By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Christianity, like most religions, includes both mystical and moral beliefs. Christian moral standards of legitimacy are the primary source of political legitimacy in America, but mystical Christian beliefs can also be a moral factor in politics. Exclusivist Christian doctrines that limit salvation to those who believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ as part of the Holy Trinity and that all unbelievers are condemned to hell shape the morality of Christians in politics.
The divinity of Jesus is based on church doctrine that originated with Paul’s speculation on the meaning of the resurrection coupled with a literal interpretation of the symbolic Gospel of John, which portrays Jesus as the mystical Logos—the word or creative power of God in the flesh—rather than the historic Jesus portrayed in the other three Synoptic gospels. In all the gospels, Jesus called his disciples to follow him as the word of God, not to worship him as God.
Following the Protestant Reformation, Luther’s doctrine of sola fide subordinated the moral teachings of Jesus to mystical and exclusivist Christian doctrines. Today, white evangelicals have lost their moral compass. They have put loyalty to a radical-right Republican Party and a prosperity gospel over the altruistic teachings of Jesus. That was evident in the election of Donald Trump, whose narcissism is the antithesis of the altruistic teachings of Jesus.
Jesus combined the mystical and moral obligations of faith in the greatest commandment to love God (the mystical) and to love our neighbors—including our neighbors of other races and religions—as we love ourselves (the moral). Paul’s letters introduced the mystical doctrines of atonement and justification by faith, but Paul also affirmed the moral teachings of Jesus on love over law and the greatest commandment. (see Romans 13:8-10 and I Corinthians 13).
In addition to Paul’s letters, a literal reading of John’s Gospel portraying Jesus as the mystical Logos also supports exclusivist Christian doctrine that limits salvation to those who believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. (see John 3:16 and John 4:16) Even so, enlightened Catholic and Protestant leaders like Pope Francis and Jim Wallis combine belief in the divinity of Jesus with the moral imperative to follow the teachings of Jesus as a universal word of God.
Mystical beliefs in Jesus as the word of God are essential components of Christianity, but exclusivist church doctrines that condemn those of other faiths contradict the altruistic and universal moral imperatives taught by Jesus. Jesus was a Jew who never promoted any religion, not even his own. His focus was on a moral reformation to restore the primacy of love over law in Judaism, and Christianity needs to do the same today.
Islam also has exclusivist mystical doctrines of belief based on the Qur'an as the word of God made book, much as Christianity considers Jesus the word of God made flesh. The Qur'an describes Jesus as a great prophet, but considers Christian beliefs in the Trinity a heresy. Such exclusivist mystical beliefs that condemn unbelievers to hell poison both religion and politics.
In an increasingly pluralistic world Christianity and Islam must reject their exclusivist religious doctrines to coexist in peace. The greatest commandment is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims. It can promote a politics of reconciliation among those contentious religions if they embrace its altruistic and universal principle to love God and our neighbors—including our neighbors of other races and religions—as we love ourselves.
Martin Luther’s emphasis on sola fide (faith alone) subordinated the moral teachings of Jesus to mystical and exclusivist Christian doctrines that have allowed the distorted morality of the prosperity gospel. See https://progressivechristianity.org/resources/bound-consciences/.
Bill Aulenbach has related current evangelical support for immoral radical-right politics to Martin Luther’s Reformation doctrines that emphasized exclusivist Christian beliefs over the moral teachings of Jesus. See https://progressivechristianity.org/resources/bound-consciences/.
Thomas Jefferson was a deist who recognized the teachings of Jesus as “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man,” and considered mystical beliefs to be personal with little relevance to politics. See the Introduction to The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, at pp 10-15 and note 2 at p 425, posted in Resources at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/.
On the mystical Logos of John’s Gospel, see the Introduction to the Gospel of John in The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, at pp 301 and note 19 at p 428, posted in Resources at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/. For commentary on John 3:16 and 14:6, see pp 394-398 and pp 416-417.
As head of the world’s largest Christian bureaucracy, Pope Francis has been a voice of reason and progressive change who has promoted Christian morality in the Roman Catholic Church. Among the myriad variations of Protestant Christianity, Jim Wallis has been a tireless advocate for Christian morality in politics, and most recently has led a movement of progressive church leaders under the banner of Reclaiming Jesus in response to the immorality of the Trump regime. See https://sojo.net/articles/do-we-need-bring-our-own-candles.
Reverend James Burklo has challenged pastors to emphasize the teachings of Jesus over mystical and exclusivist church doctrines never taught by Jesus, and reports that many pastors “no longer believe everything (or even very much) of what they are preaching. And untold numbers of parishioners pretend to assent to preaching that makes little sense to them….Pastors and members are afraid to rock the doctrinal boat, for fear that some parishioners – and their pledges – will fall out.” See https://progressivechristianity.org/resources/a-proposal-fearless-sunday-a-day-for-theological-outing-second-sunday-in-september-9-9-2018/.
(12/8/14): Religion and Reason
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(2/8/15): Promoting Religion Through Evangelism: Bringing Light or Darkness?
(4/19/15): Jesus: A Prophet, God’s Only Son, or the Logos?
(5/3/15): A Fundamental Problem with Religion
(6/7/15): The Future of Religion: In Decline and Growing
(7/26/15): Fear and Fundamentalism
(8/9/15): Balancing Individual Rights with Collective Responsibilities
(8/30/15): What Is Truth?
(9/27/15): Religion, the Pope and Politics in the Real World
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(2/7/16): Jesus Meets Muhammad on Issues of Religion and Politics
(7/2/16): The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in the Wake of Globalization
(9/17/16): A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics
(12/3/16): Righteous Anger in Religion and Politics
(12/17/16): Discipleship in a Democracy: A Test of Faith, Legitimacy and Politics
(1/7/17): Religion and Reason as Sources of Political Legitimacy, and Why They Matter
(1/21/17): Religion and Reason Redux: Religion Is Ridiculous
(1/28/17): Saving America from the Church
(2/4/17): When Confrontation Trumps Reconciliation in Politics and Religion
(2/25/17): The Need for a Revolution in Religion and Politics
(3/4/17): Ignorance and Reason in Religion and Politics
(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World
(6/10/17): Religious Exclusivity and Discrimination in Politics
(6/17/17): Religious Exclusivity: Does It Matter?
(7/15/17) Religion and Progressive Politics
(7/22/17): Hell No!
(9/9/17): The Evolution of the American Civil Religion and Habits of the Heart http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/09/the-evolution-of-american-civil.html.
(9/23/17): Tribalism and the American Civil Religion
(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/10/a-21st-century-reformation-to-restore.html.
(11/4/17): What to Believe? Truth or Consequences in Religion and Politics http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/11/what-to-believe-truth-or-consequences.html.
(11/18/17): Radical Religion and the Demise of Democracy
(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy? http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/12/if-democracy-survives-trump-era-can.html.
(1/20/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Morality and Religion in Politics
(1/27/18): Musings on Conflicting Concepts of Christian Morality in Politics
(3/3/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on America’s Holy War
(3/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christian Morality as a Standard of Legitimacy http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/03/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on_24.html
(3/31/18): Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy
(4/7/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Need for a Moral Reformation
(4/28/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Virtues and Vices of Christian Morality
(5/5/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Nostalgia as an Obstacle to Progress
(5/12/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and Making America Great Again
(5/19/18): Musings on Morality and Law as Symbiotic but Conflicting Standards of Legitimacy