By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Jesus was a maverick 1st century Jewish rabbi, an outsider who threatened the insiders of his ancient Jewish religious establishment. That insider versus outsider dichotomy can be compared to progressives today who “think outside the box” and question the religious doctrines and politics of establishment religious and political authorities.
When Jesus began his subversive ministry over 2,000 years ago, he and his disciples were chastised by insider Pharisees (Jewish teachers of the law) for associating with outcasts and sinners. Jesus responded to them: It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. (Mark 2:16, 17)
Jesus was being sarcastic. The sanctimonious and hypocritical Pharisees were the sinners in need of God’s healing, not the social outcasts who were seeking forgiveness. The Pharisees taught that Mosaic Law was God’s standard of legitimacy, while Jesus taught a new standard of legitimacy, or righteousness, for the Jews--it was the primacy of love over law.
The universal and altruistic concepts of legitimacy taught by Jesus are relevant today. Those white Christians who support Donald Trump and his Republican minions are religious insiders who sacrificed the altruistic standards of legitimacy taught by Jesus on the altar of partisan politics. If the teachings of Jesus are the word of God, then those insiders are sinners.
Sin is not disobeying a law; it’s ignoring the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves, including our neighbors of other races and religions. That’s a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. It’s taken from the Hebrew Bible, taught by Jesus and accepted by Muslim scholars as a common word of their Abrahamic faith.
Today’s outsiders are challenging Trump’s egregious immorality and the distorted religious doctrines of his supporters with the altruistic standards of legitimacy taught by Jesus. The same is happening with demagogues in democracies around the world, where outsiders are minorities since insiders in both religion and politics have majorities supporting their power.
Like Trump in America, al-Sissi in Egypt and Erdogan in Turkey are demagogues who have corrupted Islam and their democracies by violating the human rights of their opponents to promote their power. Like other demagogues around the world, they have exploited the dark side of religion with distorted doctrines that promote fear and hate, and condemn all outsiders.
Last weekend Vice President Pence warned graduates at Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s Liberty University that they should expect to be “shunned or ridiculed for defending the teachings of the Bible.” He then boasted that Trump “protects religious liberty.” To Pence that meant that he and evangelical Christians have the right to discriminate against homosexuals in the name of God.
The truth is that Trump, Pence and their white “Christian” supporters--including Falwell and Liberty University graduates who support their views--should be shunned and ridiculed for making a mockery of the teachings of Jesus. They are insiders in Trump’s immoral regime who have corrupted the church with distorted family values and a politics based on white supremacy.
It is reminiscent of Germany In the 1930s, when most German Christians supported Hitler’s Nazi party based on white supremacy and anti-Semitism. The Republican Party, like the Nazis, promotes radical-right politics of white supremacy. But the Democratic Party offers little hope for change. It’s a hodge-podge of liberal extremists that can’t relate to mainstream voters.
Over the years, religious and political insiders and outsiders in America have reversed their roles. Republicans have replaced Democrats as the party of white supremacy, and racism continues to plague our religion and politics. But Trump can’t keep immigrants out of America forever. If white Christians don’t fix the problem soon, they will lose their majority status as insiders and become outsiders, leading U.S. religion and politics into unchartered waters.
This commentary introduces Lesson #1, Jesus came to call sinners, not the righteous at pp 17-20 in The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, an interfaith sudy guide posted in Resources at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/p/resources.html. It addresses theological issues on sin, repentance and forgiveness that relate to religion, legitimacy and politics.
On Vice President Pence’s comments at the Liberty University graduation last weekend, see https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/443262-mike-pence-tells-liberty-university-graduates-to-prepare-to-be.
John Fea has said that “Pence’s persecution complex should not surprise us. Evangelicals in America have seen themselves as victims since the 1960s. The Christian Right emerged in the 1970s with an agenda focused on returning prayer and Bible reading to public schools, resisting demographic change in the wake of new immigration, defending segregation in Christian academies, overturning Roe v. Wade and stalling the gains of the feminist movement. The movement gains strength by scaring evangelicals into believing that they are constantly under attack. Without this discourse of victimhood, the donations will stop, and the Christian Right will lose its hold on the levers of power within the Republican Party.
For Pence, who came of age spiritually and politically at the time of the Christian Right’s ascendancy, there is little difference between evangelical faith and a political agenda. He sees the world in black and white. It is “us vs. them” in an epic battle for the soul of the nation. And the Liberty University crowd, students and supporters of what Falwell Jr. claims to be the largest Christian university in the world, cheered. At one point the crowd even began a chant of “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.” See https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2019/05/13/dear-mike-pence-real-persecution-christians-isnt-here-america/?utm_term=.200fa9a7c6f1&wpisrc=nl_faith&wpmm=1
Steven Waldman has asked, What happened to U.S. evangelical leaders? In early America, they were our freedom fighters. Waldman pointed out that 18th century evangelicals were outsiders in the church persecuted by insider Anglicans for practicing the moral standards taught by Jesus. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2019/05/08/what-happened-us-evangelicals-early-america-they-were-our-freedom-fighters/?utm_term=.be7a75428646&wpisrc=nl_faith&wpmm=1
On Christian support for Hitler’s Nazi regime, see Religion in Nazi Germany at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Nazi_Germany.
The increasing number of white Christians becoming “nones” coupled with demographics that predict a decreasing percentage of whites in America will lead religion and politics into unchartered waters. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/05/14/religiously-unaffiliated-voters-are-leading-us-politics-into-uncharted-waters/?utm_term=.73be8960d63c&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1
For an example of mean-spirited and divisive partisan remarks, see comments of Republicans Steve Scalise (R-La) and Liz Cheney (R-Wyo) related to Representative Rashida Tarib (D-Mich), a Muslim, at https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/house-republicans-criticize-rep-tlaib-over-remarks-on-holocaust-israel/2019/05/12/50939fea-74f5-11e9-b3f5-5673edf2d127_story.html?utm_term=.08f7c933305c&wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
On the greatest commandment and love over law:
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(1/18/15): Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(3/31/18): Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy
(10/13/18): Musings on a Common Word of Faith and Politics for Christians and Muslims
(2/23/19): Musings on Loving Your Enemy, Including the Enemy Within
On religion, race and politics:
(7/5/15): Reconciliation as a Remedy for Racism and Religious Exclusivism
(7/12/15): Reconciliation in Race and Religion: The Need for Compatibility, not Conformity http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/07/reconciliation-in-race-and-religion.html
(7/19/15): Religion, Heritage and the Confederate Flag
(3/12/16): Religion, Race and the Deterioration of Democracy in America
(3/26/16): Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery
(7/9/16): Back to the Future: Race, Religion, Rights and a Politics of Reconciliation
(7/16/16): The Elusive Ideal of Political Reconciliation
(10/22/16): The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in a Polarized Democracy
(11/19/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation Based on Shared Values
(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy
(2/18/17): Gerrymandering, Race and Polarized Partisan Politics
(8/19/17): Hate, History and the Need for a Politics of Reconciliation
(11/11/17): A Politics of Reconciliation that Should Begin in the Church
(12/9/17): Religion, Race and Identity Politics
(1/6/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Diversity in Democracy
(10/20/18): Lamentations of an Old White Male Maverick Methodist in a Tribal Culture
(12/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Justice in Religion and Politics
(3/9/19): Musings on the Degradation of Democracy in a Post-Christian America