The President Who Raised Hell

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.
— 2 Corinthians 5:11 ESV

What will you allow to silence your witness to the Truth?

In 1941, Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union formed “the grand alliance” against Hitler and Nazi Germany. To unify other countries in this alliance, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, already bound by The Atlantic Charter, hammered out the “Declaration By United Nations.” By signing this short document governments pledged “to accept the Atlantic Charter and agreed not to negotiate a separate peace with any of the Axis powers.”

The USSR and China were essential signatories to this United Nations Declaration, but wording over the concept of religious freedom was causing the Soviet Union to drag its feet.

In his book, The Grand Alliance, Winston Churchill recounts the efforts to achieve this agreement.

Many telegrams had passed between Washington, London, and Moscow, but now all was settled. The President had exerted his most fervent efforts to persuade Litvinov, the Soviet Ambassador . . . to accept the phrase, “religious freedom.”

Despite the heavy pressure by Roosevelt, Litvinov was hesitant. The Soviet Ambassador was only recently restored to favor in his country. Added to that, pushing “religious freedom” to communist leader Joseph Stalin would not be an easy task. As Churchill notes, “[Litvinov] had to be careful.”

Diplomacy prevailed. On January 1, 1942, the United States, Great Britain, the USSR, and China signed the United Nations Declaration. “The next day the representatives of twenty-two other nations added their signatures.”

This is an interesting and strategically important part of World War II history. What most do not know is this: There was more on FDR’s mind than the declaration. Roosevelt was concerned for Litvinov’s soul. Churchill recounts the incident:

Later on the President had a long talk with him alone about his soul and the dangers of hell-fire. The accounts which Mr. Roosevelt gave us on several occasions of what he said to the Russian were impressive. Indeed, on one occasion I promised Mr. Roosevelt to recommend him for the position of Archbishop of Canterbury if he should lose the next Presidential election. I did not however make any official recommendation to the Cabinet or the Crown upon this point, and as he won the election in 1944 it did not arise.

Study the life of Roosevelt and you will discover that he, like we, had clay feet. There are multiple indiscretions to stack up against this amazing leader and four-term President. Still, I find it interesting that FDR used the very issue of religious freedom as his opening to talk with Russian Ambassador Litvinov about his soul.

Roosevelt raised the issue of hell — certainly not politically correct or culturally sensitive — but apparently in Roosevelt’s mind a man’s eternal destiny outweighed social niceties.

The Apostle Paul displayed the same indifference to social norms in his day. When Paul stood before the bribe-hungry Governor Felix, he refused to let pomp and circumstance silence his witness. Luke records Paul’s unhesitating witness to the reality of Christ and the consequences of unbelief:

24 After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” 26 At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him. Acts 24:24-26 ESV

Two years later, when brought to appear before Governor Festus and King Agrippa, Paul once again used the occasion to share Christ, even though Festus wasn’t “buying it.”

24 And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” 25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. 26 For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” 28 And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” 29 And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.” Acts 26:24-29 ESV

How’s your testimony these days? If it’s a little weak perhaps its time to pause and assess what you really believe. Paul and Roosevelt believed — to their core — that Jesus saves men and women from death and hell. It was that belief that drove them to persuade others.

How about you?


  1. “To accept the Atlantic Charter and agreed …” from “History of the United Nations.” Accessed 08/12/19.

  2. “Many telegrams had passed between Washington, London, and Moscow... “ from The Grand Alliance, Volume 3 of The Second World War. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1950, page 682.

  3. ““[Litvinov] had to be careful.” from The Grand Alliance, page 682.

  4. “The next day the representatives of twenty-two other nations …” from “1942: Declaration Of The United Nations.” Accessed 08/12/19.

  5. “Later on the President had a long talk with him alone about his soul …” from The Grand Alliance, page 682.