By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
July 4, 2020 was like no other Independence Day. On the day before at Mount Rushmore Donald Trump declared a culture war with a politics of division, and Joe Biden responded with a call for a politics of reconciliation based on the principle of equal justice under law. Their contrasting visions of America’s future have set the stage for the November election.
American’s standards of political legitimacy are derived from Christian morality and the libertarian values of the Enlightenment, but concepts of freedom in America have been muddled from its birth as a slave-holding nation. The church was split on slavery before the Civil War, and it remains split on issues of race as we approach the November election.
Issues on race and religion have polarized America’s partisan politics, and Trump has exploited those issues with his base of white Christians. They support Trump’s racism and egregious immorality with a reactionary Christianity that has rejected the moral teachings of Jesus. Joe Biden must placate a Democratic Party that favors black voters and leftist politics.
America is more polarized today than at any time since the Civil War. More than 82% of white evangelicals support Trump with a religious fervor, along with 60% of the remaining white Christians who don’t openly mix their religion and politics, but who consistently vote for Republicans. Most black Christians are Democrats, and only 8% support Trump.
Perhaps the most difficult racial issue today is systemic racism. It’s based on racial disparities that cannot be remedied by civil rights laws that require proof of unlawful racial discrimination. Racial disparities occur despite racially-neutral standards in employment, education, loans, wealth, criminal justice and health care. Racism persists to plague us.
Racism is pervasive and exists on both sides of the racial divide. Civil rights laws cannot eliminate racism; it’s a matter of morality ingrained in public perceptions of legitimacy. Just as the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves is a moral imperative that cannot be enforced by law, so racism is immoral but it’s not unlawful per se.
Civil rights laws cannot mandate racial harmony or prohibit racism. The law provides the obligatory standards of equal justice, while the voluntary moral standards of political legitimacy are derived from religion. Most Americans claim to be Christians, but the church lost its moral compass in 2016 when most white Christians sacrificed Jesus on the altar of partisan politics.
Protests can change civil rights law, but they can also worsen racist attitudes.. Racism is a moral issue with no legal remedy. The best we can hope for is that the church will rediscover the moral teachings of Jesus and promote God’s will to reconcile and redeem those of all races and religions, and oppose Satan’s will to divide and conquer.
On the recent Pew survey that shows the percentages of white Christians who support Trump, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2020/07/01/trumps-white-evangelical-approval-slips-pew-finds-82-percent-still-plan-vote-him/?utm_campaign=wp_post_most&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_most.
On Joe Biden’s response to Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/on-the-countrys-birthday-biden-offers-hopeful-counterpoint-to-trumps-message/2020/07/04/74582bc6-be0a-11ea-80b9-40ece9a701dc_story.html.
On Max Boot’s opinion that Trump is running an openly racist campaign. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/07/05/trump-is-running-an-openly-racist-campaign/?utm_campaign=wp_post_most&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_most.
Systemic racism is illustrated by 26 charts that relate to racial disparities in employment, education, loans, wealth, criminal justice and health care. The key issue is whether the standards that produce racial disparities are racially discriminatory or racially neutral. If the standards are racially neutral, the problem is not changing the standards but ensuring that they are applied without racial discrimination, which is illegal under civil rights law. To reduce racial disparities, blacks must take advantage of their educational opportunities to compete for better benefits In America, there is equality of opportunity but not of economic equality. Racism continues to be a problem, but there is a growing black middle class that illustrates that blacks can compete if they take advantage of educational opportunities; but the statistics don’t show a breakdown of middle class blacks and those in the black subculture. See https://www.businessinsider.com/us-systemic-racism-in-charts-graphs-data-2020-6#black-prisoners-are-overrepresented-in-the-us-prison-population-compared-to-their-share-of-the-total-us-population-20.
Related commentary 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 http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/12/religion-race-and-identity-politics.html.
(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
(7/6/19): Musings on Democrats, Busing and Racism: It’s Deja Vu All Over Again
(7/13/19): Musings on Sovereignty and Conflicting Loyalties to God and Country
(7/20/19): Musings on Diversity in Democracy: Who Are Our Neighbors?
(9/21/19): An Afterword on Religion, Legitimacy and Politics from 2014-2019
#258 (11/2/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Polarization and Reconciliation
(2/1/20): Musings on the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Altar of Partisan Politics
(2/22/20): Musings on Why All Politics and Religion Are Local (and not Universal)