Twenty Years Ago in the Reformed Journal

The highest possible standard of a nation is justice. That is quite a high standard, not always reached by a nation, even ours. How does a country like the United States of America exhibit that highest possible calling? …

In the first place, I think our country should exhibit a constant and clear commitment to peace. Not only peace between ourselves and our potential adversaries … we should use our powerful influence to resolve existing disputes among other people peacefully… .

We need to deal with other people with mutual respect, and through that kind of approach there can be peaceful resolution of differences through the use of diplomacy and negotiation, not through the use of military power… . [This is] one measure of a foreign policy of a nation based upon religious beliefs. It is to deal with trouble spots on earth with respect for both sides, with a realization that adversaries are human beings, that we may not be one-hundred percent right and they might not be one-hundred percent wrong. It takes a lot of moral courage to wage peace instead of war… .

Another area in which a nation can demonstrate a Christian regard for justice is in dealing with crises… . [That] requires understanding and a fervent will to pursue negotiation… . The most difficult step is the first step, just to get people to talk to each other. And the final outcome has to be three things. It has to be voluntary, it has to be unanimous, and both sides have to win. It has to be a win-win proposition. It can’t be a win-lose proposition. But I tell you that this is possible and it is what people want.

Another characteristic of a foreign policy based on a religious commitment to justice is the concern to alleviate suffering. Although a nation cannot sacrifice its own people’s best interest for others, there is nothing wrong with a great and rich nation sharing with others. That is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength… . It is letting people around the world know that they have friends here in the United States of America, and that we are not a bunch of big shots trying to push them around … .

Truth, justice, honesty, peace, human rights. We should keep these things ever present in our minds, and insist on the highest possible standards from our leaders in Washington. We might look foolish. We might demand things or attempt things and fail. Suppose people laugh at us. Suppose we try things and we flop. Suppose we get embarrassed. If we are not attempting something that might fail, then we have no faith.

Excerpted from “Agape, Justice, and American Foreign Policy,” by former President Jimmy Carter, Reformed Journal, April 1986, pp. 15-20.