Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
American Association of Christian Counselors
Gaylord Opryland Hotel, Nashville, Tennessee
October 11, 2019
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning, everyone. (Cheers.) Good morning. Good morning, thank you. Thank you. Good morning. Good morning, everyone. Thank you, Dr. Clinton, for that kind introduction. It’s great to be with you and your wife, Julie. It’s a real privilege to be with you, and it’s a heck of a deal to be out of Washington today. (Laughter.) I was going to give you some wisdom, said maybe you’ll hold your conference there next year, but I thought about it and that’d be a bad idea. (Laughter.) But Washington could use your spirit and your love.
And I want, too, to take just a moment to pass along – I spoke to the President yesterday, and I told him I was coming down here. He reminded me that Tennessee won the country. (Laughter.) I told him I knew that. But he said to send his regards and his love and his appreciation for what you do taking care of people all around the world.
I did want to talk to you about why I’m here. I’m the Secretary of State. I spend most of my time traveling around the world, but I wanted to come here because I have a profound appreciation for your mission. And when I had a chance to talk to Tim about the opportunity to come speak with you, I was thrilled to get the chance.
Look, we share some things in common. We talk to people through hard times. We find ourselves in the middle of disputes and we seek to mediate them and try and identify their root causes. We try to keep conflict minimized, at bay. And when you think about those missions, the missions that you all have, it sounds a lot like the diplomacy that me at the State Department and my team engage in every day.
We’re both in very people-intensive lines of work, and we’re both appealing to the hearts and minds to change behaviors. As believers, we draw on the wisdom of God to help us get it right, to be a force for good in the life of human beings.
Now, I know that even having just said that, I know some people in the media will break out the pitchforks when they hear that I ask God for direction in my work. (Applause.) But you should know, as much as I’d like to claim originality, it is not a new idea. (Laughter.) I love this quote from President Lincoln. He said that he – he said, quote, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” (Laughter.)
And so with that in mind, I want to use my time today to think about what it means to be a Christian leader, a Christian leader in three areas:
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. How do we make choices? Upon what basis? What do we use as our bedrock to get to those decisions? These are things that you face in your work every day. They are issues that the State Department and President Trump, each of us, must face.
And my focus too, to be quite candid, is not just on being a leader. I learned how to lead at whatever level I’m blessed with during my time at West Point and other experiences, but I want to talk today about being a Christian leader. I learned that through a very different experience, an experience with God and my own personal faith in Christ.
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. (Laughter.) But as I grew older, when I started my time at the United States Military Academy, there were two young men – they were in the class ahead of me – 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.
And since then I’ve been privileged to have many different leadership roles. I was a captain in the United States Army in a cavalry unit. I was – I ran two small companies in my home state of Kansas. I served as a member of Congress trying to do my level best to represent the people of south-central Kansas. And then I served as CIA Director, and now I have the incredible privilege to serve President Trump as his 70th Secretary of State. I’m mindful he’s the 45th president, so there’s a lot more turnover in my job than in his. (Laughter.)
But back – Susan and I have been – had Christ at the center of our lives. Back in my church in Wichita I was a deacon. She and I taught fifth grade Sunday School, which was a great, great lesson for my time as Secretary of State. (Laughter and Applause.) But we also saw in that, in our time serving in that, we saw how many challenging issues that you all address every single day.
I’ve had the privilege to do it all alongside Susan, my wonderful Christian wife, and my son, Nick, who keeps me humble. Yeah, he reminded me. So I’m going to get off an airplane the other day at 3 o’clock in the morning, I forget where I was, and he texted me. It was a different time here on the East Coast. And he texted and said, “Dad, you almost fell down.” And he was not worried about me; he was worried about America. (Laughter.) He did not want me to embarrass America. (Laughter.) There is absolutely no shortage of leadership wisdom gathered from raising a teenage boy, I can certainly tell you that. (Laughter.)
And so my prayer today is that whatever understanding I’ve gained in these various opportunities that I’ve had, these blessings I’ve had to lead – some of which I’ve learned the hard way, for sure – I hope that I can share some of these with you today and it will bless you in your work as well.
We all know this: Before you can help others, you need to have the right approach to yourself. This is where I get to the first point I wanted to talk about, which is disposition. How – what’s the attitude with which we approach each of these challenges, all the things that we see in the world? How you carry yourself is the first arena of Christian leadership.
Scripture calls us to be “transformed by the renewing of [our] minds.” 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. Proverbs says, “With the humble is wisdom.”
Every day, as Secretary of State, I get a real chance to be humble, because I get to see the great work that my team is doing. I, like many of you, am also confronted with highly complex problem sets, and I need wisdom to try and make the right calls. I need to admit what I don’t know and try to learn it, to ask the questions that others might find obvious and be unembarrassed, and to accept conclusions when the facts are presented that might go against whatever preconceived notion that I might have had.
Indeed, this disposition is my duty; it’s my duty to the American people to pursue the outcomes based on an honest analysis of the facts as they present themselves. We know this, too – we see this in our lives: Pride can get in the way of that. But wisdom comes from a humble disposition.
And one more point on disposition: forgiveness. I love the story of the prodigal son in the Scripture: the son comes homes with his tail between his legs, he knows he’s messed up, and yet his father runs – runs – to welcome him back home.
The people who work for me know this, too: I have high standards for excellence. I hold them accountable and give them authority. I hold myself to that high set of standards because there is so much riding on what we do to keep the American people safe that we can’t accept anything less.
But when there is failure, when the people close to me misfire, I don’t strip away their responsibilities. I don’t cut them out of meetings. I keep them in the fold. I keep giving them important work. That’s what Christ does for us; we have an obligation to do the same.
We should all remember – we should all remember that we are imperfect servants serving a perfect God who constantly forgives us each and every day. He keeps using us – (applause) – he keeps using us to do a higher work. And my work at the State Department, as it is for those who work alongside of me, is to serve America each and every day.
And that brings me to a second idea of the Christian leader: dialogue. How we speak, our speech, our dealings with others.
For a moment, back to the Book of James: “Everyone should be quick to listen, and slow to speak.”
That’s a lesson I learned in the Army from a guy named SFC Pretre, and I was reminded of it in an interview this morning. (Laughter.) I’ll do better. (Laughter.) I was a brand new Second Lieutenant. I’d just arrived in Germany and I’d had my four years at West Point, and I was set to conquer the world. I went out to the field in a little tiny town in the far – then far-eastern stretches of West Germany, and there he was, a grizzled old soldier named Sergeant Pretre. And I walked up, he saluted me because I was the officer and he was the noncommissioned officer, and I greeted him, and he said, “Young man, you’ll do really well if you just shut up for a while.” (Laughter.) He actually had an adjective in there that I shall not use in polite company. (Laughter.)
I listened to him then, and I continued to listen. Every day, too, I engage with foreign leaders who sit across the table from me, or sit in a room, and I try to understand what it is they want. What are their objectives for their people? How can the United States deliver to help them in a way that treats America, the people that I am responsible for keeping safe – puts America first and delivers on behalf of the American people?
It reminds me, when I’m with them, that sound relationships absolutely depend on open ears. Good listening means more than just hearing; it means not rushing to judgment before you hear every side of a particular fact set. This comes through so clearly in Proverbs, which say, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”
There’s a lot of times members of my team will come into my office and they respectfully disagree. They’ll have ideas that are different from mine or, in fact, often different from each other. I need to make sure that I listen, that I scrutinize each position before I say one is right or wrong, or that the truth is somewhere in between.
I’m sure you all see that. I’m sure you all see that in your research, in your studies, in the counseling that you do when you counsel people wrestling over a disagreement, whether that’s in their marriage or in a church matter or with their family. Let’s make sure we understand the facts. When we have that, we can begin to move forward and heal and solve problems.
After I’ve collected data, I feel like I have the seasoning to then be able to begin to speak fundamental basic, simple, small “t” truths. Colossians talks about this. It says, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer to each person.” I know this is a critical part of what so many of you do, whether it’s pointing those you counsel back to the truth of the Scripture, or giving them a hard wake-up call over their trespasses.
I’ve found this in life – truth telling isn’t just a matter of private conversations for me. It’s what I try to do publicly as we lay down President Trump’s foreign policy to keep Americans safe and secure.
This administration has spoken to the truth in many ways that previous administrations haven’t done. (Applause.) For example, on China’s rule-breaking and authoritarianism; for example, on why the Islamic Republic of Iran is an aggressor, not a victim; for why, in fact, we know in our hearts that America is a force for good in the world. (Applause.)
And I’m especially telling the truth about the dire condition of religious freedom around the world. America has a proud history of religious freedom, and we want jealously to guard it here. But around the world, more than 80% of mankind lives in areas where religious freedom is suppressed or denied in its entirety.
The Chinese Communist Party – as we sit here today in the beautiful facility in Nashville, the Chinese Communist Party is detaining and abusing more than one million Uighur Muslims in internment camps in the Xinjiang. It’s the western region of China. The pages of George Orwell’s 1984 are coming to life there. I wish the NBA would acknowledge that. (Applause.)
So Christian pastors today are being unlawfully arrested, beaten, detained inside the Islamic Republic of Iran. We need to speak about this.
Christian areas in northern Iraq that I’ve had the privilege to visit have been ravaged by ISIS, part of a greater trend of Christian persecution all across the Middle East.
And so the truth – for the past two years we’ve spoken the truth. We’ve hosted ministerials. We bring leaders from all around the world called the Ministerial on Religious Freedom at the State Department. We’ve told the world about these shortfalls and the success of nations when individuals are given their basic human dignity to practice their conscience, their faith, or to choose no faith if they so choose all around the world.
We hosted the largest human rights conference ever at the United States Department of State just this past summer. It was truly remarkable. Faith leaders from all across the globe came together at our beautiful facility in the western party of Washington, D.C. to talk about the importance of religious freedom.
Just this week, the United States made a decision. We put visa restrictions on those responsible for the some of the human rights violations that took place in China and that continue to take place today.
And we’ve stopped American companies from exporting certain products to Chinese tech companies that are enabling these very human rights abuses. We did these things under President Trump’s direction for the simple reason that we know Americans do not want their companies building the machinery of a totalitarian surveillance state.
There’s so much more work to do. I would ask you today to pray for my work in defending religious freedom. (Applause.)
This is – look, I’ll be straight up with you – I’m from Kansas – but this is not a popular conversation to raise in Washington, D.C. sometimes, and sometimes not with other leaders around the world as well. But the world needs to hear this truth. And with you all, or with you having your voices being raised for this purpose, I am confident that we can improve human dignity for individuals all across the world. (Applause.)
Now for my final thought on Christian leadership. I want to talk about how it is we make decisions, individual decisions in our personal lives, in our family lives, and other decisions as well.
Let’s start with some of the toughest decisions of all: those involving money. I know you all see this as Christian counselors. I’m willing to bet my organization’s budget is a little bigger than yours. Although this is a big group. (Laughter.) But no matter whether it’s your family’s finances or you’re responsible for protecting taxpayer funds and being a good steward, as I am today, the Bible calls us to be faithful in our stewardship of whatever it is that we have been privileged to hold onto, no matter how much or how little. We have to be faithful in every single circumstance.
Think of that famous parable of the talents. The servant called “good and faithful” used what he had wisely.
Last year – and I confront this with some frequency – last year, I had a group of folks in my office who came and said, “Mike, we have this project we want to work on. It’s going to spend tens of millions of dollars. Here’s how we’re going to deliver that. Here’s the end state that we’re seeking.” And just like you do in your life every day and each as you do in your – the faith part of your life as well, I asked a handful of simple questions about whether this would be a responsible use of the American people’s money? Are we going to create value for the American people?
In this particular case, I recall it was a close call. It was a difficult decision. I ultimately decided that spending these resources was appropriate and that we’d put in place a set of metrics that would ensure that we delivered a good outcome for the American people. I’m sure you – there are many pastors out here – you make decisions, too, about how to spend the money you’re your flock has so generously contributed to the Lord. And I know you’ll do the best for your congregation and for your church as well. And you’ll do that remembering this important Christian leadership principle, this call for stewardship.
Because we are mindful that decisions are a question of priorities, often. I just talked about one decision we made at the State Department. It meant that those resources couldn’t be spent elsewhere. We were setting a priority. And I am grateful that my call as a Christian to protect human dignity overlaps with America’s centuries-old commitment to the same mission in our foreign policy all across the world.
My day is often scheduled into 15-minute increments. Every now and again I get a half hour, and every now and again I get to hear some of the beautiful worship music that I was able to sit with you for. I need to be intentional – we each need to be intentional – about carving out time to pursue the mission of defending human dignity.
I’m proud to say that President Trump has let our State Department do that. Indeed, he has demanded that we do.
International organizations will try, from time to time, to sneak language into their documents claiming that abortion is a human right. And we’ll never accept that. (Applause and cheers.) We’ve worked diligently to find every dollar that might be going to that and we have worked tirelessly and successfully now to bring it nearly to an end.
We also face situations around the world of human trafficking. We’re exposing them. We’re fighting them. (Applause and cheers.)
Earlier this year, our Diplomatic Security Service came across a young woman and pulled her out of a human trafficking situation not too far from here in Dallas, Texas. This young woman was separated from her mother and she had been shipped off to the United States from Guinea when she was just a small child.
She had been toiling for 12 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week, without pay: cooking and cleaning and caring for five children of a wealthy Texas family. She wasn’t permitted to attend school. She didn’t receive medical care. She wasn’t allowed to play with the other children in the neighborhood.
This young woman endured sheer misery for 16 years until, with the help of concerned neighbors, she escaped.
The blessing in this story is that her case came to the attention of the United States Department of State. We became the lead investigator in the case, and one of our agents tracked down this young woman’s mother, who had been desperate to see her again. (Applause.) We were able to fly her to Texas to testify at trial. She was there to vouch for the girl’s identity, to say, “This is my daughter.”
Ultimately, the perpetrators were put in prison for a good long time. And the girl is, today, working towards her GED and receiving counseling and living a wonderful life. (Applause.)
These violations of the most fundamental freedoms, human dignity that I spoke about today – religious persecution, human trafficking, political repression – they leave deep scars.
And I am sure that some of you – and especially our friends who have traveled here from overseas today – I’m sure you counsel folks who are healing from those kinds of traumas.
My team and I at the State Department are out there every day, using our diplomacy to fix the very conditions that allowed these evils to fester.
Others will confront these evils closer to home, where the emotional aftermath is no less terrible: vicious abuse, or the opioid epidemic, just to name a couple.
But no matter what comes before you, I pray you’ll help hurting people stay immersed in God’s Word. By remaining humble. By showing forgiveness. By listening intently and carefully and thoughtfully. By not rushing to judgment in complicated matters. By being a faithful steward. By using your time with intentionally.
And I pray you’ll do these things not out of your own strength, but by relying on, as Paul says, “Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we are able to ask or to imagine.”
You will all be in my prayers as you do God’s work, and I covet yours as I lead American diplomacy.
Thank you for joining me here today. God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America. Thank you, all. (Applause and cheers.)