By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Reconciliation is learning to respect and live in peace with those who are different than us. Is it realistic? It is central to the teachings of Jesus, but not to the Christian religion, which is based on exclusivist beliefs. And reconciliation also seems contrary to human nature and its politics. The survival of the fittest is characterized by competition, fear, divisiveness and anger. The reality is that reconciliation is at odds with our traditional religious and political instincts.
There is no better evidence of this than the popularity of Donald Trump, whose rude, crude and unabashedly nativist campaign has exploited American fears, anger and hatred of all who don’t fit the idyllic image of a great America of the past. His followers want to make America great again, this time without any diversity. The irony is that many of Trump’s followers claim to be evangelical Christians.
This ugly reality is not limited to the U.S. but is a world-wide phenomenon, as evidenced by the Brexit vote in Great Britain, the election of Rodrigo Duterte as president of the Philippines, and the election of Pauline Hanson to the Senate in Australia. This populist reaction to the diversity of globalization has been orchestrated by demagogues who share hostility to immigrants, especially Muslims, and promote fear, anger and hate rather than reconciliation.
This populist political phenomenon has exposed the weakness of democracy, and unless corrected it will corrupt and undermine democracies around the world, beginning with the U.S. A politics of reconciliation is essential to the future of a healthy democracy, but is it possible? Not unless the majority of people in democracies are willing to accept increased diversity over purity in matters of race, religion and sexual preference. With the inexorable forces of globalization promising more immigration and diversity, reconciliation seems problematic.
Most Americans claim to be Christians, and reconciliation is at the heart of the teachings of Jesus; but like the GOP, the Christian religion has been hijacked by populist religious leaders. One is Joel Osteen, whose prosperity gospel has corrupted the teachings of Jesus into a gospel of health, wealth, and popularity. It promotes an Old Testament god of worldly power who rewards the obedient and punishes the disobedient—doctrines that are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.
According to Jesus, God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer. The greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves is the key to reconciliation, so long as we consider those of other races and religions to be our neighbors (see the story of the good Samaritan). The popularity of Donald Trump indicates that Christians have allowed Satan’s will to trump (no pun intended) that of God.
It seems counterintuitive to promote a politics of reconciliation, but that is what my campaign is about. It is in opposition to the darker, more competitive and divisive forces of reality that govern partisan politics. The primary focus of my campaign is to remind voters, most of whom claim to be Christians, that the moral imperative of their faith is to seek reconciliation with their neighbors, including those of other races and religions—even those of different sexual orientations. That may not get me elected, but it is a message that voters need to hear.
Our Founding Fathers understood that a healthy democracy required a sound moral foundation that was tolerant of diversity. They created a Constitution that provides fundamental civil or human rights, beginning with the freedoms of religion and speech, that protect minorities from a tyranny of the majority. We don’t have to look far today to see what the absence of those rights will produce. In Islamic cultures that have apostasy and blasphemy laws and deny equal protection of the law to women and non-Muslims, there is no real justice.
So, what will it be for the Fifth Congressional District of South Carolina and America? Will it be political reconciliation and the redemption of a tolerant America, or the ugly reality of continued racial and religious division, anger and hatred, all perpetuated by a polarized two-party political system that exploits racial and religious differences to motivate their constituencies? We will provide the answer at the ballot box this November. Democracy makes us masters of our political destiny, for better or for worse.
According to Danielle Allen, the main question in this election is: Pull America together or break it up again? Allen is critical of the divisiveness of Donald Trump and supports Hillary Clinton, despite the fact that “She, too, has character defects. She, too is divisive.” Allen says that Clinton “has put bridge-building on the table as a top priority. Only she has done so.” See https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2016/07/15/the-main-question-in-this-election-pull-america-together-or-break-it-up-again/?wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1.
The Pew Research Center has found that most evangelical Christians, who make up approximately 20% of registered voters, support Donald Trump, and that most Nones (those with no religious affiliation), also make up approximately 20% of registered voters and support Hillary Clinton. See http://www.npr.org/2016/07/13/485895807/pew-report-tracks-how-politics-correspond-with-religi.
Joel Osteen is a proponent of the prosperity gospel that teaches that faithfulness provides worldly power and success. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/07/15/how-the-prosperity-gospel-explains-donald-trumps-popularity-with-christian-voters/?wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
Australia’s deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce has criticized Pauline Hanson for advocating anti-Muslim policies similar to those of Donald Trump. See https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/jul/20/barnaby-joyce-rejects-pauline-hansons-policies-saying-every-religion-has-ratbags.
Countering the argument that religion has no place in U.S. politics, Zack Krajacic has asserted that “The Founding Fathers frequently articulated the importance of religion and morality in a democracy, and the key role they play in preserving liberty and freedom.” See http://www.buffalonews.com/opinion/another-voice/another-voice-religion-and-morality-are-essential-to-our-freedom-20160703.
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