By Dr. Rick Chromey
In 1940 western civilization was under attack.
Wars raged across the globe. Fascist dictators invaded and occupied weaker countries. Totalitarian regimes removed human rights and denied religious liberty. The threat of atheist socialism and communism spread across the globe, even to Main Street, U.S.A.
The world hungered for peace and security.
In a May 1940 radio address President Franklin D. Roosevelt confessed, “Americans might have to become the guardian of western culture, the protector of Christian civilization.”1 A few months later, he preached, “If the spirit of God is not in us, and if we will not prepare to give all that we have and all that we are to preserve Christian civilization in our land, we shall go to destruction.”2
Throughout the war years, Roosevelt – a devout Episcopalian – often acknowledged “Christian civilization” and “religious liberty” as essential for universal peace and security. The horrific Jewish Holocaust gave Roosevelt the political capital to promote a bubbling global dream.
He called it the United Nations.
Roosevelt knew a Judeo-Christian worldview was problematic to the secularism and atheism of Nazis, socialists, and communists: “Those forces hate democracy and Christianity as two phases of the same civilization. They oppose democracy because it is Christian. They oppose Christianity because it preaches democracy.”3
Roosevelt envisioned the United Nations as creating progressive global “peace and security” serviced through Christian nations:
“Even in time of war those Nations which still hold to the old ideals of Christianity and democracy are carrying on services to humanity which have little or no relationship to torpedoes or guns or bombs. That means very definitely that we have an abiding faith in the future – a definite expectancy that we are going to win through to a peace that will bring with it continuing progress and substantial success in our efforts for the security and not for the destruction of humanity.”4
After Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, President Harry Truman picked up the mantle for the “United Nations” and months later, 51 countries ratified the United Nations Charter (October 24, 1945). In early 1946, Truman delivered his own fiery sermon to the Federal Council of Churches of Christ: “We have just come through a decade in which the forces of evil in various parts of the world have been lined up in a bitter fight to banish from the face of the earth…religion and democracy.”5
Truman argued human rights were rooted to the “worth and dignity” of every person. All lives (and nations) mattered to God. Truman then disclosed a shocking revelation to this religious council. The new U.N. Charter was written with “the essence of religion.” Its tenets were spiritual values to:
- End aggression
- Maintain peace
- Promote social justice
- Defend individual rights/freedoms
- Substitute reason/justice for tyranny/war
- Protect the small and weak
Truman concluded “the United Nations [had] laid the framework of the Charter on the sound rock of religious principles.”6 To answer this charter, he issued an altar call for American Protestants, Catholics, and Jews to unify and lead a “moral and spiritual awakening.”
The first step? Stand with the United Nations and recognize Israel’s right to exist (awarded May 15, 1948). To affirm this right, the British ceded their control of Palestine (which they occupied since 1917) for the Jews to have a homeland. The Nazi wanted to exterminate the Jew. Roosevelt’s (and Churchill’s) vision gave Jews back their ancient land with dignity and worth.
In a 1950 U.N. Assembly address, President Truman outlined the early successes of the United Nations, noting better living conditions, freedom, and justice. The U.N. directly helped millions through food, schoolbooks, vaccinations, and farming advice. However, Truman noted, it’s the U.N.’s support of the “spiritual values of men’s lives” that’s brought the most dignity and worth.7
This was always the original Judeo-Christian vision of the United Nations.
Unfortunately, the U.N. sadly devolved after 1950 and drifted toward secular paths.
It began in 1948 with the U.N.’s “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” that proclaimed freedom of opinion, speech, and religion; prohibited slavery, forced marriages, torture and inhumane punishment. The problem? Unlike American founding documents, it refused to acknowledge God as the originator of human rights.
During the 1950s, the United Nations replaced its religious foundation with secular values. Religion was shelved. In December 1955, for example, U.S. ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge’s recommendation for United Nations sessions to open with prayer was quietly rejected.
A secular United Nations now tolerated and accepted communist, atheist countries. In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan voiced concerns about “a growing disregard for the U.N. charter” noting how certain nations violated the charter through civil rights abuses, human slavery, and sex trafficking. Reagan was ignored.
Today the United Nations is a shell of its original vision, leading many to question its relevance or necessity. Can the United Nations, sans biblical principle, effectively monitor human rights and religious liberty? Without God, can unity, peace, or security even exist?
Roosevelt didn’t think so. Neither did Truman or Reagan.
But there was a day back in 1945 when the “United Nations” had six million reasons to exist, and each was tethered to biblical purpose.
It’s why we can’t ignore our past.
Because it has a way of repeating…today.
1Franklin D. Roosevelt. Radio Address Before the Eighth Pan American Scientific Congress. Washington, D.C. May 10, 1940. https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/radio-address-before-the-eighth-pan-american-scientific-congress-washington-dc
2F. D. Roosevelt. Address at Dedication of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. September 02, 1940. https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/address-dedication-great-smoky-mountains-national-park
3F. D. Roosevelt. Campaign Address at Brooklyn, New York; November 1, 1940. https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/campaign-address-brooklyn-new-york
4F. D. Roosevelt. Radio Address on the President’s Sixtieth Birthday. January 30, 1942. https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/radio-address-the-presidents-sixtieth-birthday
5Harry S. Truman. Address in Columbus at a Conference of the Federal Council of Churches. March 6, 1946. https://www.trumanlibrary.gov/library/public-papers/52/address-columbus-conference-federal-council-churches
7H.S. Truman. Address to the U.N. General Assembly. October 24, 1950. https://2009-2017.state.gov/p/io/potusunga/207324.htm
Dr. Rick Chromey is an historian, author and speaker who helps people interpret history, navigate culture, and explore faith. Since 2022, he’s worked as a Lewis and Clark historian for American Cruise Lines on the Columbia and Snake rivers. Annually he speaks to audiences of all ages on topics related to leadership, classroom management, natural motivation, U.S. history, creative communication, and Bible/theology, and can be found at www.mannasolutions.org