Saturday, February 16, 2019

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on America the Blessed and Beautiful--or is it?

 Rudy Barnes, Jr.  


Katherine Lee Bates wrote the words to America the Beautiful on Pike’s Peak in 1895, and the version in the Notes below was published in 1904.  Bates was an English professor at Wellesley College who traveled cross-country by train to teach at Colorado College.  Bates was obviously inspired by the scenery on her trip, but she ignored America’s political culture.

Less than 40 years after the Civil War, Bates’ words were a political fallacy.  America was a nation built on white supremacy and it remained infested with burning crosses and lynchings.  If God shed his grace on America and crowned its good with brotherhood, then we were poor stewards of God’s grace, and we failed to foster the brotherhood of other races and religions.   

When I first sang America the Beautiful in the 1950s, those words were no closer to political reality.  Pervasive racial discrimination remained until the civil rights laws of the 1960s.  Then in 2016 white Christians, frustrated with their loss of political power and filled with nostalgic illusions of the 1950s, elected a president who pledged to Make America Great Again. It was back to the future.

Today America is neither blessed nor beautiful, and we are more divided than at any time since 1860.  Since over 70% of Americans still claim to be Christians, perhaps we should listen to the words of Jesus if we hope to become a blessed and beautiful nation.  In Luke’s Beatitudes, Jesus sends us a mixed message: He comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.

Jesus first blessed those who weep, and those who are hated, excluded and insulted because of the Son of Man.  Then Jesus laid on the woes, or curses, that pertain to most of us:
“But woe to you who are rich,
   for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
   for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
   for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
   for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:24-26)

Blessed with democracy, Americans have produced the world’s most prosperous and powerful nation.  As masters of our political destiny, we have produced a materialistic and hedonistic culture; and along the way, a vast majority of white Christians sacrificed Jesus on the altar of partisan politics.  We have made a mess of Christianity and democracy.

The church is complicit in America’s moral and political mess.  The church should not promote individual candidates or a political party, but it should oppose politicians motivated by the evil thoughts described by Jesus. They include sexual immorality, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. (Mk 7:21-23)  Do they remind you of anyone?  

Jesus never mentioned democracy, freedom or human rights since they were irrelevant in his ancient times; but they are relevant to our faith and politics today.  To prevent the blessings of democracy from becoming a curse, Americans must become better stewards of democracy by promoting the reconciliation of their divisive politics based on the altruistic teachings of Jesus.

Those teachings are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves, including our neighbors of other races and religions.  In politics that requires balancing individual and group wants with providing for the common good. If we don’t provide for the common good, our political woes will negate the blessings of democracy.  

Most Christians have ignored the altruistic moral standards taught by Jesus in their politics.  Their faith is as dead as a body without a spirit (James 2:26).  But take heart. God can mend our every flaw, and confirm our soul in self control, and our liberty in law.  But God needs our help.  Americans must promote a politics of reconciliation to crown God’s good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.

Notes:

America the Beautiful, by Katharine Lee Bates (1904):   
O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plain!
America, America!
God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.

O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness, and every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law.
The United Methodist Hymnal, p 696

For more on America the Beautiful, see  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/America_the_Beautiful.


Related Commentary:
(12/8/14): Religion and Reason
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(1/18/15): Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy
(2/8/15): Promoting Religion Through Evangelism: Bringing Light or Darkness?
(3/8/15): Wealth, Politics, Religion and Economic Justice
(4/12/15): Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy
(4/19/15): Jesus: A Prophet, God’s Only Son, or the Logos?  http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/04/jesus-prophet-god-only-son-or-logos.html
(5/24/15): De Oppresso Liber: Where Religion and Politics Intersect
(6/28/15): Confronting the Evil Among Us
(8/9/15): Balancing Individual Rights with Collective Responsibilities
(8/30/15): What Is Truth?
(9/20/15): Politics and Religious Polarization
(11/22/15): Dualism: Satan’s Evil Versus God’s Goodness
(12/26/15): Resettling Refugees: Multiculturalism versus Assimilation
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(2/7/16): Jesus Meets Muhammad on Issues of Religion and Politics
(2/27/16): Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy in Faith, Freedom and Politics
(3/12/16): Religion, Race and the Deterioration of Democracy in America
(3/19/16): Religion, Democracy and Human Depravity
(3/26/16): Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery
(5/14/16): The Arrogance of Power, Humility and a Politics of Reconciliation
(7/9/16): Back to the Future: Race, Religion, Rights and a Politics of Reconciliation
(8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/08/how-religion-can-bridge-our-political.html
(9/17/16): A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics
(9/24/16): The Evolution of Religion and Politics from Oppression to Freedom
(10/22/16): The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in a Polarized Democracy
(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy
(12/31/16): E Pluribus Unum, Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(1/21/17): Religion and Reason Redux: Religion Is Ridiculous
(3/4/17): Ignorance and Reason in Religion and Politics
(3/11/17): Accountability and the Stewardship of Democracy
(3/18/17): Moral Ambiguity in Religion and Politics
(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?
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(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  
(8/19/17): Hate, History and the Need for a Politics of Reconciliation
(9/23/17): Tribalism and the American Civil Religion  
(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/10/a-21st-century-reformation-to-restore.html.
(12/2/17): How Religious Standards of Legitimacy Shape Politics, for Good or Bad
(12/9/17): Religion, Race and Identity Politics     
(12/16/17): Can Democracy Survive the Trump Era?
(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy? http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/12/if-democracy-survives-trump-era-can.html.
(1/6/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Diversity in Democracy
(1/13/18): Nationalist Politics and Exclusivist Religion: Obstacles to Reconciliation and Peace
(1/20/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Morality and Religion in Politics
(1/27/18): Musings on Conflicting Concepts of Christian Morality in Politics
(2/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religion, Freedom and Legitimacy
(3/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christian Morality as a Standard of Legitimacy http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/03/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on_24.html
(3/31/18): Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy
(4/7/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Need for a Moral Reformation
(4/28/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Virtues and Vices of Christian Morality
(5/12/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and Making America Great Again
(6/15/18): The Prosperity Gospel: Where Culture Trumps Religion in Legitimacy and Politics
(7/7/18): Whose America Is This? Musings on Conflicting Standards of Legitimacy in Religion and Politics http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/07/whose-america-is-this-musings-on.html.
(7/14/18): Musings on Why Christians Should Put Moral Standards Over Mystical Beliefs
(7/21/18): Musings on America’s Moral and Political Mess and Who Should Clean It Up
(8/4/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religious Problems and Solutions in Politics
(8/11/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Changing Morality in Religion and Politics
(8/25/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Moral Priorities in Religion and Politics
(9/1/18): Musings on the American Civil Religion and Christianity at a Crossroads
(9/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of Christian Universalism
(10/13/18): Musings on a Common Word of Faith and Politics for Christians and Muslims
(11/3/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist: Has God Blessed Us or Damned Us?
(11/17/18): Christianity and Clashing Identities in Politics and Religion
(11/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and the Legitimacy of Democracy http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/11/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on.html.
(12/1/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Mystical Logos
(12/8/18): Trump and the Apostles’ Creed: Is It a Prayer or a Profession of Faith?
(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
(12/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Justice in Religion and Politics
(1/5/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Building Political Walls or Bridges
(1/12/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Authenticity and Political Legitimacy
(1/19/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Discomfort of Discipleship
(1/26/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Evolution of the Gospel(s)
(2/2/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religion, Legitimacy and Politics
(2/9/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Hypocrisy of American Christianity


Saturday, February 9, 2019

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Hypocrisy of American Christianity

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.


Webster defines hypocrisy as pretending to be what one is not; especially a pretense of virtue or piety.  If hypocrisy is about practicing what we preach and Christianity is about following Jesus as the word of God, then most white American Christians are hypocrites.         

Thomas Jefferson was also a hypocrite.  He drafted the Declaration of Independence and championed political freedom, but he was a slaveholder who took one of his slaves as his mistress.  Even so, Jefferson considered the teachings of Jesus “the sublimest moral code ever designed by man” and compiled The Jefferson Bible on the moral teachings of Jesus.  Jefferson was a hypocrite on matters of freedom, but a true believer in the moral teachings of Jesus.

Jefferson was vilified by church leaders of his day for ignoring exclusivist Christian beliefs in the divinity of Jesus while emphasizing his moral teachings.  Even so, Jefferson was elected the third president of the U.S., serving from 1801 to 1809. Over 200 years later a majority of white Christians elected Donald Trump as president--a man whose morality is the antithesis of that taught by Jesus--claiming that Trump was chosen by God to be president.

Ironically, Donald Trump makes Thomas Jefferson look like a saint.  Trump’s election by a majority of white Christians made a mockery of the Christian religion, and made his Christian supporters hypocrites.  For most white Christians, Jesus has become a surrogate Christian god and the patron saint of Trump and his Republican Party, offering cheap grace to those who promote distorted evangelical “family values” and a materialistic prosperity gospel.    

This evolution of Christianity was made possible by a church that subordinated the moral teachings of Jesus to exclusivist beliefs in Jesus as the alter ego of God.  Jefferson argued that while Christian morality was relevant to politics, mystical Christian beliefs had no place in the public square.  Since the time of Jefferson, the vast majority of Americans have considered themselves Christians, and their moral standards have shaped the American civil religion.

Jefferson was a child of the Enlightenment whose emphasis on the moral teachings of Jesus was based on reason and advances in knowledge.  Those teachings are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors, including those of other religions and races, as we love ourselves.  That’s a common word of faith and politics for Jews, Christians and Muslims, and history has proven its universal truth--primarily by its absence.

The emphasis in church doctrine on belief in the divinity of Jesus and the Trinity was never taught by Jesus.  It’s the product of man-made theology that began with Paul’s atonement doctrine. Even so, worshiping Jesus as God’s blood sacrifice to atone for original sin should motivate Christians to follow the teachings of Jesus as the word of God; but it hasn’t had that effect--probably because worshiping Jesus is easy and popular, while following him is neither.

It’s understandable that the ease of exclusivist beliefs has taken precedence over the cost of discipleship, but that’s no excuse for the hypocrisy of cheap grace.  The gospel accounts are clear on the subject. What’s worse is that a majority of white Christians have allowed an immoral and unholy gospel of Trump to trash the gospel of Jesus.  That’s a form of hypocrisy that must be condemned by all who believe the teachings of Jesus are the word God.


Notes:

This image on The hypocrisy of American Christianity is from Occupy Democrats (Facebook 2 Feb 19):

On how the moral teachings of Jefferson’s Jesus relate to political legitimacy for Christians and Muslims, see the Introduction to The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, posted in Resources at  http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/.


Danny Cardwell wrote on how he misses the old hypocrisy of conservative evangelicals in light of the current egregious hypocrisy of Trump evangelicals.  It reminded me of the lesser hypocrisy of Thomas Jefferson compared to that of Donald Trump. See https://faithfullymagazine.com/hypocrisy-conservative-evangelicals/.

On Franklin Graham’s’ brazen new way to excuse 8,000+ [Trump] lies, see https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/franklin-graham-trump-lies_us_5c529489e4b093663f5b2335.


Related Commentary:

(12/8/14): Religion and Reason
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(1/18/15): Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy
(2/8/15): Promoting Religion Through Evangelism: Bringing Light or Darkness?
(3/8/15): Wealth, Politics, Religion and Economic Justice
(4/12/15): Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy
(4/19/15): Jesus: A Prophet, God’s Only Son, or the Logos?  http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/04/jesus-prophet-god-only-son-or-logos.html
(5/24/15): De Oppresso Liber: Where Religion and Politics Intersect
(6/28/15): Confronting the Evil Among Us
(8/9/15): Balancing Individual Rights with Collective Responsibilities
(8/30/15): What Is Truth?
(9/20/15): Politics and Religious Polarization
(11/22/15): Dualism: Satan’s Evil Versus God’s Goodness
(12/26/15): Resettling Refugees: Multiculturalism versus Assimilation
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(2/7/16): Jesus Meets Muhammad on Issues of Religion and Politics
(2/27/16): Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy in Faith, Freedom and Politics
(3/12/16): Religion, Race and the Deterioration of Democracy in America
(3/19/16): Religion, Democracy and Human Depravity
(3/26/16): Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery
(5/14/16): The Arrogance of Power, Humility and a Politics of Reconciliation
(7/9/16): Back to the Future: Race, Religion, Rights and a Politics of Reconciliation
(8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/08/how-religion-can-bridge-our-political.html
(9/17/16): A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics
(9/24/16): The Evolution of Religion and Politics from Oppression to Freedom
(10/22/16): The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in a Polarized Democracy
(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy
(12/31/16): E Pluribus Unum, Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(1/21/17): Religion and Reason Redux: Religion Is Ridiculous
(3/4/17): Ignorance and Reason in Religion and Politics
(3/11/17): Accountability and the Stewardship of Democracy
(3/18/17): Moral Ambiguity in Religion and Politics
(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?
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(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  
(8/19/17): Hate, History and the Need for a Politics of Reconciliation
(9/23/17): Tribalism and the American Civil Religion  
(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/10/a-21st-century-reformation-to-restore.html.
(12/2/17): How Religious Standards of Legitimacy Shape Politics, for Good or Bad
(12/9/17): Religion, Race and Identity Politics
(12/16/17): Can Democracy Survive the Trump Era?
(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy? http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/12/if-democracy-survives-trump-era-can.html.
(1/6/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Diversity in Democracy
(1/13/18): Nationalist Politics and Exclusivist Religion: Obstacles to Reconciliation and Peace
(1/20/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Morality and Religion in Politics
(1/27/18): Musings on Conflicting Concepts of Christian Morality in Politics
(2/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religion, Freedom and Legitimacy
(3/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christian Morality as a Standard of Legitimacy http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/03/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on_24.html
(3/31/18): Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy
(4/7/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Need for a Moral Reformation
(4/28/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Virtues and Vices of Christian Morality
(5/12/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and Making America Great Again
(6/15/18): The Prosperity Gospel: Where Culture Trumps Religion in Legitimacy and Politics
(7/7/18): Whose America Is This? Musings on Conflicting Standards of Legitimacy in Religion and Politics http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/07/whose-america-is-this-musings-on.html.
(7/14/18): Musings on Why Christians Should Put Moral Standards Over Mystical Beliefs
(7/21/18): Musings on America’s Moral and Political Mess and Who Should Clean It Up
(8/4/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religious Problems and Solutions in Politics
(8/11/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Changing Morality in Religion and Politics
(8/25/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Moral Priorities in Religion and Politics
(9/1/18): Musings on the American Civil Religion and Christianity at a Crossroads
(9/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of Christian Universalism
(10/13/18): Musings on a Common Word of Faith and Politics for Christians and Muslims
(11/3/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist: Has God Blessed Us or Damned Us?
(11/17/18): Christianity and Clashing Identities in Politics and Religion
(11/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and the Legitimacy of Democracy http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/11/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on.html.
(12/1/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Mystical Logos
(12/8/18): Trump and the Apostles’ Creed: Is It a Prayer or a Profession of Faith?
(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
(12/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Justice in Religion and Politics
(1/5/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Building Political Walls or Bridges
(1/12/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Authenticity and Political Legitimacy
(1/19/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Discomfort of Discipleship
(1/26/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Evolution of the Gospel(s)
(2/2/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religion, Legitimacy and Politics