Saturday, January 15, 2022

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on America's Morally Muddled Mainstream

            By Rudy Barnes, Jr., January 15, 2022


Over 160 years ago a morally muddled mainstream in America produced a Civil War.  The divisive issue of slavery split America’s mainstream into irreconcilable political factions in the north and south.  Today’s racism is an echo of slavery that has once again polarized the nation’s mainstream.  The January 6, 2021 insurrection could portend another civil war.

Secession is not likely today.  Our divisions are not geographical but are based on who should govern our nation.  America’s mainstream is divided and polarized by a radical right Republican Party and a radical left Democratic Party, and the church has once again lost its moral compass by failing to promote the common good needed to restore political legitimacy.

Churches once moderated partisan extremes with the altruistic morality taught by Jesus.  It’s summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves.  But churches remain racially segregated, with most Blacks voting Democratic and most Whites voting Republican.  

The American political mainstream has shifted from moderates who were once prevalent in both political parties to partisan extremists who control both parties and reject moderates, who have been left with no voice in Congress.  Partisan differences have become polarized, with the violence of civil strife now the norm in America’s morally muddled mainstream.      

Most white churches either support or ignore the partisan walls that divide America rather than promoting the dialogue needed to build bridges of reconciliation between those of different races and religions.  America’s fractured mainstream today looks a lot like it did in 1860.  Are America’s churches once again ignoring a great evil in its midst?


Christianity became the world’s most popular religion after church doctrines supplanted discipleship (following Jesus as the word of God) with worshiping Jesus Christ as a Trinitarian God.  The church has been the mainstream religion of America since its birth, but it failed to prevent the Civil War and lost its legitimacy in 2016 when most white Christians supported Donald Trump, a narcissist demagogue who instigated the abortive insurgency of January 2021.

Jesus was crucified as an insurgent, but he wasn’t one.  Jewish insurgents of his day were known as Zealots, and in 66 CE they succeeded in overthrowing Roman rule in Jerusalem; but their success was short-lived.  Romans recaptured Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple in 70  CE, sending Jews fleeing to the four corners of the ancient world.

For the church to restore its lost legitimacy and provide moral direction for America’s muddled mainstream, it should abandon the cheap grace and big lie of exclusivist Christian doctrines and emphasize the teachings of Jesus as moral imperatives of faith.  That would likely cost Christianity its popularity as America’s mainstream religion, but it would be worth the cost.


According to extensive research by Professor Robert Pape at the University of Chicago, “the people who participated in the Capitol riot [of January 6, 2021] and the beliefs they hold are not on the fringe but are decidedly ‘mainstream.’ Pape believes that faith leaders have a vital role in reaching these Americans who are increasingly comfortable with the use of political violence. We’re so used to thinking of extremists as being on the fringe—being part of fringe militia groups or fringe religious sects. What’s striking about those who broke into the Capitol—and also what’s striking about the insurrectionist sentiments in the country today in the general population is that they are mainstream. This comes through in our research in multiple ways. 

The number one finding is their economic profile: Over half of the nearly 700 who were arrested for breaking into the Capitol are business owners or from white collar occupations—doctors, lawyers, architects. Only about 13 percent are members of militia groups like the Oathkeepers or the Proud Boys. At least 25 percent of the insurrectionists have college degrees. When we look at military service, about 15 percent of the insurrectionists have military service. That’s a little higher than the 10 percent in the general population, but actually quite close to the general population. Seven percent of those insurrections who broke into the Capitol on Jan. 6 were unemployed—nearly the national average at the time. They’re not 100 percent the same as the general population. They’re more white; 93 percent of those who were arrested for breaking into the Capitol are white. They are also more male—about 85 percent. The average age is 42.  Overwhelmingly what we’re seeing is the mainstream.”  In that mainstream, Pape found “that a large number of Americans—21 million—hold two radical views. One, they believe that the use of force to restore Donald Trump to the presidency is justified. Number two, they believe that Joe Biden is an illegitimate president. Those are the two key insurrectionist beliefs we saw on Jan. 6.”  Pape says ”the primary beliefs of the movement are not mainly religious.  We see an idea on the right that used to be just a fringe idea, which is now moving into the mainstream, called ‘the great replacement.’ This idea is that whites are being replaced by non-whites; it’s either happening through birth or, in the right-wing extremist conspiracy theory, liberal Democrats are making it happen by opening the borders so that they can change the electorate. The number one characteristic of the counties that the individuals came from is the decline of white population in their counties.”  While Pape said that the primary beliefs are not religious, he went on to say that “Faith leaders in the church are powerful voices in a community’s mainstream. And at a point in time when our politicians are so polarized, we need places where we can have real dialogue. Church leaders are a powerful venue for ameliorating what we have in front of us today. Having church leaders see the details of what I’m describing really come to grips with this information and absorb what we’re describing, that’s the next step. See

Brian Broome has described the desire to be right as a motivating force behind the polarization of mainstream America into partisan factions.  He has said, “I like being right..but some of the power in being right rests in its ability to make us feel superior and, more insidiously, from the way it makes our worlds appear solid and unassailable. The only feeling that might be more intoxicating than being right is the feeling of superiority that comes from being right while someone else is wrong. I have wasted many hours fighting with strangers online about politics or gender or culture. In most cases, of course, I thought I was right. Often the arguments got ugly and soon the most important thing became proving that I was right and my opponent was wrong. The specifics fall away and the stakes become clear: If I am wrong, my world becomes threatening and unsafe. I imagine the same is true for them.” Broome concludes, There must be a way to set aside the hollow satisfaction of right-thinking and to find out why other people believe what they believe. If the United States should fail, I doubt it will be because of some foreign power. America’s destruction will take place inside its own borders because we conflate being wrong with failing or losing. Our destruction will come from those of us who are so damned right all the time. The ones who refuse to listen, who will never even bother to consider other people’s viewpoints and who will protect their worldview with their lives. We must find a 

better path to safety.”  Dialogue can counter our insistence on being “damn right all the time.”

The term “insurrection” has different connotations, some positive and some negative.  When liberty from oppression (De oppresso liber) is the objective (see Luke 4: 18-19 and Isaiah 61:1-2), as it was in the American Revolution and slave liberation, an insurrection can have postive biblical connotations.  But a violent insurrection by radical right nihilists like those who participated in the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol is not only negative but also a crime.

Hawa Allen has noted that the term “insurrection” under the Insurrection Act of 1807 primarily refers to Black insurrections: “Defining the mostly white crowd that stormed the Capitol on January 6 as ‘insurrectionists’ does more than set a narrative mood, it represents a major narrative shift—expanding the traditional role of the insurrectionist beyond the Black actor to the white one. This is not the first time the shift has happened: When Ulysses S. Grant invoked the Insurrection Act in March 1871 to deploy federal troops in South Carolina to help put down the paramilitary Ku Klux Klan, it was abundantly clear that violent Klan members were the “insurrectionists.” But such use of the term has been rare. And for those who resist the word “insurrection” to describe the events of Jan. 6, this history may only underline that it may be a troubling harbinger of future state action that then-president elect Joe Biden was among the first people to use it.” See What the history of the word insurrection says about Jan 6 at      

On the topic of de oppresso liber, See De Oppresso Liber: Where Religion and Politics Intersect at

See also Liberation from Economic Oppression: A Human Right or Obligation of Faith? at

Carl Krieg has asserted a “big lie” in Christianity: “For over 2,000 years the masses of Christian believers have held that Jesus died for their sins even though the original disciples had no such idea.  They were encountered by a person of love who changed their lives.”  That “big lie” of Christian doctrine has supplanted the altruistic teachings of Jesus as God’s word, and it “exemplifies the power of falsehood to get a grip on the imagination of the masses and grow exponentially under its own power,” just as Trump’s big lie that he won the 2020 election continues to motivate his supporters, including most white Christians, despite there being no credible evidence to support his claim.  “This is one dimension of human nature of which all fascists seem to be aware.” See

Martin Thielen is a former UMC pastor who has lost faith in the relevance of the institutional church to real world issues.  He says “we cannot deny a stark and depressing reality.  Legions of people are disgusted with the sorry state of institutional religion in 21st century America--for many good reasons.  For example, our country is currently struggling with massive challenges including climate crisis, a pandemic, poverty, hunger, racism, injustice, polarization and serious threats to democracy.” See  https//

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Musings on a Cult that Has Corrupted Politics and Christianity in America

The Trump cult has corrupted the Republican Party and left America governed by a Democratic Party with a paper-thin majority.  If the Trump cult retains control of the GOP, it will either undermine America’s democracy or leave free-spending Democrats in control.  A conservative coalition in Congress is needed to hold Democratic liberals accountable.  

Germany is a useful precedent.  It was suffering from runaway inflation in 1923 when Hitler staged the Beer Hall Putsch, an abortive coup similar to America’s January 6 insurrection.  Hitler was arrested and imprisoned for 9 months, but he regained the leadership of the Nazi Party; and through his cunning and ruthlessness, Hitler became Germany’s chancellor in 1933. 

In 1934 Hitler became Fuhrer without ever receiving a majority popular vote.  Like America, Germany was a Christian nation; but a combination of Christian complacency and Hitler’s egregious immorality, deceit and charismatic nationalism allowed him to displace the traditional moral authority of the Lutheran church in German politics.

The same thing could happen in America.  The abortive January 6, 2021 insurrection was  instigated by the Trump cult, and recent polls indicate that the fear of another insurrection has diminished public belief in the effectiveness of American democracy.  Joe Biden defeated Trump in 2020, but Biden’s popularity today is little more than Trump’s.

America has had its share of cults with fanatic devotion for their leaders.  Jim Jones was a charismatic pastor who admired Hitler, but he didn’t advocate a political insurrection.  In 1978 he led his followers from California to Guyana where 918 died in a group suicide by cyanide poisoning.  Trump’s cult has a similar “death wish,” refusing vaccinations during the pandemic.

Trump’s cult is made up of his followers who claim to be Christians, but who follow white evangelical charlatans who promote Trump’s radical-right Republican politics.  They represent a majority of white Christians who ignore reason and the moral teachings of Jesus; and they have the same fanatic devotion to Trump as did followers of Jim Jones and Hitler.  

Most Trump supporters would not likely drink Cool-Aid laced with cyanide like the followers of Jim Jones; but like Hitler’s Nazi cult, they have sacrificed Jesus on the altar of radical-right politics.  While Germans restored their democracy, America’s white churches have failed to hold Trump supporters accountable for denigrating democracy.

        The Trump cult has corrupted politics and Christianity in America.  Prior to 2016 the moral teachings of Jesus were the foundation of America’s standards of political legitimacy.  They are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves; and in a democracy, that requires providing for the common good.  That moral imperative of faith and politics is needed to save American democracy from the Trump cult. 


The Trump cult has no geographical boundaries.  Robert Jeffress is a charlatan cheerleader for Trump.  His First Baptist Church in Dallas is a megachurch that promotes theTrump cult.  It’s a  red church in a blue city in a red state.  See Why Evangelicals Rally to Their Savior at

On the GOP becoming a cult of know-nothings, see

On the Gospel of Donald Trump, Jr. that says the teachings of Jesus have “gotten us nothing” see

On how Trump idolatry has undermined religious faith, see

On Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, see

On Jim Jones’ cult and the mass suicide in Jamestown, Guyana in 1978, see and

On Sara Palin’s anti-vax talk showing Republicans have become a death cult, see  


On how the January 6 insurrection is still a crisis for American democracy, see

Two recent surveys reflect diminished public confidence in American democracy caused by the fear of another insurrection instigated by theTrump cult.  

A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll shows that Republicans and Democrats are divided over Trump’s culpability for the January 6 insurrection. See

A CBS News poll shows that a year after January 6, violence is still seen threatening U.S. democracy, and some say force can be justified, at

A new study says ‘We are closer to civil war than any of us would like to believe.’  See

Secession might seem like the lesser of two evils.  It’s also less likely to succeed. See


A retired general warned that the U.S. military could lead a coup after the 2024 election.  See

Why 3 retired generals think the military must prepare now for a 2024 insurrection.  See

Why the U.S. Military Isn’t Ready for Civil War: A significant portion of Americans seek the destruction of political authority. What if they succeed?  See

In answering the question, Is a Civil War Ahead?, David Remnick opines,  “We now inhabit a liminal status that scholars call “anocracy.” That is, for the first time in two hundred years, we are suspended between democracy and autocracy. if the worst comes about, we can expect an era of scattered yet persistent acts of violence: bombings, political assassinations, destabilizing acts of asymmetric warfare carried out by extremist groups that have coalesced via social media. These are relatively small, loosely aligned collections of self-aggrandizing warriors who sometimes call themselves ‘accelerationists.’ They have convinced themselves that the only way to hasten the toppling of an irredeemable, non-white, socialist republic is through violence and other extra-political means. America has always suffered acts of political violence—the terrorism of the Klan; the 1921 massacre of the Black community in Tulsa; the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Democracy has never been a settled, fully stable condition for all Americans, and yet the Trump era is distinguished by the consuming resentment of many right-wing, rural whites who fear being “replaced” by immigrants and people of color, as well as a Republican Party leadership that bows to its most autocratic demagogue and no longer seems willing to defend democratic values and institutions. But it was the election of Barack Obama that most vividly underlined the rise of a multiracial democracy and was taken as a threat by many white Americans who feared losing their majority status. Walter writes that there were roughly forty-three militia groups operating in the U.S. when Obama was elected, in 2008; three years later there were more than three hundred.

“We’re not headed to fascism or Putinism,” Steven Levitsky told me, “but I do think we could be headed to recurring constitutional crises, periods of competitive authoritarian and minority rule, and episodes of pretty significant violence that could include bombings, assassinations, and rallies where people are killed. In 2020, we saw people being killed on the streets for political reasons. This isn’t apocalypse, but it is a horrendous place to be.”

“There are two very different movements at once in the same country,” Levitsky said. “This country is moving towards multiracial democracy for the first time. In the twenty-first century we have a multiracial democratic majority supportive of a diverse society and of having the laws to insure equal rights. That multiracial democratic majority is out there, and it can win popular elections.” And then there is the Republican minority, which too often looks the other way as dangerous extremists act on its behalf. Let’s hope the warnings about a new kind of civil war come to nothing, and we can look back on books like Walter’s as alarmist. But, as we have learned with the imperiled state of our climate, wishing does not make it so.”  See

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Renewing a Covenant with God in 2022

         By Rudy Barnes, Jr., January 1, 2022

Many of us make New Year’s resolutions, but few of us make covenants with God.  In the 18th century John Wesley urged his Methodists to do just that in a Covenant Service at the beginning of each year.  We can do the same, whether we are Jews, Christians or Muslims.  We all serve the same God, and have all pledged to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Much has changed since the 18th century; but God remains the same, and the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including those of other races and religions as we love ourselves, remains a timeless and universal imperative of our faith.  It was taken from the Hebrew Bible, taught by Jesus and accepted as a common word of faith by Islamic scholars.

Jesus was a maverick Jew who taught God’s universal will, and he never promoted any religion, not even his own; and Jesus never suggested that he was divine.  John Wesley was a maverick Anglican who was criticized by his Anglican hierarchy for claiming that the world was his parish, and for urging his Methodists to challenge the social and political values of his day.  

Thomas Jefferson was an 18th century universalist deist who considered the teachings of Jesus as “the most sublime moral code ever devised by man;” but Jefferson was critical of the church, and the church reciprocated by condemning Jefferson’s heterodox faith.  America had a Christian Universalist church in the 18th century, but it merged with Unitarian Universalists in 1961.


Today, increasing religious diversity has made exclusivist religious beliefs dangerously divisive in democracies.   God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer.  Satan has done a convincing imitation of God in politics, the church and in the mosque, and is winning the popularity contest; and popularity is the key to power in democracies.  

Jews, Christians and Muslims should make interfaith reconciliation a priority.  They share a common word of faith in the greatest commandment to love God and those of other religions as they love themselves.  Interfaith reconciliation would put God above any one religion, but most Christians continue to believe that their exclusivist beliefs are the only way to salvation. 

Americans can begin to reconcile their polarized religions and politics by renewing a covenant with God in 2022.  It could provide a new spiritual birth to a nation divided by tribal loyalties based on loving those of other races and religions as we love ourselves; and it could be sustained by a spiritual commitment to seek reconciliation with our adversaries.

Jesus, Jefferson and Wesley were mavericks who taught universal and altruistic moral imperatives of faith; and John Wesley advocated a renewal covenant with God at the beginning of each year.  America’s increasing religious diversity and its polarized religion and politics threaten to unravel the fabric of its democracy.  Jewish, Christian and Muslim Americans need to renew their covenant with God to love one another, and begin the process of reconciliation in 2022.      


John Wesley’s Covenant Renewal Service:, The Covenant  Renewal Service, or simply called the Covenant Service,[1] was adapted by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, for the purpose of the renewal of the Christian believer's  covenant with God.  The covenant prayer and service are recognized as one of the most distinctive contributions of Methodism to the liturgy of Protestantism in general, and they are also used from time to time by other Christian denominations. The  following is the  traditional  version  of the  Covenant Prayer  used in the Book of Offices of the British Methodist Church, 1936:

I am no longer my own but thine.

Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee.

Let me be full, let me be empty.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.

And the covenant I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.



Thomas Jefferson was a deist who embraced the moral teachings of Jesus, but he opposed the church as an obstacle to freedom.  He wrote Henry Fry on June 17, 1804: "I consider the doctrines of Jesus as delivered by himself to contain the outlines of the sublimest morality that has ever been taught; but I hold in the utmost profound detestation and execration the corruptions of it which have been invested by priestcraft and kingcraft, constituting a conspiracy of church and state against the civil and religious liberties of man."  Thomas Jefferson, The Jefferson Bible, edited by O. I. A. Roche, Clarkson H. Potter, Inc., New York, 1964, at p 378; see also Jefferson’s letter to John Adams dated October 13, 1813, at pp 825, 826; Jefferson's commentaries are at pp 325-379.  See also, Introduction to The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, at page 10, note 2, posted at,               See Modern scholars like those of the Jesus Seminar consider Thomas Jefferson a pioneer in “separating the real teachings of Jesus, the figure of history, from the encrustations of Christian doctrine.” See The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus: The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say?, The Jesus Seminar, MacMillian Publishing Company, 1993, at page 2.


N. T. Wright has cited Biblical support for religious reconciliation that goes back to the Hebrew Bible. “Traditional opponents, and those nursing mutual suspicions, must find reconciliation. In particular, the long-promised coming together of Jews and Gentiles into a single, renewed family is to be a sign of hope to the world.  The Bible translators of the sixteenth century were determined that ordinary people should worship, and read scripture, in their own languages. Isaiah’s vision ought to be within the reach of all. But in the excitement of using one’s own language, it was easy to ignore the biblical imperative to unity. . Ethnic  differences have thus quietly pulled us all apart, often picking up theological freight along the way. The big debates of the sixteenth and subsequent centuries were in any case about “how to get to heaven,” which was never the Biblical hope.”



The Universalist Church of America has a rich history beginning in the 18th century, up to its 1961 merger with Unitarians that created Unitarian Universalists.  Concepts of Christian Universalism remain in other Christian groups, including more liberal progressive Christians.  See Wikipedia on Christian universalism  at  Christian universalism should be distinguished from the universal aspiration of traditional Christianity to convert the world to exclusivist Christian beliefs.  “Universalism is the theological doctrine that all souls will eventually find salvation in the grace of God” (Webster),   Christianity  limits salvation  to those who believe in exclusivist Christian doctrines.  Universalism and exclusivist religious beliefs are diametrically opposed, but the two views are often confused.  See Joran Slane Oppelt’s answer for the question,  Is a universal community under one religion possible? at Progressing Spirit at  Christian Universalism is not about religious conformity, but compatibility in a world of increasing religious diversity.   

On universalism generally, see Universalism: A theology for the 21st century, by Forrest Church, November 5, 2001, at

See also,

On Christian universalism:

(12/8/14): Religion and Reason

(1/4/15): Religion and New Beginnings: Salvation and Reconciliation in the Family of God

(2/8/15): Promoting Religion Through Evangelism: Bringing Light or Darkness?

(2/15/15): Is Religion Good or Evil?

(4/5/15): Seeing the Resurrection in a New Light

(4/19/15): Jesus: A Prophet, God’s Only Son, or the Logos

(1/2/16): God in Three Concepts

(1/21/17): Religion and Reason Redux: Religion Is Ridiculous

(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World

(6/17/17): Religious Exclusivity: Does It Matter?

(7/22/17): Hell No!

(8/5/17): Does Religion Seek to Reconcile and Redeem or to Divide and Conquer?

(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism

(9/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of Christian Universalism

(10/6/18): Musings on Moral Universalism in Religion and Politics

(10/13/18): Musings on a Common Word of Faith and Politics for Christians and Muslims

(12/1/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Mystical Logos

(12/15/18): Musings on the Great Commission and Religious and Political Tribalism

(12/22/18): Musings on Faith and Works: The Unity of All Believers and The Last Judgment

(3/2/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Post-Christian America

(3/16/19): Musings on the Evolution of Christian Exclusivism to Universalism

(5/11/19): Musings on the Relevance of Jefferson’s Jesus in the 21st Century

(5/25/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Divinity and Moral Teachings of Jesus

(6/8/19): The Moral Failure of the Church to Promote Altruism in Politics

(6/15/19): Back to the Future: A 21st Century Pentecost for the Church


(6/22/19): The Universal Family of God: Where Inclusivity Trumps Exclusivity

(6/29/19): Musings on a Politics of Reconciliation: An Impossible Dream?

(7/20/19): Musings on Diversity in Democracy: Who Are Our Neighbors?

(8/3/19): Musings on the Dismal Future of  the Church and Democracy in America  

(8/31/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Politics of Christian Zionism

(9/7/19): Musings on the Self-Destruction of Christianity and American Democracy

(10/26/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Discipleship in a Democracy

(11/16/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Irrelevance of Morality in Politics

(11/23/19): Musings on Jesus and Christ as Conflicting Concepts in Christianity

(1/11/20): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christians as a Moral Minority

(2/22/20): Musings on Why All Politics and Religion Are Local (and not Universal)

(4/4/20): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of America’s Values

(12/23/20): Musings on the coming of a light that can dispel the darkness of the world.

(1/2/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Making a Covenant with God for the New Year

(1/16/21): Truth and Reconciliation in Politics and Religion in a Maze of Conflicting Realities

(5/22/21): Musings on Morality and Politics and the Need for a Civil Religion in America

(6/5/21): Musings on Why Socialism is no Substitute for Altruism in Politics

(10/9/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Relevance of Jesus Today

(11/6/21): Musings on the Need for Political and Religious Reconciliation in America

(12/4/21): Musings on How Universal Heterodox Beliefs Promote Religious Reconciliation