By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Hint: It wasn’t God. But don’t try to tell that to most Christians. They profess belief in Paul’s atonement doctrine, now enshrined in church doctrine, that Jesus was God’s blood sacrifice to atone for the sins of all who believed in him (Romans 3:21-26). And who put Trump on the throne? White Christian voters, not God. They put Trump on the throne of American political power, and in spite of Trump’s egregious immorality, most continue to support him.
The gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke refute the atonement doctrine and portray Jesus as a radical rabbi who preached the mystical coming of God’s kingdom and the moral primacy of love over law. John’s gospel presents Jesus as the Logos, not the man Jesus portrayed in the other three gospels; but all four gospels confirm that Jewish religious leaders condemned Jesus as a blasphemer and then convinced Roman authorities to crucify him.
Why are the teachings of Jesus distorted by church doctrines? The worldly power of the church is based on its popularity, and the teachings of Jesus on sacrificial love are not popular in materialistic and hedonistic cultures. To enable Christianity to become the world’s most popular and powerful religion, the church has emphasized worshipping Jesus as the Trinitarian equivalent of God as more important to salvation than following Jesus as the word of God.
Those who believe in Jesus as the alter ego of God and ignore his moral teachings are hypocrites. If the church were to emphasize Christian morality based on following the teachings of Jesus as the word of God as being as important to salvation as worshipping Jesus as God, then Christians would oppose politics that make a mockery of Christian morality. That shift of emphasis could restore the relevance of Christian morality to the stewardship of democracy.
Jesus was a Jew who never promoted any religion, not even his own. He taught that God was bigger than any religion, and refuted exclusivist Christian beliefs by teaching that all who did God’s will were his spiritual kin in the family of God. And Jesus challenged America’s order of merit in which winning is everything and losing is denigrated. Jesus taught that in God’s kingdom the first would be last, and the last would be first.
The Enlightenment of the 17th century debunked many ancient religious doctrines with advances in knowledge and reason; and it remains a work in progress in a globalized world of increased religious diversity where exclusivist beliefs cause hatred and violence. Christianity is now the world’s largest religion, but projections are that it will soon take second place to Islam. Reconciliation between these competitive religions is essential for their peaceful coexistence.
Interfaith reconciliation should begin with the greatest commandment. It combines the mystical command to love God with the moral imperative to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, including neighbors of other races and religions. It originated in the Hebrew Bible, was taught by Jesus, and has been accepted by Islamic scholars as a common word of faith.
If today’s Christians follow the precedent of Thomas Jefferson and consider the moral teachings of Jesus as “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man,” they can promote the greatest commandment as a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. Jefferson understood that it was an altruistic principle as well suited for politics as for religion.
Who put Jesus on the cross and Trump on the throne? God sent Jesus into the world, but we put him on the cross; and to make matters worse, we put Trump on the throne. As Pogo said, We have met the enemy and it is us. God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity, but Satan’s will is to divide and conquer--and Satan has done a convincing imitation of God in religion and politics.
For the church to save itself and democracy from self-destruction, it must promote a politics of reconciliation. Evangelical charlatans have corrupted Christianity with radical right partisan politics, and the silence of mainstream church pulpits has only aided and abetted their efforts. If the church doesn’t redeem itself by promoting the moral teachings of Jesus in both faith and politics, it will crucify Jesus again--this time on the altar of partisan politics.
Carl Krieg has asked, Suppose it was like this…, and suggested that Christians revisit the gospels and rethink the essentials of their faith based on those accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus. See https://progressivechristianity.org/resources/suppose-it-was-like-this/.
Thomas Jefferson considered the teachings of Jesus a sublime moral code but had no use for the institutional church and its self-serving doctrines. See the Introduction to The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, p 10 and end note 2, posted in Resources listed on the home page of http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/p/resources.html.
Robin R. Meyers has characterized the deleterious effect of church doctrine on the teachings of Jesus in the title of his book, Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start following Jesus, Harper One, 2009.
Alex Wagner has described fanatically loyal Trump supporters as The church of Trump, made up of white Christians who find the relief of belonging in their faux faith. See https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/08/the-church-of-trump/567425/.
John Pavlovitz has indicted Christians who support Trump and his political minions as hypocrites who promote and practice moral standards antithetical to those taught by Jesus. See https://johnpavlovitz.com/2018/08/16/christians-supporting-trump-arent-christians/?utm_campaign=coschedule&utm_source=facebook_page&utm_medium=John%20Pavlovitz.
(12/8/14): Religion and Reason
(1/4/15): Religion and New Beginnings: Salvation and Reconciliation in the Family of God http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/01/religion-and-new-beginnings-salvation.html
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(1/18/15): Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy
(2/8/15): Promoting Religion Through Evangelism: Bringing Light or Darkness?
(4/5/15): Seeing the Resurrection in a New Light
(4/12/15): Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy
(4/19/15): Jesus: A Prophet, God’s Only Son, or the Logos? http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/04/jesus-prophet-god-only-son-or-logos.html
(6/14/15): Jesus Meets Muhammad Today
(10/4/15): Faith and Religion: The Same but Different
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(3/26/16): Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery
(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
(8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/08/how-religion-can-bridge-our-political.html
(9/17/16): A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics
(12/17/16): Discipleship in a Democracy: A Test of Faith, Legitimacy and Politics
(12/31/16): E Pluribus Unum, Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(1/21/17): Religion and Reason Redux: Religion Is Ridiculous
(3/4/17): Ignorance and Reason in Religion and Politics
(3/18/17): Moral Ambiguity in Religion and Politics
(4/15/17): Easter and the Christian Paradox
(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World
(5/27/17): Intrafaith Reconciliation as a Prerequisite for Interfaith Reconciliation
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(7/15/17) Religion and Progressive Politics
(7/22/17): Hell No!
(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
(9/23/17): 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.
(11/18/17): Radical Religion and the Demise of Democracy
(12/2/17): How Religious Standards of Legitimacy Shape Politics, for Good or Bad
(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.
(1/13/18): 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
(3/3/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on America’s Holy War
(3/17/18): Jefferson’s Jesus and Moral Standards in Religion and Politics
(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
(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
(6/30/18): Who Are We? Musings on How Our Faith Shapes Our Politics and Who We Are http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/06/who-are-we-musings-on-how-our-faith.html.
(7//7/18): Whose America Is This? Musings on Conflicting Standards of Legitimacy in Religion and Politics http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/07/whose-america-is-this-musings-on.html.
(7/14/18): Musings on Why Christians Should Put Moral Standards Over Mystical Beliefs
(7/21/18): Musings on America’s Moral and Political Mess and Who Should Clean It Up
(7/28/18): Musings on the Polarization of Christian Morality and Politics
(8/4/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religious Problems and Solutions in Politics