As the United States’ top diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is surrounded not only by the world’s best cadre of foreign policy analysts and tacticians plying their craft in the high-stakes world of international affairs, he has a small band of faithful pastors and friends praying for and encouraging him along the way.
The 55-year-old former Kansas businessman, congressman and, most recently, director of the CIA, was once an Army officer who graduated top of his class at West Point. He earned a law degree at Harvard and served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review.
In Pompeo, Americans have a secretary of state with the foreign policy expertise and the strategic mind to play diplomatic chess with anyone. They also have someone who, though not preachy, has never tried to hide his Christianity under a bushel basket.
Anyone who has followed Pompeo’s political career would know this. But what gives most Christians and other reasonable people a sense of comfort—a secretary of state with an active faith and prayer life—appears to confound secular-minded elites inside the Beltway, in academia and in the mainstream media.
After Pompeo spoke Oct. 11 to the American Association of Christian Counselors on the topic of “Being a Christian Leader,” his detractors accused him of misusing his authority as secretary of state by speaking so openly of his beliefs, of violating church-state separation and of being insensitive to people of other faiths.
It was nothing new to Pompeo, who has endured such criticism before. As for people of other faiths, no secretary of state in recent history has made global religious freedom such a front-burner issue.
Back in March, the New York Times ran a story examining the intersection of Pompeo’s faith with his work. The headline, “The Rapture and the Real World: Mike Pompeo Blends Beliefs and Policy,” betrayed the cynicism oozing between the lines of the article.
Acknowledging that Vice President Mike Pence and former President George W. Bush hold the same evangelical faith as Pompeo, the Times opined: “But no secretary of state in recent decades has been as open and fervent as Mr. Pompeo about discussing Christianity and foreign policy in the same breath. That has increasingly raised questions about the extent to which evangelical beliefs are influencing American diplomacy.”
Pompeo, during a phone interview with Decision, says his faith informs his entire view of the world and should complement everything he does—including his very public work.
“When you see a human being—wherever they are and whatever faith they hold, if they have a faith at all—that person has inherent dignity that comes from the mere fact of their humanness. As America’s secretary of state, my job first and foremost is to deliver on American foreign policy, to keep the American people safe. But an important part of that is demonstrating that America is a force for good in the world and that we do our level best every place we go to make sure people understand how they need to treat each other.”
Those convictions have helped propel the Trump administration into taking substantive action in aiming to advance international religious freedom—an issue Pompeo openly encourages believers to regularly pray about.
“In China, there’s the persecution largely of Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities,” Pompeo noted. “Today in northern Iraq and portions of Syria, Christian minorities and Yazidis have been under assault. Each day in Venezuela—enormous human rights violations of basic things that should be afforded to every human are being abrogated for the sake of a handful of people exerting their own corrupt political power. I would ask everyone to pray for those people.”
Pompeo’s theological beliefs—including that God has made every person in His image—should be considered an asset for a chief diplomat, not a liability, says Sen. James Lankford, who came to the House of Representatives from Oklahoma in 2011 as Pompeo began his first term as a Kansas congressman. Lankford left the House for the Senate in 2015, but he says he noticed early on in Pompeo “a solid, very focused, very studied individual.”
Lankford says leaders in other countries would be largely unfazed by the fact that he operates through the prism of a Christian worldview. Internationally, most diplomats and political leaders already have religious commitments of their own, so they would not think it unusual, he says.
“He’s also able to go to people in other countries and state clearly, ‘Not everyone in my country shares my same faith, but I can respect theirs. Can you respect people who have a different belief system in your country?’ That’s been one of his main messages to people. And he’s told them that they will have much greater harmony in their nation [if they do that].”
Pompeo says he grew up going to church but thinking very little of his faith. He dreamed of becoming a professional basketball player before a commission to West Point came into focus.
As a first-year cadet, he met several upperclassmen who invited him to a Sunday afternoon Bible study—a respite from the rigors of that first year at the academy. Through their influence, he began to grasp what it truly meant to follow Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
After a five-year Army career, then Harvard Law School and several years practicing law, he plunged into business with some former West Point friends in Wichita, where he met his wife, Susan.
In Wichita, Mike and Susan and their son, Nicholas, attended Eastminster Presbyterian Church, where he served as a deacon and taught a fifth-grade boys Sunday school class.
The week that Decision interviewed him, Pompeo was planning a trip back to Wichita to attend the wedding of a family friend at Eastminster, which he described as a church that became an extended family to the Pompeos.
Eastminster’s senior pastor, Stan Van Den Berg, said via email that while the nation sees Mike Pompeo as the secretary of state, tasked with carrying out the foreign policy of the president, the people at Eastminster know him in a different way.
“We love Mike and Susan. Susan is warm and inviting, smart and caring. Both are followers of Jesus. Mike was a small business owner when he served as deacon. He was a humble, competent and hard-working man who cared about his employees, his family and his church.”
Pompeo, Trump’s first CIA director, was tapped to lead the State Department when Rex Tillerson left the post in 2018. Tillerson, a former Exxon Mobil CEO who knew business and international commerce, was no social conservative, nor was he particularly attuned to human rights and religious freedom. Pompeo is a military man with spy credentials and foreign policy chops. By all accounts he is strategic and mission oriented—yet rooted in the Judeo-Christian ideals of the nation’s founders.
In a given week’s work, whether it involves seeking freedom for someone like Pastor Andrew Brunson, released last year after three years of imprisonment in Turkey, or seeking to extend peace in a tense region, Pompeo says he turns to his faith.
“Those situations focus you,” he says. “They remind me that I’m a vessel through which the Lord is working. And they are a reminder to stay in the Word, to focus on the mission and to be thankful if I’m put in a position where we are able to achieve an outcome that makes someone’s life just a little bit better.”
Such sentiment sits just right with Lankford.
“I feel good that someone like Mike Pompeo is serving this country as secretary of state because I know that he is praying through the issues of the day. He is doing his homework, he is studying the issues. And the State Department is working to do whatever they can to be able to help people in all parts of the world live better, freer lives.”