There is a fascinating ambivalence regarding the term “realism.”
On the one hand, many claim to be realists since the alternative would be to be, well, unrealistic. Political realism built its modern brand during the interwar period as the sensible alternative to the naïve idealism that believed war could be outlawed, making it ill-equipped to confront the threat posed by the totalitarian Axis powers.
Following World War II, Reinhold Niebuhr helped establish “Christian realism” as an alternative to pacifist Christian idealism and to provide spiritual heft to the emergent Cold War liberalism. Such was realism’s dominance that Martin Luther King, Jr., heavily influenced by Niebuhr, denied being a “doctrinaire pacifist” and instead claimed he “embrace[d] a realistic pacifism,” which King argued was needed to prevent the danger of nuclear escalation and annihilation.
Christian realism has arguably remained the dominant ideology of American Christians actively…