on American Evangelicalism from the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995), 395412 .

25 For recent books on the transformation of evangelicalism see Dochuk Darren T., From Bible Belt to Sun Belt: Plain Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (New York: W. W. Norton, 2011); Williams Daniel K., God's Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); Miller Steven P., Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009); Turner John G., Bill Bright and Campus Crusade for Christ: The Renewal of Evangelicalism in Postwar America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008); Eskridge Larry and Noll Mark A., eds., More Money, More Ministry: Money and Evangelicals in Recent North American History (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000); Schäfer Axel R., Countercultural Conservatives: American Evangelicalism from the Postwar Revival to the New Christian Right (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2011).

26 Miller-Davenport Sarah, “Their Blood Shall Not Be Shed in Vain: Evangelical Missionaries and the Search for God and Country in Post-World War II Asia,” Journal of American History, 99, 4 (March 2013), 1109–32, 1113.

27 Philip E. Dow, “The Influence of American Evangelicalism on US Relations with East and Central Africa during the Cold War,” PhD dissertation, University of Cambridge, 2012.

28 McCleary and Barro, “Religious and Secular PVOs,” 11, 13.

29 Dow, “Romance in a Marriage of Convenience,” 859–95.

30 Dow, “Influence of American Evangelicalism,” 148–50.

31 McCleary and Barro, 14–15.

32 Monsma Stephen V., When Sacred and Secular Mix: Religious Nonprofit Organizations and Public Money (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1996), 10, 7273 . See also King David P., “The New Internationalists: World Vision and the Revival of American Evangelical Humanitarianism,” Religions, 3, 4 (Oct. 2012), 922–49.

33 [Carl F. H. Henry], “Eisenhower, Krushchev and History's Inevitable Course,” Christianity Today, 12 Oct. 1959, 26. On the evangelical recourse to biblical prophecy to explain the Cold War see Lahr Angela M., Millennial Dreams and Apocalyptic Nightmares: The Cold War Origins of Political Evangelicalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

34 Harold John Ockenga, “The Communist Issue Today,” Christianity Today, 22 May 1961, 12.

35 Miller-Davenport, 1124.

36 [Henry], “Eisenhower, Khrushchev,” 26.

37 Gunn, Spiritual Weapons, 8, 229.

38 Dow, “Romance in a Marriage of Convenience”; Dow, “Influence of American Evangelicalism.” Dow suggests (ibid., 102) that US policymakers regarded “pro-missionary, and therefore pro-American, feeling” in the Congo as the foundation for close relationship between the two countries. Likewise, in Kenya, medical and education work contributed to making the country the US's “most consistent, trustworthy, and capable partner in sub-Saharan Africa” during the Cold War (154).

39 See also the article by Tim Stoneman in this issue.

40 Miller-Davenport, 1124; see also Shibusawa Naoko, America's Geisha Ally: Reimagining the Japanese Enemy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006). See also Dow, “Influence of American Evangelicalism,” 10, 20, 133.

41 See, for example, the support extended to evangelicals by General Douglas MacArthur in Japan. According to Miller-Davenport, 1111, 1113–14, 1123–24, MacArthur embodied for evangelicals the combination of military power and evangelical purpose.

42 Loveland Anne C., American Evangelicals and the U. S. Military, 1942–1993 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996), 10–13, 5664 . On Broger's involvement with the NAE see, for example, Clyde W. Taylor, “Report of the Office of Public Affairs to the Executive Committee,” National Association of Evangelicals, Wheaton, IL, 12 June 1962, NAE Records; and Clyde W. Taylor, “Report of the Office of Public Affairs to the NAE Board of Administration,” Chicago, 7 Oct. 1963, NAE Records.

43 Herzog, Spiritual–Industrial Complex, 3.

44 I have explored this in detail in Schäfer Axel R., Piety and Public Funding: Evangelicals and the State in Modern America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).

45 Monsma, Sacred and Secular, 56.

46 McGirr Lisa, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001). David C. Hammack has pointed out that postwar philanthropic foundations reshaped their programmes to take advantage of federal funding and worked effectively “to increase federal funding in these fields, while minimizing federal controls.” David C. Hammack, “Failure and Resilience: Pushing the Limits in Depression and Wartime,” in Friedman and McGarvie, Charity, Philanthropy, and Civility, 263–80, 280.

47 Walter H. Judd, “World Issues and the Christian,” Christianity Today, 23 June 1958, 8, original emphasis.

48 Nichols, Uneasy Alliance, 92, 168–69.

49 “Where Do We Go From Here?”, Christianity Today, 12 Nov. 1956, 17–18. See also Lowell C. Stanley, The Great Church–State Fraud (Washington, DC: Robert B. Luce, 1973), 202 .

50 [Carl F. H. Henry], “The Spirit of Foreign Policy.” Christianity Today, 29 April 1957, 20–22.

51 Ibid., 21; [Henry], “Eisenhower, Khrushchev,” 26.

52 C. N. Hostetter Jr., “Government Overseas Programs and the Churches,” paper given at the NAE National Conference on Church–State Relations, 6–8 March 1963, 5, NAE Records.

53 Nichols, Uneasy Alliance, 92.

54 Hostetter.

55 “Agenda – Miscellaneous,” Executive Committee of the World Relief Commission, 13–14 Nov. 1973, 9, NAE Records.

56 King David P., “World Vision: Religious Identity in the Discourse and Practice of Global Relief and Development,” Review of Faith and International Affairs, 9, 2 (Aug. 2011), 2128 .

57 McCleary and Barro, “Religious and Secular PVOs,” 20–21.

58 King, “World Vision,” 21–25, quotes at 21 and 23; McCleary and Barro, 5–6.

59 Preston Andrew, “Tempered by the Fires of War: Vietnam and the Transformation of the Evangelical Worldview,” in Schäfer Axel R., ed., American Evangelicals and the 1960s (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013), 189208 .

60 Floyd Robertson, “Office of Public Affairs, National Association of Evangelicals, Semi-annual Report to the Board of Administration,” National Association of Evangelicals, 4 Oct. 1977, NAE Records.

61 Robert P. Dugan Jr., “NAE Office of Public Affairs Report to the Board of Administration,” 8–9 Oct. 1985, n.p., NAE Records.

62 On the background of the NAE's campaign for religious liberty, see [Carl F. H. Henry], “Human Rights in an Age of Tyranny,” Christianity Today, 4 Feb. 1957, 20–22; Clyde W. Taylor, “Religious Liberty in America,” paper given at NAE National Conference on Church–State Relations, 6–8 March 1963, 1, NAE Records; Robert P. Dugan Jr., “NAE Office of Public Affairs Semi-annual Report to the Board of Administration,” National Association of Evangelicals, 3–4 Oct. 1989, NAE Records.

63 Miller-Davenport, “Evangelical Missionaries,” 1117, 1127.

64 “Where Do We Go From Here?”, 17.

65 Harold Lindsell, “An Evangelical Evaluation of the Relationship between Churches and the State in the United States,” Consultation on the Church in a Secular World, 11–13 Oct. 1967, 14–15, NAE Records.

66 Swartz David R., Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012). On critical evangelical voices see also Fowler Robert Booth, A New Engagement: Evangelical Political Thought, 1966–1976 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 3031 .

67 See, for example, “David Hollinger Explores the Returning American Missionaries,” 10 Nov. 2010, at, accessed 10 Sept. 2015. See also Harries Patrick and Maxwell David, eds., The Spiritual in the Secular: Missionaries and Knowledge about Africa (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012).

68 “Minutes – Business Meeting of ESAC [Evangelical Social Action Commission] at NAE Convention,” 23 Feb. 1976, NAE Records; H. Wilbert Norton to Martin H. Schrag, 11 June 1976, NAE Records.

69 Wadsworth Nancy D., Ambivalent Miracles: Evangelicals and the Politics of Racial Healing (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014), 245, 21, 147, 219, 253.

70 For a recent exploration of this issue see also “European Missions in Contact Zones: Transformation through Interaction in a (Post-)Colonial World,” Colloquium at the Leibniz Institute of European History, Mainz, Theologische Litaraturzeitung, 28 Aug. 2014, at, accessed 10 Sept. 2015.

71 Dow, “Marriage of Convenience,” 859–95; Dow, “Influence of Evangelicalism,” 97, 76, 65, 166–67.

72 McGirr, Suburban Warriors, 245–46, 247–48.

73 Smith Christian, American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998), 153 , original emphasis. See also Himmelstein Jerome L., To the Right: The Transformation of American Conservatism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 78 . I have explored this ambivalent positioning of resurgent evangelicalism in Schäfer, Countercultural Conservatives.

74 See, for example, Conroy-Krutz, Christian Imperialism; Rosenberg, Spreading the American Dream; Heclo Hugh, Christianity and American Democracy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).

75 Inboden, Religion and Foreign Policy, 5.

76 Gunn, Spiritual Weapons, 23. See also Sparrow, Warfare State; Young, Why We Fight; Blower Brooke, “From Isolationism to Neutrality: A New Framework for Understanding American Political Culture, 1919–1941Diplomatic History, 38, 2 (April 2014), 345–76; Hunt, Ideology and U. S. Foreign Policy; and Hixson, The Myth of American Diplomacy.

77 Nichols, “The Enduring Power of Isolationism.” See also Nichols Christopher McKnight, Promise and Peril: America at the Dawn of a Global Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011).

78 Quoted in Loveland, Evangelicals and the Military, 37.

79 Inboden, 29, 58–59.

80 Henry, Uneasy Conscience, 17.

81 See Hero Alfred O. Jr., American Religious Groups View Foreign Policy: Trends in Rank-and-File Opinion, 1937–1969 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1973), 6–7, 13, 119–26, 160–65, 172–75. Evangelicalism's prewar internationalist attitude was linked to its predominance in the South, a region with a strong military tradition, a vested interest in free trade, and a white population largely of Anglo-Saxon descent. In contrast, much of the postwar neo-isolationist impetus came from Mid-western evangelicals, who spearheaded the neo-evangelical revival and dominated the NAE.

82 Joel A. Carpenter, “Youth for Christ and the New Evangelicals,” in Hart, Reckoning with the Past, 371. See also Gunn, 73–74.

83 Miller-Davenport, “Evangelical Missionaries,” 1131.

84 On this issue see also the essays by Heather Curtis and Melani McAlister in this issue. See also Paulmann Johannes, “Conjunctures in the History of International Humanitarian Aid during the Twentieth Century,” Humanity, 4, 2 (Summer 2013), 215–38.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of American Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-8758
  • EISSN: 1469-5154
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-american-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 5
Total number of PDF views: 49 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 152 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 10th October 2017 - 26th February 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.