By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Democracy survived Donald Trump in the 2020 election, but it’s doubtful that the church can survive democracy. The church in its myriad forms remains a popular social institution, and most Americans claim to be Christians; but in America’s materialistic and hedonistic culture the church no longer promotes the altruistic moral teachings of Jesus in politics--if it ever did.
The 2020 elections revealed two Americas that are hostile to each other, and the church has failed its mission to promote a politics of reconciliation. It has left a moral vacuum filled by divisive distortions of Christianity like the prosperity gospel. A consensus on the fundamental values of political legitimacy is needed to preserve the fabric of American democracy.
The altruistic greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, including those of other races and religions, was taken from the Hebrew Bible, was taught by Jesus and accepted as a common word of faith by Muslim scholars. For the church to be resurrected, it must promote a politics of reconciliation based on this common word of faith.
God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer. But Satan has done a convincing imitation of God in the church and in politics, and is winning the popularity contest between the forces of good and evil in democracy. The church lost its credibility and legitimacy by failing to promote God’s will with a politics of reconciliation.
Both politics and religion thrive on popularity in America’s democracy, and the divisive, callous and vulgar politics of Trumpism have superseded the altruistic and reconciling teachings of Jesus. Trump had almost seven million more votes in 2020 than in 2016; only a record turnout saved American democracy from demise under another four years of a Trump regime.
But even without Trump, Trumpism remains a vital force in politics. While his egregious immorality is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus, Trump reshaped the Republican Party and most white Christians voted for him in 2020. Few church pulpits spoke out against the divisive evils of Trump before the 2020 election, and that cost the church its credibility and legitimacy.
Four years of Trump’s divisive politics did not diminish his Christian supporters. Today there are even more Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, committed to radical-right Trump nationalism. Militant white evangelicals recently formed the Patriot Church to confirm their faith with misguided patriotism. Partisan division and hatred have become pervasive in America.
In spite of the dismal trends in Christianity, there are glimmers of hope that a remnant of the church can give it a new spiritual birth. Jesus has been crucified on the altar of partisan politics in America’s materialistic and hedonistic democracy, but his universal and altruistic teachings to reconcile and redeem humans from their depravity will never die. Thanks be to God!
Michael Gerson has asserted a massive failure of character among Republicans--with evangelicals out in front. “How could such a thing happen in the GOP? It is the culmination of Trump’s influence among Republicans, and among White evangelical Christians in particular. Their main justification for supporting Trump — that the president’s character should be ignored in favor of his policies — has become a serious danger to the republic. Trump never even presented the pretense of good character. His revolt against the establishment was always a revolt against the ethical ground rules by which the establishment played.Republicans accepted it as part of the Trump package. And some of his most fervent defenses came from White evangelicals. ...Two lessons can be drawn from the Republican failure of moral judgment. First, democracy is an inherently moral enterprise. And second, U.S. politics would be better off if White evangelicals consistently applied their moral tradition to public life. Not only Christians, of course, can stand for integrity. But consider what would happen if White evangelicals insisted on supporting honest, compassionate, decent, civil, self-controlled men and women for office. The alternative is our current reality, in which evangelicals have often been a malicious and malignant influence in U.S. politics.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/this-is-a-massive-failure-of-character-among-republicans--with-evangelicals-out-in-front/2020/11/12/c7a05396-251e-11eb-8672-c281c7a2c96e_story.html.
Dana Milbank has described Trump’s racial appeals as a White evangelical tsunami. “White evangelicals are only 15 percent of the population, but ...it seems clear that White evangelicals maintained the roughly 26 percent proportion of the electorate they’ve occupied since 2008, even though their proportion of the population has steadily shrunk from 21 percent in 2008. Because they maintained their roughly 80 percent support for Republicans (76 percent and 81 percent in the two exit polls) of recent years, it also means some 40 percent of Trump voters came from a group that is only 15 percent of America. There is vanishingly little that Democrats (or Republicans, for that matter) can do to persuade voters to switch sides, because race, and views on race, are the most important factors determining how people vote. Add to the White evangelicals’ turnout the votes of the smaller proportions of White mainline Protestants and Catholics with high levels of racial resentment, as defined by the American Values Survey, and you’ve accounted for the bulk of Trump’s coalition.” See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/11/13/trumps-racist-appeals-powered-white-evangelical-tsunami/?utm_campaign=wp_opinions_pm&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_popn
On the UNHOLY GOSPEL: How deep state, deep church, QAnon and Trumpism have infected the Catholic Church. Massimo Faggioli cites Mark Noll’s, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, “I think it’s the beginning of a trajectory that is likely, unfortunately, to make the Catholic Church in the U.S. what happened to white evangelicals over the last 40, 50 years—placing the deep feeling of their theological tradition at the service of nationalism and now ethnic–racial nationalism. Which means Catholicism will no longer define itself by a series of texts, positions, and international connections, but on the basis of party affiliation and ideological adhesion to a libertarian view of the economy, where you deserve what you get and you get what you deserve.” And so, beside a global Catholic Church, it would become something separate: isolated, angry, and alone, shouting accusations into the air.” See https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2020/10/how-qanon-and-trumpism-have-infected-the-catholic-church.
Anabaptists are the remnant of the church that could save it from moral irrelevance. The six denominations of the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. (MCC) has issued a statement that concludes with “three steps for “reorienting ourselves toward compassion and away from judgment”:
Restate our primary commitment to God above earthly kingdoms.
Follow Jesus, practicing reconciliation, humility, nonviolence, unity and peace.
Ask for the Spirit’s guidance in our interactions within our families, churches, society and world.”
On the rise of ”Patriot Churches,” see https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2020/10/26/trump-christian-nationalism-patriot-church/.
Related Commentary on the future of a church that has lost its moral compass:
(1/28/17): Saving America from the Church
(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
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(7/15/17): Religion and Progressive Politics
(7/22/17): Hell No!
(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism
(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.
(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.
(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
(5/12/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and Making America Great Again
(7/14/18): Musings on Why Christians Should Put Moral Standards Over Mystical Beliefs
(8/4/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religious Problems and Solutions in Politics
(8/11/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Changing Morality in Religion and Politics
(9/1/18): Musings on the American Civil Religion and Christianity at a Crossroads
(9/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of Christian Universalism
(11/3/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist: Has God Blessed Us or Damned Us?
(12/1/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Mystical Logos
(12/15/18): Musings on the Great Commission and Religious and Political Tribalism
(12/22/18): Musings on Faith and Works: The Unity of All Believers and The Last Judgment
(2/9/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Hypocrisy of American Christianity
(3/9/19): Musings on the Degradation of Democracy in a Post-Christian America
(3/9/19): Musings on the Degradation of Democracy in a Post-Christian America
(5/11/19): Musings on the Relevance of Jefferson’s Jesus in the 21st Century
(6/8/19): The Moral Failure of the Church to Promote Altruism in Politics
(6/15/19): Back to the Future: A 21st Century Pentecost for the Church
(6/22/19): The Universal Family of God: Where Inclusivity Trumps Exclusivity
(8/3/19): Musings on the Dismal Future of the Church and Democracy in America
(9/7/19): Musings on the Self-Destruction of Christianity and American Democracy
(12/28/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the End as a New Beginning
(1/11/20): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christians as a Moral Minority
(2/1/20): Musings on the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Altar of Partisan Politics
(6/13/20): Was Jesus the Prophet of the Gospels or the Christ of the Church?
(7/18/20): Musings on Atheism and Religion and Living Life to the Full