By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Globalization has increased racial and religious pluralism around the world, and the refugee crisis has spawned ugly populist politics that have exploited existing racial and religious prejudices. In the U.S. a rude and crude Donald Trump is the presumptive presidential nominee of the GOP. Rodrigo Duterte, a pugilistic Trump clone, is the new president of the Philippines. And in Britain, Boris Johnson led a nativist revolt that produced Brexit. They all relied on reactionary populist movements that exploited the fear of them (as in us versus them).
The vilified them are refugees and immigrants who are seeking a better life. They are seen in the same light as blacks in the U.S. and other vilified minorities around the world. Such racial and religious prejudice is nothing new. What is especially worrisome is its intensity and the resulting polarization of races and religions; and in Western libertarian democracies that translates into volatile politics—perhaps even the unraveling of the fabric of democracy.
The flood of Muslim refugees fleeing ISIS terrorism in the Middle East and Africa has polarized Christians and Muslims in Europe. It was intended by ISIS to precipitate a Jihad, or holy war. Muslims are already a significant part of Europe’s population and are expected to surpass Christians as the world’s largest religion by 2050, and Muslims and Christians will continue to be a majority of the world’s population for the foreseeable future. The polarization of Christians and Muslims can only portend more religious violence.
The inexorable forces of globalization cannot be turned back. Nations may back out of treaties, as in Brexit, but they cannot purify their populations based on race or religion. To stem the rising tide of racial and religious polarization a politics of reconciliation is needed, and it must be grounded on religious principles common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as ourselves is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims. And in the story of the good Samaritan, Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, made it clear that our neighbors include those of other religions—even apostates.
A politics of reconciliation requires that Jews, Christians and Muslims consider how their faith relates to issues of national sovereignty, democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law. Since none of these political topics were addressed in the ancient scriptures, people of faith must consider them in light of the timeless and universal principle of the greatest commandment, and consider what it means to love God and our neighbors as ourselves in our time and place.
There has been a traditional reluctance to mix religion and politics, but it is time to abandon that tradition. For any religion to be relevant it must relate to politics in the larger meaning of the word, which is the stewardship of our democracy. Any religion that does not relate the love of God and neighbor to politics is irrelevant, and just as dead as a body without the spirit. (James 2:26)
Christians in mainline denominations have apparently misunderstood the “separation of church and state” in the First Amendment of the Constitution. It only prohibits “...any law establishing any religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It does not require the separation of religion and politics. Black Christians have never been reluctant to mix their religion and politics and have supported Democratic candidates since the 1960s; and evangelical Christians have unabashedly supported GOP candidates since the 1970s.
Churches should not become tied to partisan politics. That unnecessarily limits political choices and smacks of the political corruption so prevalent in the history of the church. The church should never allow political loyalties to compromise its ultimate mission to promote the moral imperatives taught by Jesus. Pope Francis has exemplified that trait by promoting a politics of reconciliation in matters of race and religion.
God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer. Unfortunately, Satan does a convincing imitation of God, much of it in the church and mosque. Jesus taught that God is love and that there is no fear in love (1 John 4:16-18), while Satan exploits fear and anger to oppose God’s will. Fear and anger seems to motivate voters more than promoting a politics of reconciliation. Christians should turn that around.
As Christians, we need to acknowledge that we live in a globalized world of increasing pluralism. We must learn to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, or we will end up as enemies. As a matter of both faith and politics, we need to elect leaders who let the world know they are Christians by their love, and they can do that by promoting a politics of reconciliation.
Notes and References to Related Blogs:
Jim Tankersley has noted the relationship between globalization and populist uprisings: “The forces driving populist uprisings, both against E.U. bureaucrats in Brussels and elected officials in Washington are complex and intertwined. They include long simmering racial tensions and increased political polarization. But across the West, the economist Branko Milanovic argues, the rise of populism corresponds to a decline in the income share held by the broad middle classes of those countries.” Tankersley cited Dani Rodrick who postulated that we can have any two of democracy, national sovereignty and global integration, but never all three. “You can’t have people voting their own interests, in a country that always places its own interests above the shared interests of the global community, while also stitching everyone’s economies together seamlessly.” But that’s only if you assume that sovereignty is compromised if a nation puts its shared interests in the global community above its own interests. Sovereignty allows international compacts and is not forfeited by them. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/06/25/great-britain-just-killed-globalization-as-we-know-it/?wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
See the following related blogs in the Archives at http://www.jesusmeetsmuhammad.com/: Religion and Reason, December 8, 2015; Faith and Freedom, December 15, 2014; The Greatest Commandment, January 11, 2015; Love Over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy, January 18, 2015; Jesus Meets Muhammad: Is there a Common Word of Faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims Today?, January 25, 2015; Is Religion Good or Evil?, February 15, 2015; Religion and Human Rights, February 22, 2015; The Kingdom of God, Politics and the Church, March 15, 2015; The Power of Humility and the Arrogance of Power, March 22, God and Country: Resolving Conflicting Concepts of Sovereignty, March 29, 2015; Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, April 12, 2015; Religion, Human Rights and National Security, May 10, 2015; De Oppresso Liber: Where Religion and Politics Intersect, May 24, 2015; Liberation from Economic Oppression, May 31, 2015; The Future of Religion: In Decline and Growing, June 7, 2015; Reconciliation in Race and Religion: The Need for Compatibility, not Conformity, July 12, 2015; Fear and Fundamentalism, July 26, 2015; Freedom and Fundamentalism, August 2, 2015; Balancing Individual Rights with Collective Responsibilities, August 9, 2015; How Religious Fundamentalism and Secularism Shape Politics and Human Rights, August 16, 2015; The European Refugee Crisis and Radical Islam, September 6, 2015; The Power of Freedom over Fear, September 12, 2015; Religion, The Pope and Politics in the Real World, September 27, 2015; Politics and Religious Polarization, September 20, 2015; Religion, Refugees and the Law: Where Jesus Meets Muhammad Today, November 29, 2015; Resettling Refugees: Multiculturalism or Assimilation?, December 26, 2015; Who Is My Neighbor?, January 23, 2016; The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves, January 30, 2016; The American Religion and Politics in 2016, March 5, 2016; We Are Known by the Friends We Keep, February 14, 2016; Religion, Race and the Deterioration of Democracy in America, March 12, 2016; Religion, Democracy and Human Depravity, March 19, 2016; Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery, March 26, 2016; Standards of Legitimacy in Morality, Manners and Political Correctness, April 23, 2016; The Relevance of Religion to Politics, April 30, 2016; Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation, May 7, 2016; The Arrogance of Power, Humility, and a Politics of Reconciliation, May 14, 2016; Nihilism as a Threat to Politics, Religion and Morality, May 28, 2016; A Politics of Reconciliation with Liberty and Justice for All, June 18, 2016; and Brexit, Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation in Foreign Policy, June 25, 2016..