By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
July 4, 2017, should have been a day of celebration, remembering the origins of our freedom and democracy and giving thanks to those who risked their lives to protect them. But for me July 4, 2017 was a sad day of mourning the degradation of American values. I felt out of touch with the America I thought I knew.
The election of November 2016 was an ugly watershed in U.S. politics. Christians, long a bulwark in American politics, elected a “bizarre, absurd, ridiculous and embarrassing” man as president of the U.S. Ironically, that was made possible by white Christians whose values are shaped by their faith. Despite Trump’s political victory—or perhaps because of it—Robert P. Jones has asserted that white Christian America is in a decline that cannot be reversed.
Trump’s degradation of American values was evident when he spoke in Poland on July 6: “The fundamental question of today is whether the West has the will to survive and defend its values,” and then he asked, “Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at all costs?” Beware when Trump speaks of defending our values. America’s values should not be those exemplified by Donald Trump, and it’s a sad day to think they could be.
Trump’s degenerate values are not just a partisan political issue. Religion is the source of our values and our moral standards of legitimacy, so they are as much an issue of faith as of politics. The Christian religion was in decline well before Trump’s election, and it has since lost its legitimacy among those whose faith is based on following the teachings of Jesus. It’s time for a religious and political reformation to reestablish the priority of American values.
The problem for American democracy is not so much Trump as it is those who support him. Those Christians who support Trump are apparently motivated by a distorted form of Christianity that is closer to the objectivist teachings of Ayn Rand than to the altruistic teachings of Jesus. Their “prosperity gospel” reflects materialistic and hedonistic values that have made America the Beautiful ripe for a fall from the grace that God supposedly shed on her.
Faith, freedom and democracy are interwoven in our culture, but that has been ignored in many churches. Mainline denominations have avoided political issues and allowed fundamentalist evangelical churches to control the “Christian” political agenda. Apparently things have to get really bad before respectable Christians recognize the relevance of their faith to their politics. Well, hello! In case you haven’t noticed, things have gotten really bad.
Freedom and democracy are subject to shifting tides in the cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil. When the church subordinates the teachings of Jesus to church doctrines conducive to the worldly objectives of prosperity and power, it throws Jesus under the bus and puts Satan in the driver’s seat. Those who supported Donald Trump subordinated God’s will to reconcile and redeem people of all races and religions to Satan’s will to divide and conquer.
How do we put Jesus back into the driver’s seat of the church bus and restore the values that made America great? We need to put the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves—and that includes our neighbors of other races and religions—at the heart of our faith. That love command provides the moral imperative needed for political issues ranging from health care to immigration and national defense.
If Americans lose their freedom it won’t likely be at the hands of an outside enemy, but forfeited from within. Edmund Burke warned Americans before the Revolution: In a democracy you will forge your own shackles. Pogo the Possum echoed that warning when he said: We have met the enemy and it is us. Americans must rejuvenate their religious and political values by next July 4, or it will be another sad day to mourn their loss.
On Kathleen Parker’s view of Trump as bizarre, absurd, ridiculous, embarrassing, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/bizarre-absurd-ridiculous-embarrassing-trump/2017/07/04/f004b6dc-6033-11e7-a4f7-af34fc1d9d39_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
On Robert Jones’ assertion that Trump can’t reverse the decline of white Christian America, see https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/07/robert-jones-white-christian-america/532587/.
On Trump’s speech in Poland on the need to defend Western values to survive, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2017/07/06/in-poland-trump-reaffirms-commitment-to-nato-chides-russia/?wpisrc=nl_evening&wpmm=1. On what those values might be, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/07/07/what-the-idea-of-civilization-does-and-doesnt-mean-to-trump/?wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1; see also https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/trump-wants-us-to-defend-our-values-which-ones/2017/07/06/9fcb041e-6272-11e7-84a1-a26b75ad39fe_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
Related commentary posted at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/:
(12/15/14): Faith and Freedom
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(1/18/15): Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy
(2/15/15): Is Religion Good or Evil?
(3/22/15): The Power of Humility and the Arrogance of Power
(4/12/15): Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy
(5/3/15): A Fundamental Problem with Religion
(8/30/15): What Is Truth?
(9/20/15) Politics and Religious Polarization
(11/22/15): Dualism: Satan’s Evil Versus God’s Goodness
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(2/27/16): Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy in Faith, Freedom and Politics
(5/14/16): The Arrogance of Power, Humility and a Politics of Reconciliation
(6/18/16): A Politics of Reconciliation with Liberty and Justice for All
http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/06/a-politics-of-reconciliation-with.html (8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide
(9/17/16): A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics
(11/5/16): Religion, Liberty and Justice at Home and Abroad
(11/19/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation Based on Shared Values
(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy
(12/3/16): Righteous Anger in Religion and Politics
(2/25/17): The Need for a Revolution in Religion and Politics
(3/4/17): Ignorance and Reason in Religion and Politics
(3/18/17): Moral Ambiguity in Religion and Politics
(5/6/17): Loyalty and Duty in Politics, the Military and Religion
http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/05/loyalty-and-duty-in-politics-military.html (6/3/17): When Winning Trumps Mercy and Losing is Evil
(6/24/17): The Evolution of Religion, Politics and Law: Back to the Future? http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/06/the-evolution-of-religion-politics-and.html.
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy