Friday, August 5, 2016

How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
            There is a vast political and cultural divide between a fearful and angry white middle-class tribe in America known as WASPs (white Anglo-Saxon Protestants), who have long held political power, and those who challenge their right to rule, including Millennials and numerous minority groups in the Democrat Party.  Donald Trump successfully exploited the fears and anger of the WASPs, and they made him the standard bearer of the Republican Party. 

            Christianity in America, leavened by advances in knowledge and the reason of the Enlightenment, is the primary source of those moral values that have shaped American politics.  Donald Trump was an unlikely choice to lead a GOP that has long championed traditional values; but he exploited the fear and anger of WASPs with his celebrity status, personal wealth and a narcissistic and bullish charisma to subdue his opponents. 

            Even if Clinton defeats Trump in November, it will not bridge the political and cultural divide.  It will take a politics of reconciliation to do that, and while it does not require unanimity on issues, it does require a willingness to compromise—something missing in a political duopoly mired in gridlock.  Even if Democrats are sincere in seeking to unify America, they cannot do it by themselves.  Reconciliation requires two or more parties that can hold each other accountable.

            South Carolina illustrates the problem.  It was a one-party state under the Democrat Party until civil rights and the Republican Party gave S.C. voters a choice in the 1960s.  Today partisan roles are reversed, with Republicans ruling the political roost.  The majority of voters in S.C. are WASPs, whose misguided concepts of Christianity supported a separate but equal culture under the Democrat Party until the 1960s; and this year evangelical Christian WASPs voted to make Donald Trump—whose values are decidedly not Christian—the GOP nominee for President.

            Religion has always shaped the moral standards that govern our political preferences, so that if religion has a part in creating our political problems it must also be part of the solution.  The greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as ourselves is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.  It is a moral imperative of faith that can help alleviate contentious religious and political differences and promote a politics of reconciliation. 

            God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer; but Satan does a convincing imitation of God in the church, mosque and in politics.  That is evident in how Donald Trump has used fear and anger to exacerbate racial and religious differences in his campaign.  If Trump is defeated in November, perhaps a new and enlightened Republican Party can arise Phoenix-like from the ashes; but unless that happens, issues of race and religion will require a third party to promote a politics of reconciliation with Democrats.

            An example of Trump’s belligerent and divisive campaign style was his response to the criticism of Khizr and Ghazala Khan at the Democrat convention.  Mr. Khan said that his son, a U.S. Army officer who was killed in Iraq, made a greater sacrifice to his country than Trump, who has never served his country.  Trump responded that he has served and sacrificed for his country by creating thousands of jobs, and then he questioned why Mrs. Khan stood silently by Mr. Khan at the convention, implying that her Muslim faith prohibited her from saying anything.

            Trump has demonized all Muslims based on the terrorism of radical Islamists, but we need to support moderate Muslims who can challenge the legitimacy of radical Islamism among young Muslims.  It doesn’t help that President Obama and Democrats have denied that ISIS is related to Islam in deference to Muslims who wish to disassociate their faith from it.  Before we can expect Muslims to challenge the legitimacy of the radical form of political Islam (Islamism) that motivates ISIS terrorism, our policymakers must recognize it as such.

            Christianity provides a useful analogy.  Christians don’t have to answer for modern Crusades or Inquisitions, but they do need to counter the fundamentalist form of Christianity that motivates the supporters of Donald Trump.  Progressive Christians must challenge the legitimacy of those evangelical Christians who have allowed fear and hate for Muslims to shape their politics, just as Muslims should challenge radical forms of fundamentalist Islamism within Islam.           

            It should be an embarrassment to Christians that some of their tribe made Donald Trump the leader of the Republican Party.  Christians who seek to follow the greatest commandment to love God and neighbor should disavow Trump and those who follow him, just as Muslims who share that common word of faith should disavow radical Islamism with its apostasy and blasphemy laws and discrimination against women and non-Muslims under Shari’a. 

            To bridge the political and cultural divide that threatens American democracy and promote libertarian democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law in Islamic cultures, Christians and Muslims must embrace the greatest commandment as a common word of faith.  It requires providing fundamental human rights that begin with the freedoms of religion and speech, and balancing those individual rights with providing for the common good.       


On the evils of religious fundamentalism and how a politics of reconciliation can counter them, see

On the need for civil or human rights to provide liberty and justice for all, both in America and around the world, see

On balancing individual rights with collective responsibilities to provide for the common good, see

On the clash between Trump and the Khans as new signs of a cultural and political divide, see

Paul Krugman revealed his partisan bias in arguing that Trump is not a unique political phenomenon but that he represents a long-standing lack of patriotism on the part of Republicans compared to the patriotism and love of country of Democrats.  Krugman has also criticized Republicans who urge that “…the president must use the phrase “Islamic terrorism,” when actual experts on terrorism agree that this would actually hurt national security, by helping to alienate peaceful Muslims?”  Krugman argues “…that the alienation isn’t a side effect they’re disregarding; it’s actually the point — it’s all about drawing a line between us (white Christians) and them (everyone else), and national security has nothing to do with it.” See

Professor Gary Gutting has asserted that Islam is a factor in ISIS or ISIL terrorism, opposing the view of President Obama and Krugman (above) who have denied any relationship between them.  Gutting related religious violence in both Christianity and Islam to the intolerance of religious exclusivism, and he urged Muslims, like Christians, to accept political restraints in promoting their religion [such as providing the freedoms of religion and speech].  See

In describing how to remain faithful amid an election that distorts religion, Father Joshua Whitfield rejected the argument that the evil of Hillary Clinton makes it a sin to vote for anyone other than Trump, and advocated the “politics of love” (expressed in the greatest commandment) as “the authentic alternative and the only viable third candidacy” to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  See

For Christians who need scriptural authority to decide how to vote, see 10 reasons you can’t be a Christian and vote for Donald Trump at

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