Saturday, June 30, 2018

Who Are We? Musings on How Our Faith Shapes Our Politics and Who We Are

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

        President Trump’s political rally last week in Columbia said a lot about who we are.  He was thronged by crowds who cheered when he insulted those who criticized him and praised his own mean-spirited policies.  Sadly, The vast majority of white South Carolinians support Donald Trump and his Republican Party. I oppose them, but that doesn’t make me a Democrat.  I was once a Republican, but since 1986 I have been independent in my politics.

        Who are we?  In America’s democracy, our elected officials reflect who we are, for better or worse.  For those comfortable with a narcissist like Donald Trump and his Republican minions representing who they are, I can only offer my sympathy, and beg to differ.  Those like me who wish to project a more positive image of our nation, state and ourselves to others must elect representative who exemplify our altruistic values and virtues.       

Why do most white South Carolinians support the politics of Donald Trump?  It’s a matter of faith; their political values and moral standards of legitimacy are derived from their religion, and they claim to be Christians.  That’s ironic, since Trump’s moral standards are antithetical to those of Jesus. Trump’s Christian supporters either ignore the moral teachings of Jesus in their politics, or profess faith in distorted doctrines like those of the prosperity gospel.

The prosperity gospel is based on Old Testament beliefs that God rewards the faithful with health, wealth and prosperity.  It resembles the self-centered objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand and is a good fit for America’s materialistic and hedonistic culture, but it contradicts the altruistic moral teachings of Jesus.  The prosperity gospel is not a form of Christianity, and those Christians who don’t apply the moral teachings of Jesus to their politics risk being hypocrites.

Donald Trump and his Republican Party are not anomalies; they are caricatures of
the corrupt American values now on display for the rest of the world to see.  It may give us some comfort to know that other democracies share similar radical-right values.  Around the world altruistic religious values have been challenged by radical right politics that pander to greed, nationalism and the nativist fear and hatred of immigrants.

If we acknowledge what we look like to others and don’t like what we see, there are things we can do about it.  The first step is to end the tribalism that has polarized our politics along racial and partisan lines. We must promote a politics of reconciliation  based on the altruistic values taught by Jesus summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors--including our neighbors of other races and religions--as we love ourselves.

A politics of reconciliation requires balancing our individual rights and wants with providing for the common good.  In America, both parties have favored the special interests of their identity groups at the expense of the common good.  Education is an important public priority, but it’s not the solution to this fundamental problem of distorted values. It will take a moral reformation to balance selfish and immoral political values with altruistic values.                

A moral reformation should begin in the church since over 70% of Americans claim to be Christians.  Evangelical pastors who have promoted Trump’s mean-spirited radical-right politics under the guise of distorted family values must reverse course, and white pastors in mainstream denominations who have been silent on political issues must speak out and promote the moral stewardship of democracy.  Such a change in political values must begin in America’s pulpits.

There is a glimmer of hope for a moral reformation within the church.  In the wake of Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy that separated children from immigrant parents seeking political asylum, some pastors have ended their silence on politics in the pulpit and denounced Trump’s policy as immoral.  If more pastors follow their example and promote the moral stewardship of democracy, the church can shape a new and moral America that makes us proud of who we are.


America the Beautiful has become America the Ugly.  In Trump’s America, tribalism reigns. See

Against a backdrop of increasing tribalism and partisan polarization a feud over civility in politics escalates amid Trump insults and presents a picture of discord and hate in America. See
It should give Americans little comfort to know that Turkey, a key NATO ally, has given its Trump-like president Erdogan more power to undermine Turkey’s secular liberties.  See

The family separation issue of Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy has prompted pulpits that were once silent on religion and politics to promote the need for Christian morality in politics.  See

Related commentary:

(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(3/8/15): Wealth, Politics, Religion and Economic Justice
(4/12/15): Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy
(8/30/15): What Is Truth?
(10/18/15): God, Money and Politics
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(2/13/16): We Are Known by the Friends We Keep
(6/4/16): Christianity and Capitalism: Strange Bedfellows in Politics
(9/17/16): A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics
(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy
(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
(2/4/17): When Confrontation Trumps Reconciliation in Politics and Religion
(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
(7/15/17) Religion and Progressive Politics
(7/29/17): Speaking God’s Truth to Man’s Power
(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism  
(9/9/17): The Evolution of the American Civil Religion and Habits of the Heart
(9/16/17): The American Civil Religion and the Danger of Riches
(9/23/17): Tribalism and the American Civil Religion  
(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion
(10/21/17): The Symbiotic Relationship between Freedom and Religion
(11/18/17): Radical Religion and the Demise of Democracy
(12/2/17): How Religious Standards of Legitimacy Shape Politics, for Good or Bad
(12/16/17): Can Democracy Survive the Trump Era?
(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy?
(1/13/18): Nationalist Politics and Exclusivist Religion: Obstacles to Reconciliation and Peace
(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
(2/17/18): Musings of a Maverick on Money, Wall Street, Greed and 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
(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
(6/2/18): Musings on Good Versus Evil and Apocalypse in Religion, Legitimacy and Politics
(6/15/18): The Prosperity Gospel: Where Culture Trumps Religion in Legitimacy and Politics
(6/23/18): Musings on the Separation of Church and State and Christian Morality in Politics

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