Matthew Avery Sutton.

In civics classes across the country, students are taught that a metaphoric wall separates church and state. However, the church-state connection is far more complicated, according to NEH Public Scholar Matthew Avery Sutton professor of history at Washington State University. “During the 1940s,” he writes, “American leaders came to understand in deeper and more explicit ways how central religion was to crafting successful foreign policy.” They hatched numerous plans to use spirituality as a political tool, but one in particular stuck: hiring missionaries to “serve God and country” as spies.

Sutton’s book, Double Crossed: the Missionaries who Spied for the United States during the Second World War, examines this “holy” espionage throughout WWII, presenting a fledgling U.S. intelligence agency, its religious assets, and their unusually close alliance.

Sutton is currently writing a book on the history of American Christianity, from colonial times to the present. In it, he hopes to explain how Christianity has developed in and shaped the United States.

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National Endowment for the Humanities