‘My walk with Christ’: Pompeo gives contentious speech on being Christian leader

Jewish Democratic activist calls secretary’s address at State Department event ‘an affront to our separation of church and state’

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accompanied by Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo, speaks to reporters after a bilateral meeting at the Department of State in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accompanied by Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo, speaks to reporters after a bilateral meeting at the Department of State in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

WASHINGTON — In his official capacity as America’s top diplomat, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a speech on Friday on “what it means to be a Christian leader” during a State Department event, prompting criticism that he crossed the line denoting the separation of church and state.

Addressing the American Association of Christian Counselors in Nashville, Tennessee, Pompeo emphasized what he deemed the main components of Christian leadership.

“I want to use my time today to think about what it means to be a Christian leader, a Christian leader in three areas,” he said. “First is disposition. How is it that one carries oneself in the world? The second is dialogue, talking. How is it that we engage with others around the world? And third is decisions, decisions that we make.”

The speech — which also focused on religious freedom — was titled, “Being a Christian Leader.”

Aaron Keyak, the former head of the National Jewish Democratic Council, questioned the propriety of Pompeo’s using his platform to promote a particular religion.

“There’s obviously no issue with the secretary of state being a leader, nor his being a proud Christian,” Keyak told The Times of Israel. “But it’s a problem that Secretary Pompeo thinks it’s appropriate to put those two words together and hold an official State Department event on being a Christian leader.”

“He’s an American leader, who is also a practicing Christian,” Keyak went on. “Him talking as a Christian leader and billing it as such is an affront to our separation of church and state.”

In his speech, Pompeo recounted a religious awakening experienced as a college student at West Point.

“Like a lot of people – and you don’t have to admit it today – but like a lot of people, I grew up going to church but with a relationship with God that wasn’t especially important for me, because I was destined to be in the NBA,” he joked. “But as I grew older, when I started my time at the United States Military Academy, there were two young men who invited me to a Bible study. They were very intentional to me in explaining God’s word. And after some study and discipleship with them, they helped me begin my walk with Christ.”

At the confab, Pompeo was given a temporary escape from the controversies embroiling him in Washington.

His de facto chief of staff, Michael McKinley, resigned on Friday over the Trump administration’s handlings in Ukraine — which is now at the center of the impeachment probe — and its treatment of diplomats.

Over the last week, Pompeo has also refused to cooperate with House Democrats’ inquiry.

The probe was launched after a whistleblower complaint and the subsequent release of the White House record of a July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The Trump administration, including through Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, is suspected of trying to press Ukrainian officials to investigate baseless corruption allegations against Trump rival and Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who was involved with a gas company there.

On Friday, former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified before impeachment investigators that Trump himself had pressured the State Department to oust her from her post and get her out of the country. The former ambassador said she was fired from her post after insisting that Giuliani’s requests to Ukrainian officials for investigations be relayed through official channels, according to a former diplomat who has spoken with her.

Overnight Friday-Saturday, the New York Times reported that Giuliani is being investigated by federal prosecutors in New York for possible lobbying violations.

Two Florida businessmen tied to Giuliani were charged Thursday with federal campaign finance violations. The men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, had key roles in Giuliani’s efforts to launch the Ukrainian corruption investigation against Biden and his son. According to the indictment against the men, they agreed to raise $20,000 or more for a US congressman to seek his “assistance in causing the US Government to remove or recall the then-US Ambassador to Ukraine.”

In his Nashville speech on Friday, Pompeo did not address the firestorm in Washington.

“Scripture calls us to be ‘transformed by the renewing of minds,'” he said. “And so I keep a Bible open on my desk, and I try every morning to try and get in a little bit of time with the Book. I need my mind renewed with truth each day. And part of that truth is, as my son reminds me, is to be humble.”

He closed by telling the audience: “You will all be in my prayers as you do God’s work, and I covet yours as I lead American diplomacy.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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