By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Christians have long claimed that their religion is the foundation of America’s greatness. But the truth is that America’s greatness is based on its economic and military power; and Christianity has sanctified those worldly powers in derogation of the teachings of Jesus. America the Beautiful is a great hymn of what America should be, but isn’t; the Battle Hymn of the Republic or Onward Christian Soldiers is more descriptive of the American religious ethic.
America is more politically polarized today than since its Civil War. Over 70% of Americans claim to be Christians but most of them oppose the compromises needed for a politics of reconciliation. If America were truly a Christian nation, its people would follow the altruistic moral imperatives taught by Jesus and promote a politics of reconciliation; but the opposite is true. We are a nation divided along partisan lines defined by competing identity groups.
America is not alone. Radical right nationalism is undermining democracy around the world. It promotes the supremacy of a dominant religion, race or ethnic group over others, and populist demagogues in America and Europe have stoked the fears of their constituencies over a wave of immigration from the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.
Religion is part of the problem, so it should also be part of the solution. America’s greatness in a world of increasing pluralism requires a politics of reconciliation to overcome its bitter divisions, but Christianity has long promoted its supremacy and exclusivity as the one true faith, making it part of the problem. A politics of reconciliation in America should be based on the altruistic and universal teachings of Jesus as a moral foundation for equal justice under law.
The reasons that the church has derogated the universal teachings of Jesus to exclusivist church beliefs should be obvious. The worldly power of the church has always depended on its popularity, and Jesus made it clear that following his teachings on altruistic love was a narrow way for the few, not a broad or popular way for the many. (see Matthew 7:13-14)
The teachings of Jesus are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and love our neighbors as we love ourselves, including our neighbors of other races and religions. That love command is considered a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, and it should be considered a common word of their politics as well as their faith.
The altruistic teachings of Jesus are universal in contrast to exclusivist church doctrines. Jesus emphasized reconciliation and peace and considered all who did the will of God to be his brothers and sisters. Jesus was a Jew who did not favor any religion over others, but the church subordinated his universal moral teachings to exclusivist Christian doctrines of belief that are conducive to divisive religious and political loyalties that produce hatred and violence.
History reveals the toxic mix of religion and politics. Institutional Christianity has been corrupted by its unholy alliances with politics and worldly power, beginning in the 4th century when Constantine co-opted Christianity to sanctify the conquests of the Roman Empire, and continuing through the Crusades and Inquisitions of the Middle Ages, followed by the Reformation of the 16th century and its progeny of religious wars throughout Europe.
For America to become great in an increasingly pluralistic world, American Christians must reject their exclusivist religious doctrines and promote a politics of reconciliation based on the greatest commandment as God’s word. That’s a daunting challenge since the worldly power of Christianity is based on its popularity, and loving those of other religions and races and accepting Christianity as a true faith, but not the only true faith, will not be popular.
For interactive maps that show that America is more diverse than ever--but still segregated, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/national/segregation-us-cities/?utm_term=.269a0751a640&wpisrc=nl_evening&wpmm=1
Pew Research Center surveys on the public, the political system and American Democracy reveal that most Americans see their country falling short of democratic ideals and values, with more Republicans than Democrats who believe that the American political system is working well. See
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