Saturday, February 4, 2017

When Confrontation Trumps Reconciliation in Politics and Religion

  Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            A politics of reconciliation is needed to remedy the polarization of America’s partisan politics.  But political reconciliation must be based on shared moral values, and the election of Donald Trump indicates they are lacking.  Unless and until Americans can find shared moral values, confrontation trumps reconciliation.

            America is a religious nation, and Jews, Christians and Muslims share a unifying moral principle of faith.  It is the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves.  It is derived from Mosaic Law, it was taught by Jesus as the greatest of all commandments, and Muslim scholars consider it a common word of faith. 

            Who are our neighbors?  Jesus answered that question in the story of the good Samaritan.  In it a Samaritan was depicted as a good neighbor to a wounded Jew.  What made the story remarkable is that Samaritans were detested by Jews of that day.  Today the good neighbor would be a Muslim helping a Christian or a Jew.  That is not the norm in our xenophobic times. 

            Globalization has caused increased religious pluralism which has been exacerbated by Islamist terrorism and the resulting refugee crisis.  Public fears and anger have been exploited by unprincipled populist demagogues and religious charlatans who have threatened the moral underpinnings of libertarian democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law.

            Donald Trump used an unholy alliance with evangelical Christians to exploit public fears and win the presidency.  He achieved a measure of success in big business as a rude, crude and narcissistic bully, and as president he has extended those personal characteristics to his administration, undermining past policies that allowed the U.S. to be a respected world leader.

            Trump’s nativist and oppressive policies represent an end to the libertarian values of the Enlightenment that shaped our nation’s democracy, human rights and secular rule of law.  The domestic and foreign policies of the Trump administration lack a moral basis for reconciliation.  They demand confrontation in the realms of both politics and religion. 

            Religion is inextricably woven into our politics.  And while religion has been a cause of our political problems, it must also be part of the solution.  It was a decadent form of Christianity that gave Trump his political power.  The restoration of political legitimacy in America requires a revived Christianity based on the altruistic moral teachings of Jesus as shared national values.

            Political legitimacy begins with the freedoms of religion and speech.  They were given political primacy in the U.S. Bill of Rights, but were not mentioned in Jewish, Christian or Islamic religious texts.  Human rights were a product of the natural law of the Enlightenment, not religion, but in libertarian democracies religions have conformed their doctrines to human rights.

            That did not happen in Islamic cultures, where apostasy and blasphemy laws continue to preclude the freedoms of religion and speech.  They are a part of ancient Islamic laws known as shari’a, which have created an unjustified fear that Muslims will use shari’a to undermine secular law.  President Trump has exploited that fear in his discriminatory policies toward Muslims.

            While Islamists have used shari’a to deny the freedoms of religion and speech in Islamic nations, fundamentalist Christians in the U.S. have gone to the other extreme.  In addition to discriminating against Muslims, they have asserted the right to exercise their religious freedom to discriminate against homosexuals as sinners, denying them the equal protection of the law.

            Such contentious religious and political issues defy easy reconciliation and produce confrontation and division.  God’s will is for humankind to be reconciled and redeemed, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer.  That means we should be building bridges rather than walls between people; but division often comes when walls are confronted.

Jesus told his disciples: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace on earth, but a sword.”  He knew that his teachings would be considered radically subversive by Jewish leaders of his day and would divide families (Matthew 10:34-36).  And Jesus confronted and condemned sanctimonious and hypocritical Jewish leaders as a brood of vipers (Matthew 23).

Confrontation and division are unavoidable with today’s contentious religious and political issues.  Unless and until Americans can love their neighbors of other races and religions as they love themselves, libertarian democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law will be at risk, and confrontation will continue to trump reconciliation.   

Notes and related commentary:

On how the “unalienable” natural human rights in the Declaration of Independence relate to the Constitution in considering Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch as a Supreme Court justice, see

On how Trump would corrupt the pulpit and religious freedom by allowing churches to endorse candidates and political parties, see

On the greatest commandment as a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims, see

On whether the greatest commandment is truly a common word of faith for Muslims, see

On the freedoms of religion and speech: essentials of liberty in law, see

On the evolution of religion and politics from oppression to freedom, see

On religion and a politics of reconciliation based on shared values, see

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