The United Nations: How Roosevelt’s Original Vision for the World Changed

Roosevelt and Churchill convene to create the UNThe United Nations has been keeping international peace and protecting human rights for nearly eight decades.

But was this its sole original vision? And what is the forgotten back story to the United Nations?

The initial vision for an international governing body emerged in the mind of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In his day, the threats of fascism, socialism, communism and totalitarianism had spread around the world. The aggressive expansion of Hitler’s socialist (Nazi) party. The emergence of the Japanese war machine. The rise of Mussolini’s Italian fascism. The U.S. president lamented the gross violations of human rights, particularly in Germany. But Roosevelt wasn’t alone in his convictions. The British prime minister Winston Churchill was soon by his side.

Roosevelt stated on May 10, 1940 that “Americans might have to become the guardian of western culture, the protector of Christian civilization.”

A few months later, he preached on September 2, 1940, that “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.” Roosevelt equated liberty, equality and justice with a Christian culture. Today he’d be accused of being an extreme right wing “Christian nationalist” but in 1940 his religious faith was still part of the fabric of American life. Roosevelt was an Episcopalian in his brand of Christianity, however he proved rather liberal in his applications of his faith. Roosevelt promoted a social gospel that elevated the suffering of man through political and human solutions.

What was happening in Germany sparked those convictions and pushed him to act to correct the abuses of Hitler’s Nazism, particularly his actions against Jews.

At a March 24, 1944 meeting discussing justice for war crimes, Roosevelt noted how the protection of the Jews was a critical objective for the “united nations” (a term he coined). Roosevelt, among others, called out the crimes of Nazism and its “systematic murder of [European] Jews.” The United Nations was commissioned, in part, to seek justice for these and all future war crimes.

But as noted, Roosevelt’s founding vision for the United Nations was hardly secular. Rather it was decidedly religious.

“If the world to emerge from the war after a victory of the United Nations is to be a world of enduring peace and freedom,” Roosevelt argued in November 1942, “that peace and freedom must be founded on renewed loyalty to spiritual values.” 

After Roosevelt’s death, Harry S. Truman continued the clarion call to build a “strong and lasting United Nations Organization…with Divine Guidance (April 16, 1945).” Just like America was founded with religious tolerance, so would the United Nations equally promote this value.

Six months later, on October 24, 1945, fifty-one countries ratified the United Nations charter.

President Truman observed, “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.”

Truman also noted the importance of human rights, rooted to “the worth and dignity of the individual man and woman.” We would never have peace on earth as long as we viewed life so cheaply. All lives matter, regardless of nationality, creed or gender.

Truman encouraged the American Protestant and Catholic Churches, along with the Jewish Synagogue, to unify and help “accomplish this moral and spiritual awakening.” If the world was to unite, America must lead the way. As part of that religious “awakening,” the United Nations fully recognized the State of Israel on May 15, 1948.

America was leading the world to establish an international culture of peace, prosperity and liberty.

It was a message that most nations desired then…and still do today. In fact, many world leaders pointed to the U.S.’s Christian heritage as the reason.

The good (in the United States) would never have come into being without the blessing and power of Jesus Christ” stated the Lebanese Charles Habib Malik (13th United Nations General Session President) in 1958. “Whoever tries to conceive the American word without taking full account of the suffering and love and salvation of Christ is only dreaming,” Malik continued, “I know how embarrassing this matter is to politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen and cynics; but, whatever these honored men think, the irrefutable truth is that the soul of America is at its best and highest, Christian.” 

In the 1960s, like many institutions, the United Nations transformed its image. 

Simply and sadly, it drifted from its original charter. It no longer sought to create peace and unity against “Red agnosticism,” secular police states and human slavery. Roosevelt originally envisioned an international gathering that reflected “Judeo-Christian” values, but the United Nations chose to be secular from the start.

For example, in December 1955, when the U.S. ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge proposed all United Nations sessions begin with a prayer, the proposal was shelved and rejected.

The U.N.’s “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (Dec 10, 1948) outlined the freedom “of opinion and expression, to change religions, and to education.” It also rightly prohibited slavery, forced marriages, torture and inhumane punishment. However, this declaration glaringly made no acknowledgment of God (as the Originator of these human rights). Consequently, unlike the American founding (that stated human rights are “endowed by a Creator”), the U.N.’s was distinctly secular.

As a secular body, the United Nations admitted countries that were socialist or communist, and who were decidedly religiously agnostic and atheist. These nations abandoned and resisted the original U.N. Human Rights agreement. The top offenders? The Soviet Union (Russia), China and Iran

In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan sounded alarms about how some member nations were showing “a growing disregard for the U.N. charter.” Over the past seven decades, these abuses have only grown, particularly in violations to the freedoms of speech and religion. Human slavery and sex trafficking also remain a serious problem.

Today the United Nations is an international governing body that has largely lost its way.

It’s become a victim of mission drift. Many world leaders no longer see a need for it.

Initially, the United Nations was a GOoD idea, but without GOD, can there be unity among nations?

Or peace on earth?

Or a universal value of human life and dignity?

Obviously not.

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