By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Globalization has increased religious diversity around the world, with a resulting increase in religious friction and conflict. But most religious conflict is caused by intrafaith differences rather than interfaith differences. Religious sects within Judaism, Christianity and Islam can be more hostile to each other than to other religions. Sectarian differences led to past religious wars in Europe and are the cause of current sectarian violence in the Middle East.
There is a broad spectrum of sectarian beliefs within each religion. They range from fundamentalists who believe that their exclusivist beliefs are the one true faith and that their scriptures are the inerrant and immutable word—and law—of God, to progressives who do not denigrate other religions and accept advances in knowledge and reason as God’s truth.
Fundamentalist Christians have been more active in American politics than Christian progressives and moderates. Until the election of Donald Trump it appeared that fundamentalists were a minority of Christians, but that election indicated they might well be a majority. That is problematic for Christianity since Donald Trump represents the antithesis of Christian morality.
Religions change from within. Only Christians can shape the future of Christianity, and only Muslims can define Islam. Progressives and moderates in each religion must first engage fundamentalists on the religious priorities of their own faith and achieve some degree of intrafaith reconciliation before they have any credibility in promoting interfaith reconciliation.
The first priority of Christians is to acknowledge the rank hypocrisy of supporting Donald Trump. Religious beliefs are reflected in politics, and by supporting Donald Trump the vast majority of white Christians seemingly abandoned the altruistic gospel of Jesus for a false gospel of cheap grace and self-love that promises worldly power and wealth to the faithful.
The emphasis on big money in foreign policy was evident in President Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia, where he proclaimed a doctrine of principled realism to replace human rights and asserted shared values with an oppressive, oil rich, regime—one that gave birth to al Qaeda and that continues to deny the freedoms of religion and speech and women’s rights.
To debunk the fundamentalist priorities of religion and politics that have corrupted Christianity, progressive Christians must restore the altruistic teachings of Jesus as the foundation of their faith. The greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves is a summary of the teachings of Jesus and is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. It is a sacred shared value that can promote interfaith harmony.
Once the love of God and our neighbors—including our neighbors of other races and religions—has been reestablished as the heart of Christian legitimacy, then that principle of faith must be translated into politics. That requires balancing individual rights with providing for the common good; and in American politics the challenge is to guard against an over-emphasis of individual rights that subverts the collective obligation to provide for the common good.
Over 70% of Americans identify as Christians, so the future of American religion and politics depends upon the relative strength of fundamentalists and progressives—and that is far from clear. It is clear, however, what Christian priorities should be. God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer; but history indicates that Satan does a convincing imitation of God, and does some of his best acting in the church and politics.
Christianity is in an existential crisis. Christians have buried the altruistic and universal teachings of Jesus under exclusivist fundamentalist beliefs that denigrate other religions and promote divisive politics with an Old Testament vengeance. The only way to save Christianity from itself is to restore the teachings of Jesus as a priority of Christian faith and politics, and that requires that progressives engage fundamentalists over the priorities of the Christian religion.
Interfaith reconciliation among Jews, Christians and Muslims is essential for world peace, but intrafaith reconciliation is a prerequisite for interfaith reconciliation. Christians must make the love of their neighbors—including those neighbors of other races and religions—a moral imperative of their faith. Only then can that common word of faith be considered a sacred shared value that is so essential for interfaith reconciliation.
Notes and commentary on related topics:
On Trump as evangelicals “dream president,” see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-is-evangelicals-dream-president-heres-why/2017/05/15/77b1609a-3996-11e7-a058-ddbb23c75d82_story.html?wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1.
On how Saudi Arabia played Donald Trump to promote fundamentalist Islam (Wahabbism), see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/saudi-arabia-just-played-donald-trump/2017/05/25/d0932702-4184-11e7-8c25-44d09ff5a4a8_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
On President Trump’s emphasis on principled realism to replace human rights, and shared values with an oppressive Saudi regime that denies the freedoms of religion and speech and women’s rights. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/us-and-gulf-nations-agree-to-crack-down-on-terror-financing/2017/05/21/e1222b34-3dfd-11e7-9e48-c4f199710b69_story.html.
On Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s convoluted rationale that combatting terrorism will lead to human rights. See http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/334441-tillerson-on-saudis-human-rights-issues-focus-on-terrorism.
On the evangelical roots of our post truth society, see https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/13/opinion/sunday/the-evangelical-roots-of-our-post-truth-society.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share&_r=0.
On the eight points of progressive Christianity, see https://progressivechristianity.org/the-8-points/.
On how Trump breathed new life into the culture war waged by evangelicals, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/how-trump-breathed-new-life-into-the-cultural-war-waged-by-evangelicals/2017/04/14/6262ac10-04ff-11e7-b1e9-a05d3c21f7cf_story.html?wpisrc=nl_popns&wpmm=1.
On a light-hearted look at the different sects of Judaism, see who let Jared and Ivanka fly on Shabbat at https://religionnews.com/2017/05/22/ivanka-jared-fly-saudi-arabia-shabbat/.
On interpreting scripture based on tradition, experience and reason, see Our Theological Task in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church , pages 78-91, at https://www.cokesbury.com/forms/DynamicContent.aspx?id=87&pageid=920.
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 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 different perspectives of Jesus, see Jesus: A prophet, God’s only Son or the Logos? at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/04/jesus-prophet-god-only-son-or-logos.html.
On a fundamental problem with religion, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/05/a-fundamental-problem-with-religion.html.
On fear and fundamentalism, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/07/fear-and-fundamentalism.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 what is truth? see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/08/what-is-truth.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, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/05/religion-and-politics-of-reconciliation.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 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.
On moral ambiguity in religion and politics, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/03/moral-ambiguity-in-religion-and-politics.html.
On how Easter and the Christian paradox have distorted the role of Jesus and the church in politics, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/04/easter-and-christian-paradox.html.
On the relevance of Jesus and the irrelevance of the church in today’s world, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/04/the-relevance-of-jesus-and-irrelevance.html.