By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
At the funeral service of President George H. W. Bush at the Washington National Cathedral last Wednesday, all living presidents were lined up on the first row where cameras took in their every move. Much was made of the fact that President Trump did not recite The Apostles Creed during the service, and some reporters referred to it as a prayer.
The Apostles Creed is an affirmation of faith, not a prayer. It asserts orthodox church doctrine, and those who say it are supposed to believe it. Ruth Meyers has described it “as bedrock doctrine as you can get.” But its beliefs are not taken from Scripture, and they say nothing of the altruistic teachings of Jesus on loving others.
Jesus combined two commandments from the Hebrew Bible into 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. Jesus was a Jew who never promoted any religion, not even his own, and he never suggested that he was a divine alter ego of God.
Many who witnessed Trump’s stoic refusal to recite The Apostles Creed attributed it to either his ignorance of the creed or his intentional snubbing of those who were saying it; but I support his right and even his obligation to refuse to recite the Creed if it is not an affirmation of his faith. And given Trump’s immoral behavior, it’s hard to believe it’s an affirmation of his faith.
There are many Christians who don’t recite The Apostles Creed because it doesn’t affirm the priority of their faith to follow the altruistic teachings of Jesus, but instead emphasizes belief in Jesus as the second person of the Holy Trinity--born of a virgin, sitting at the right hand of God and judging the living and the dead--all mystical beliefs that Jesus never taught.
A Modern Affirmation is a Trinitarian creed, but it does not assert that Jesus is co-equal with God. It states that our ...faith should manifest itself in the service of love as set forth in the example of our blessed Lord, to the end that the kingdom of God may come upon the earth. A Modern Affirmation reflects my faith, while I only believe in parts of The Apostles’ Creed.
Any religious creed that begins with I believe should state the beliefs of the person who affirms it, but religious beliefs can change over time. It’s common for believers who grew up reciting The Apostles Creed to begin to doubt its mystical beliefs during their journey of faith. The church should welcome those who “think outside the box,” but too often it rejects them.
The United Methodist Church has become less tolerant of diversity in beliefs and trended toward fundamentalism. Election results indicate that the majority of white Christians, including Methodists, support radical right partisan politics, and the exclusivist Apostles Creed is more congenial to those tribal politics than the greatest commandment and A Modern Affirmation.
There is great irony here. Donald Trump’s morality is the antithesis of that taught by Jesus, yet as a struggling disciple of Jesus I support his refusal to recite The Apostles’ Creed. This reflects a growing ambiguity in the standards of Christian morality that shape the American civil religion. That should cause Christians to consider how their affirmations of faith reflect their standards of political legitimacy and influence their stewardship of democracy.
The Apostles Creed and A Modern Affirmation reflect contrasting beliefs. A Lutheran pastor once told me that A Modern Affirmation was heretical for that reason, citing Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_Dogmatics) As a progressive Christian, I respectfully disagree.
The Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth;
and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord: who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried;
the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
A Modern Affirmation
We believe in God the Father, infinite in wisdom, power and love, whose mercy is over all his works, and whose will is ever directed to his children’s good.
We believe in Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of man, the gift of the Father’s unfailing grace, the ground of our hope, and the promise of our deliverance from sin and death.
We believe in the Holy Spirit as the divine presence in our lives, whereby we are kept in perpetual remembrance of the truth of Christ, and find strength and help in time of need.
We believe that this faith should manifest itself in the service of love as set forth in the example of our blessed Lord, to the end that the kingdom of God may come upon the earth. Amen.
On Donald Trump’s failure to recite The Apostles Creed at the funeral of George H.W. Bush, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2018/12/05/all-presidents-bush-funeral-service-together-recited-this-core-prayer-except-trump/?utm_term=.300f0157c108&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1.
Fareed Zakaria has noted how George H. W. Bush represented the patrician leadership of a WASP culture sustained by white supremacy in America, and that despite its deficiencies we can learn something from its altruistic virtues that conflict with the selfish values of today’s meritocracy. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/im-not-calling-to-revive-wasp-culture-just-to-learn-from-it/2018/12/06/a19d5eea-f99d-11e8-863c-9e2f864d47e7_story.html?utm_term=.ae55f83d01a9&wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
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