By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
The quality of government in a democracy depends upon the accountability of elected officials to voters, and also the accountability of voters to God’s will—which is that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves. That is the moral imperative of the greatest commandment, which is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.
The accountability of voters to God’s will is a matter of stewardship, and stewardship in a democracy requires that the resources of government are used to make a better world for everyone. Americans have been given much, so that much is expected from them. That is the message of the parable of the talents at Matthew 25:14-30 (see commentary in Notes below).
America is more divided and polarized by politics today than since the Civil War. That is not so much the fault of Donald Trump as it is of those voters who gave Trump the power of the presidency. To be good stewards of democracy voters must support candidates who promote a politics of reconciliation based on the shared values of the greatest commandment.
Accountability and stewardship in democracy are based on a voter’s standards of legitimacy, and those standards are shaped by religion. Most Americans claim to be Christians, but in their politics they have ignored the moral imperative of their faith to love others as they love themselves. To be accountable as good stewards of democracy, Americans must elect leaders who balance individual rights and wants with providing for the common good.
Nicholas Kristof has asserted that those who voted for Trump out of frustration with their unfortunate circumstances should not be considered “bigoted, unthinking lizard brains” by their neighbors. I beg to disagree. Anyone who voted for a “…demagogue who vilifies and scapegoats refugees, Muslims, undocumented immigrants, racial minorities [and] who strikes me [in Kristof’s words] as a danger to national security” is either a bigot or is inexcusably ignorant.
Those voters who supported Donald Trump should be held accountable for acts that threaten to unravel the fabric of American democracy. They cannot claim ignorance of his corrupt character or the importance of the office he sought. His notorious business dealings, his reality TV show and his rude, crude and divisive campaign rhetoric clearly revealed a man unsuited to be our nation’s leader—unless you happen to be a Wall Street billionaire.
It is especially ironic that most Trump supporters were white Christians who voted for a man who is the antithesis of Christian morality. The church bears some accountability for this political fiasco, both in the religion it promotes and the politics it often ignores. The prosperity gospel of Trump supporters is idolatrous. It promotes belief in a plastic Jesus devoid of altruistic moral standards and a false god that rewards such belief with worldly success.
Idolatry is the worship of a false god, and any religion that promotes a corrupt populist demagogue like Donald Trump is idolatrous. Given the corrupt nature of politics with its competition for popularity, money and power, voters cannot expect Christ-like candidates; but the stewardship of democracy requires that they reject populist demagogues like Donald Trump.
The privileges of freedom and democracy depend on voters exercising their responsibility to be good stewards of their democracy and being accountable to God’s will to love their neighbors as they love themselves. The election of Donald Trump was a failure of stewardship and accountability. It portends the demise of freedom and democracy unless voters can become accountable to God as better stewards of democracy in both their religion and politics.
Notes and commentary on related topics:
On Nicholas Kristof’s view that Trump voters are not the enemy, see https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/opinion/even-if-trump-is-the-enemy-his-voters-arent.html.
For commentary on the parable of the talents at Matthew 25:14-30 as a matter of Christian stewardship, see pp 192-195 of The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, a primary resource at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/ that is posted at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3gvZV8mXUp-aTJubVlISnpQc1U/view.
On Matthew Fox describing how idolatry affects us today, especially in our politics, see https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=mm#inbox/15ab286074673e6b.
On faith and freedom, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2014/12/faith-and-freedom.html.
On the greatest commandment as a common word of faith, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/01/the-greatest-commandment-common-word-of.html.
On love over law: a principle at the heart of legitimacy, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/01/love-over-law-principle-at-heart-of.html.
On religion as good or evil, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/02/is-religion-good-or-evil.html.
On God and country: conflicting concepts of sovereignty, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/03/god-and-country-resolving-conflicting.html.
On a fundamental problem with religion, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/05/a-fundamental-problem-with-religion.html.
On the future of religion: In decline or growing?, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/06/the-future-of-religion-in-decline-and.html.
On freedom and fundamentalism, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/08/freedom-and-fundamentalism.html.
On balancing individual rights with providing for the common good, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/08/balancing-individual-rights-with.html.
On how religious fundamentalism and secularism shape politics and human rights, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/08/how-religious-fundamentalism-and.html.
On legitimacy as a context and paradigm to resolve religious conflict, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/08/legitimacy-as-context-and-paradigm-to.html.
On politics and religious polarization, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/09/politics-and-religious-polarization.html.
On who is my neighbor? see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/01/who-is-my-neighbor.html.
On the politics of loving our neighbors as ourselves, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/01/the-politics-of-loving-our-neighbors-as.html.
On the relevance of religion to politics, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/04/the-relevance-of-religion-to-politics.html.
On religion and a politics of reconciliation based on shared values, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/11/religion-and-politics-of-reconciliation_19.html.
On irreconcilable differences and the demise of democracy, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/11/irreconcilable-differences-and-demise.html.
On discipleship in a democracy: a test of faith, legitimacy and politics, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/12/discipleship-in-democracy-test-of-faith.html.
On saving America from the church, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/01/saving-america-from-church.html.
On the need for a revolution in religion and politics, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/02/the-need-for-revolution-in-religion-and.html.