Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Musings on the coming of a light that can dispel the darkness of the world

    By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Christmas is a time to celebrate the coming of a light that can dispel the darkness of the world, and each of us can help make that happen.  Jesus came into the world as the light of God’s reconciling love more than 2,000 years ago, and we can keep God’s light shining in the world if we open our hearts and minds to the power of God’s love and share it with others.

Too often the church has blurred the universal light of God’s love with exclusivist doctrines and creeds that Jesus never taught.  Jesus was a Jew who never promoted any religion or suggested that he was divine.  He taught that we love God by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.  That’s how we can experience the transforming power of God’s love.

Christians put too much emphasis on worshiping Jesus as the alter ego of God rather than following Jesus as the word of God.  In so doing the church has subordinated the universal moral teachings of Jesus to exclusivist beliefs in Jesus as a divine being.  Christmas should be a time to welcome Jesus as the light of God’s word into a world of darkness and depravity.


You don’t have to be a Christian to experience the transforming power of God’s love.  Jesus said that all who do God’s will are his spiritual brothers and sisters (Mark 3:35).  We need to allow the light of God’s love to dispel the darkness of exclusivist religious beliefs that blind us to our spiritual kinship so that we can be reconciled in a universal family of God.    

       I pray that the light of God’s love will dispel the darkness that divides us and reconcile us as children of God this Christmas.  Blessings and peace to all from a Maverick Methodist.


Neither the Gospel of Mark nor the Gospel of John has a Christmas story.  Instead, John’s Gospel begins by presenting Jesus as the mystical Logos, or word of God, and as a light that shines in the darkness (John 1:5).  John has Jesus say, I am the light of the world (John 8:12), but that mystical language contrasts with the teachings of the rabbi Jesus reported in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus tells his followers: You are the light of the world.  Let your light shine before men (Matthew 5:14-16).  For commentary based on John’s Gospel, see

In an Advent lament in the Pandemic, Michael Luo has noted how early Christians showed compassion for those suffering from plagues, while modern Christians often seem indifferent to the suffering of non-Christians.  Luo observed, “For years, the church in America has been in retreat, in cultural influence and in numbers. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, in 2019, sixty-five percent of Americans identified as Christians, down twelve per cent from the previous decade; meanwhile, the numbers of the religiously unaffiliated have grown to twenty-six per cent. The co-opting of white evangelicalism by Republican politics helps to explain the confrontational attitude of conservative Christians, but so does the fear of many believers that they are losing their place in a secularizing America. A pluralistic society needs to ensure that people of faith, as well as those without any faith, have a role in the public square. But the defiance of the church during the pandemic has come with a cost. The pandemic in 2020 has held a mirror to Christianity, just as the epidemics of antiquity did, but today’s reflection carries the potential to repulse rather than attract. Once the vaccine is widely distributed next year, the church, along with the rest of society, will begin to move on. Yet the world will not be as it was. Churches will have to reckon not only with whether their congregants will return in person, but with how much their collective witness––the term Christians use to describe their ability to point to Jesus in their lives––may have been diminished.

Toward the end of his life, Jesus was challenged by a Pharisee, in Jerusalem, to name the greatest commandment. He said that it was to love God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and that the second greatest commandment was to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The early followers of Jesus realized that these admonitions were intertwined, that one led to the other. In a new book, “God and the Pandemic,” N. T. Wright, a New Testament scholar and retired Anglican bishop, urges the church, as it considers its role in the aftermath of the coronavirus, to champion the priorities of Psalm 72, which is written as a prayer for King Solomon: “May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor.” Wright admits that such a vision for society might be wishful thinking, but he writes that this is “what the Church at its best has always believed and taught, and what the Church on the front lines has always practiced.” It is also what an ailing nation needs.” See

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Musings on Finding a Path to Reconcile America's Polarized Partisan Democracy

    By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

The efforts of President Trump and his Republican Party to overturn the 2020 elections came to an end with the vote of the Electoral College on December 14.  Afterward Senator Mitch McConnell acknowledged Joe Biden as President-Elect, and Biden responded, “It is time to turn the page.  To unite. To heal.”  But how can a divided America be reconciled and healed?

Political unity may be expecting too much.  Political reconciliation acknowledges deep political differences, but requires consensus on the values that define political legitimacy.  Most Americans claim to be Christians, but churches have lost their moral compass and failed to promote the altruistic values taught by Jesus that are needed for a politics of reconciliation.

The altruistic values needed to provide for the common good in America’s pluralistic but polarized democracy are summarized in the greatest commandment to love others, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves.  It’s taken from the Hebrew Bible, was taught by Jesus and is accepted by Islamic scholars as a common word of faith.  

The irony is that the church has subordinated the moral teachings of Jesus to exclusivist church doctrines that make Jesus the alter ego of God.  That’s blasphemous in both Judaism and Islam; but the popularity of the church depends on its exclusivist beliefs, so it’s unlikely that the church will restore the primacy of the moral teachings of Jesus over its exclusivist doctrines.

Altruism in a pluralistic democracy requires a willingness to share political power based on diverse points of view, but most white Christians have refused to accept America’s increasing religious and political diversity.  Instead it’s “my way or no way,” and that has produced an “us versus them” form of political tribalism that threatens the fabric of America’s democracy.

The altruistic moral values that mandate providing for the common good in politics are embedded in the Constitution and are at the foundation of our rule of law.  In rejecting the spurious claims of Trump and his Republican Party to overturn 2020 election results, the Supreme Court, including Trump’s appointees, affirmed that legal and moral mandate.

The problem will not be resolved when Trump leaves the White House.  His millions of supporters will continue to polarize our politics without a moral reformation that makes a politics of reconciliation possible.  While democracy makes us masters of our political destiny, it also makes us our own worst enemies.  Pogo said it best: “We have met the enemy and it’s us.”

If Republicans expect their party to be competitive in the future, they must renounce their loyalty to Trump and reaffirm their commitment to provide for the common good and uphold and defend the Constitution and its rule of law.  If they don't, the Republican Party will remain a minority Trump Party, and America will need a third party to find a path to reconcile its polarized partisan democracy.


Amber Phillips has commented on Joe Biden’s “remarkably optimistic view” about the politics that will follow his election.  “Biden has seemed to go out of his way to give Republicans the benefit of the doubt that they’re just stuck in a bad political situation while Trump’s still in office. ‘There have been more than several sitting Republican senators privately called and congratulated,’ Biden told CNN more recently. ‘I understand the situation they find themselves in.  In this battle for the soul of America, democracy prevailed,’ he said. ‘We the people voted. Faith in our institutions held. The integrity of our elections remains intact. And so, now it is time to turn the page. To unite. To heal.’”

“...That’s not how other top Democrats desire to write one of the last pages of the extraordinary past five weeks in American electoral history. They want to make sure Republicans get blamed in the history books for their actions.  Biden’s more optimistic approach to Republicans consistent with how he’s handled politics much of his career. He talked frequently on the campaign trail about keeping his word and respecting where his opponent is coming from and not questioning his or her motives. Giving the other side the benefit of the doubt is part of his political DNA.  He may also be looking at this pragmatically. Biden has to work with Republican lawmakers next year, especially if they keep the Senate majority.  So why antagonize them, even if they’re actively antagonizing his presidency and centuries-old democratic norms?

They’ll come around when this is all over, Biden has said and seems to be saying now of Republicans.  ...So far, Biden is the only one on either side publicly saying as much.”  See

David French is less optimistic of the future than Biden, citing the dangerous idolatry of Christian Trumpism.  He cited Eric Metaxas, a prominent Christian evangelist and radio host who made a series of stunning statements at the Jericho March in Washington on December 12: “It’s like stealing the heart and soul of America. It’s like holding a rusty knife to the throat of Lady Liberty.”  “You might as well spit on the grave of George Washington.”  “This is evil. It’s like somebody has been raped or murdered. … This is like that times a thousand.” 

“And here’s what [Metaxas] says about Americans who disagree, who believe that Trump lost the election: Everybody who is not hopped up about this … you are the Germans that looked the other way when Hitler was preparing to do what he was preparing to do. Unfortunately, I don’t see how you can see it any other way.  That’s right, you’re like the Germans who didn’t object to the rise of Hitler. And is this deep conviction built on unassailable evidence of mass fraud? No, not at all. He doesn’t even really care about the courts: So who cares what I can prove in the courts? This is right. This happened, and I am going to do anything I can to uncover this horror, this evil. Later he says, “We need to fight to the death, to the last drop of blood, because it’s worth it.”  At the Jericho March itself, the founder rested his convictions on a vision in which God “poked him in the side and woke him up. "God said it's not over." Then God showed him a vision of the Jericho Marches. Then God introduced him to a woman who had the same vision. None of this, you understand, can be questioned. It's revealed. December 12th 2020.”

David French went onto say, “Important Evangelical leaders still support calls for state legislators to unilaterally defy their own voters to appoint pro-Trump electors. And when the Supreme Court ruled Friday night, the head of the Texas GOP called for a separatist “union of states that will abide by the Constitution: Perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the constitution.” 

When I wrote in my book that American politics were growing so toxic that important political leaders may soon call for division, I did not envision that “soon” would be “now.”

Language like Metaxas’s, and like the Texas GOP’s embody a form of fanaticism that can lead to deadly violence. There isn’t a theological defense for it. Indeed, its fury and slander directly contradict biblical commands. ...Idolatry is the result.

We’re way, way past concerns for the church’s “public witness.” We’re way past concerns over whether the “reputation” of the church will survive this wave of insanity. ...A significant movement of American Christians—encouraged by the president himself—is now directly threatening the rule of law, the Constitution, and the peace and unity of the American republic.

It’s clear now that when many of those people declared Trump to be “God’s anointed” they did not mean that his presidency was “instituted by God” in the same manner as other governing authorities, as described in Romans 13. (By conventional Christian reasoning, Joe Biden’s upcoming presidency is also instituted by God.) No, they believe that Trump had a special purpose and a special calling, and that this election defeat is nothing less than a manifestation of a Satanic effort to disrupt God’s plan for this nation. They were not “holding their nose” to support him. They were deeply, spiritually, and personally invested in his political success.           

"You can be called up as the militia to support & defend the Constitution... if he does not do it now while he's commander in chief, we're gonna have to do it ourselves later in a much more desperate, much more bloody war. Even as the Jericho Rally stoked fury and threatened violence, it still found space for the grift: Eric spoke of a vision a few days ago. ‘When God gives you a vision, you don't need to know anything else.’" That's his approach to this entire thing. He just asked to use the code ERIC when they buy a MyPillow. Now Mike Lindell is talking.

I’m not writing to engage in a serious theological debate with those who’ve committed themselves to dreams and visions of dark conspiracies. I’m writing as a warning and as a call for action. Here’s the warning: While I hope and pray that protests remain peaceful and that seditious statements are confined to social media, we’d be fools to presume that peace will reign.  Here’s the call to action: It’s time for conservative Christian leaders to shed any form of fear and to speak against conspiracies and against slander with the same boldness that many of them spoke for Trump. This isn’t just about “witness.” It’s about justice. It’s about law. It’s about peace.”  See

The Editors of America Magazine, The Jesuit Review, noted the shameful participation of Catholic leaders in Trump’s attempt to steal the election.  A bishop from Texas, Joseph E. Strickland, was scheduled to speak by video at the Jericho March “praying for the walls of corruption and election fraud to fall down. Several other Catholic figures were scheduled to appear as well. Bishop Strickland’s choice to lend episcopal support to this effort brings disrepute upon his office. We hope and pray that his brother bishops may exercise a ministry of fraternal correction by publicly clarifying for the faithful that the American bishops as a whole have not taken sides against the will of the voters in our democracy.”  See

A day after Alan Wilson, the Attorney General for South Carolina, had lunch with Trump, Wilson joined the lawsuit of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate the 62 Electoral College votes of Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.  The Editorial Staff of The Charleston Post and Courier  condemned the act.  “We wonder how Mr. Wilson would like it if attorneys general in Democratic-majority states asked the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out South Carolina’s election results. After all, one claim in the Texas suit is that someone other than legislators told election officials they couldn’t throw out absentee ballots in Georgia because they didn’t think the signature matched the one on file — which also happened in South Carolina. Any attempt by other states to invalidate South Carolina’s election results would have precisely the same amount of merit as this one: zero. We aren’t worried that Mr. Wilson’s intervention will sway the Supreme Court to disenfranchise millions of voters. We have no reason to believe that the court, with or without Mr. Wilson’s intervention, will agree even to hear the lawsuit. If anything, the avalanche of meritless lawsuits seeking to overturn a legitimate American election is giving the Supreme Court’s newest members a chance to demonstrate their integrity and independence.

Our concern is that the campaign to delegitimize the election results damages the foundation of our republic. This danger is compounded each time another elected official lends credence to the meritless claims. Mr. Wilson certainly isn’t the only S.C. elected official who has participated in this obsequious effort to placate a defeated president. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham leaps to mind, particularly but not exclusively in his conversation with Georgia’s top election official, who said Sen. Graham appeared to suggest that he find a way to reject legal ballots.

But Mr. Graham and other Republicans have merely lent rhetorical support to the defeated president. Mr. Wilson is using the power of his office to try to overturn the results of a valid election and undermine public confidence in our republic, and he is dragging our state into the fray. That’s a stain on his reputation that Mr. Wilson will have to live with for the rest of his career.”  A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Paxton and Wilson’s claim. Hopefully S.C. voters will retire Wilson if he runs for reelection in 2 years.  See

Joe Wilson wasn’t alone in joining Paxton’s seditious claim to invalidate the electoral votes of Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.  He was joined by 16 other state attorneys general, his father, Representative Joe Wilson, and 125 other Republican congressmen.  Voters need to remember who they were in November 2022.  The Washington Post listed them at

Politico reported that Evan McMullen, who mounted a conservative third-party presidential bid in 2016, said “Just keeping the never-Trump coalition together will be a challenge in and of itself,”  “The Republican Party’s attempts to overturn the election results, including a coming last-ditch effort on the House floor and threats of violence by GOP officials, stunned never-Trumpers. It spurred McMullin to ask in a New York Times op-ed this week whether it was time to form a new conservative party. ‘I wouldn’t advocate for starting a new party without the support of some sitting officials in Congress or elsewhere,’ McMullin said. ‘We’re inching closer to a point in which that might be possible.’” See

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Lincoln's Reconciliation Roadmap

     By Richard Meyer

After every election comes a necessary period of reconciliation and healing and we are more at odds today that any of us can remember.  Reconciliation seems beyond difficult and nearly impossible.  However, there was a time in history when our nation was indisputably more divided and a great man, perhaps the greatest American, taught us how to reconcile even while the conflict persisted.  He taught us that the path to reconciliation was to find common ground, focus on what unifies, and promote our own beliefs rather than attacking the beliefs and personages of our opponents.  

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave what is often described as the greatest American speech at the battlefield of Gettysburg.  Though the Civil War would continue for another year, five months and 21 days, his speech reveals that Lincoln was already focused on post conflict reunification.  

Lincoln began with establishing common ground with his opponents.  “Four score and seven years ago” referenced a date and event sacred to all Americans, the 1776 Declaration of Independence from England.  However, far more than a mere patriotic call-back, the opening line of the Address was transformative in that it publicly labeled the United States a ‘nation’.  

We often mistakenly interchange the words ‘nation’ and country.  The latter is a political entity that can be created in a day whereas the former takes centuries to form.  A nation (as defined by Black’s law dictionary) is a stable community of people formed on the basis of a common language, territory, history, ethnicity and common culture.  Examples of nations in 1863 would be the French, the English, the Spanish and the Chinese.  In comparison, our infantile eighty-year-old country of immigrants shared almost none of the national criteria.  We were a collection of English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, Dutch, Flemish, German, Spanish, French, Chinese, Scandinavian, Roma, and native American ethnicities who spoke different languages, and had largely different cultures and histories.   We were anything but stable.  To call us a ‘nation’ was almost spurious under the generally accepted definition.  However, Lincoln, in a single line in short speech, changed the rules.  Lincoln declared that our national birth was not rooted in these objective commonalities but instead our nation was “…conceived in liberty.”  Thus, we could continue to have separate languages, histories, cultures and even ethnicities and yet still be a nation because membership in our nation was not based on one’s heritage and parentage; no, our nation’s single criterion for admission was a subjective dedication to freedom.   

The next notable thing about the Gettysburg Address, and one that I confess to find shocking, is that in the middle of an intensely bloody conflict Lincoln has zero words of judgment or criticism of the rebellious enemy.  In fact, not once did he mention them as an entity separate from the nation.  Not once did he throw out the easy labels of ‘enemy’, ‘traitors’, ‘insurrectionists’, or ‘slavers’.  Despite being less than a year from his potential reelection, Lincoln’s focus on rebuilding the Union was far more important to him than any easy political points he could score by denigrating an opponent.  This does not mean that Lincoln avoided his own principles to placate.  He rebuffed slavery by naming “all men are created equal” as the foundational proposition of our nascent Nation to start the speech and that Secession would deliver It a fatal blow to end the Address.

Within a single generation after the Gettysburg Address, the American reconciliation was complete not only politically but ideologically; Lincoln’s stances against slavery and secession had become nearly universal.  If we would share this success, we must follow Lincoln’s roadmap of building from common ground, deemphasizing what separates to focus on what unites, and promoting our own beliefs rather than attacking others so that “…this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Our guest columnist is Richard Meyer, Interim Executive Director, Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law, at the University of Pennsylvania, 3501 Sansom St., Philadelphia, PA 19104,


Saturday, December 5, 2020

Musings on the Preference of White Christians for Demagoguery Over Democracy

   By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

The 2020 election reaffirmed that most white Christians support an unrepentant demagogue over democracy.  Trump supporters cannot claim to support democracy, which depends on free and fair elections, and support a man who continues a shameless attempt to overturn an election that he lost based on unsubstantiated allegations of electoral fraud.

But many Republicans have done just that, including Governor Henry McMaster of South Carolina.  McMaster said that he supports democracy and still supports Trump.  That’s political hypocrisy; and McMaster is not an exception.  Most of South Carolina’s white elected officials say they support democracy, yet they voted for a demagogue committed to destroy it.

The Trump era has left an indelible stain on American democracy that goes to its very core.  It’s especially obvious in red states like South Carolina, where Trump Republicans are now as politically entrenched as the racist Democrats who once ruled the state.  There’s a real question whether American democracy can ever recover from such partisan polarization.

The church is both a cause and effect of the demise of democracy.  Most Americans still consider themselves Christians and go to church, but most churches are racially segregated, with white Christians predominantly Republican and black Christians predominantly Democratic.  America’s religion is as polarized by race as its politics, yet its pulpits are silent on the subject.

With Trump out of the White House, the biggest obstacle to political progress is partisan polarization.  Trump and his Republican minions used partisan division to gain power, and Biden has vowed to overcome that division with reconciliation.  But many leftist Democrats are seeking partisan revenge rather than reconciliation, making a bad situation worse.

America’s two-party politics provides loyal opposition to the party in power, but a healthy democracy requires those in each party to cross party lines on critical issues.  Compromise is the art of politics, and it’s prevented by partisan polarization.  Helaine Olen has asserted that “divided government is a path to disaster.”  She’s wrong.  It’s normal in a pluralistic democracy.

When party loyalty takes precedence over providing for the common good it prevents compromise and undermines democracy.  America experienced that with Trump and his Republicans over the past four years.  Leftist Democrats like Olen are now calling for the same shortsighted and self defeating partisan strategy.  They will find it to be a path to disaster.

A politics of reconciliation is needed to defuse partisan polarization. The altruistic greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including those of other races and religions as we love ourselves, is taken from the Hebrew Bible, was taught by Jesus, and it’s considered a common word of faith by Muslims.  It should also be a common word of politics--a moral mandate to provide for the common good rather than divisive partisan objectives.



Henry McMaster, South Carolina’s Republican governor, said he still supports Trump for now but will acknowledge Biden win.  “One of President Donald Trump’s earliest and strongest allies, he supports the president’s efforts to resolve all questions about alleged election irregularities but will acknowledge an official win by former Vice President Joe Biden at the appropriate time. See

Helen Olen was surprised that in a recent poll indicated that “a majority of voters would prefer divided government.  With Biden in the White House they want to see a Republican Senate.  Really.”  She went on to say that if Republicans remain in control of the Senate it would be a disastrous outcome, and asked “Why won’t voters admit it?”  Perhaps most voters believe that American politics would suffer if Democrats controlled the Presidency and both houses of Congress, while Olen considers that an ideal.  She believes “People want to see results in Washington, and many believe it is dogmatic pols of both sides that are stopping it. But that’s not the issue. The problem is that one party — the Republican Party — does not want to share power. It’s transformed itself into an obstructionist force with little interest in compromise. This is why we’re struggling to make our way through a third wave of the covid-19 pandemic on the fumes of financial aid that is set to expire within weeks.”  Olen has criticized Biden for seeking bipartisan reconciliation, saying “Biden has played to what I’ve called fantasy politics for Democratic moderates. He’s claimed, for instance, that Republicans would experience an “epiphany” and work with him once they voted Trump out of the picture. The result was a tacit endorsement of ticket-splitting — something that helped give Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) another term in the Senate, and likely cost Democrats a few seats in the House.”  Olen is a Democrat who criticizes voters for not being seeped in partisan politics.  “They just want to see Washington work. They fall for the bipartisan schtick and then blame Democrats — the one party that’s actually trying to do the right thing and maintain it — when it doesn’t. As a result, it’s up to Democrats to make the stakes clear. If they can’t or won’t impress upon voters that Republican cooperation is a thing of the far distant past, it’s quite possible we will once again learn that lesson the hard way.”  It seems that Olen has partisan myopia that most voters can see beyond.


David Von Drehle has noted that President elect Joe Biden said “America is back when  he announced key members of his foreign policy team.” ‘’’But it would be a mistake to turn the clock “back” to 2016. Trump’s radical reboot has positioned Biden to start from a new place and build something better.  ...In hindsight, it’s clear that the United States gave too much and demanded too little in facilitating Beijing’s economic rise. ...The Biden administration should maintain Trump’s insistence that China fulfill its responsibilities and play by the rules — but do it smarter. In the Middle East, no longer hamstrung by our addiction to Arab oil, the United States has begun to rethink the possibilities in this seemingly impossible region. Finally, having renegotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, the current administration leaves the country pointed toward shared prosperity. No wall can stem mass migrations to the United States.  People need good jobs in peaceful communities and most will prefer to stay home.  These themes constitute the best of Trump’s unconventional, sometimes dangerous, foreign policy.  On these fronts, he should push ahead.  See