Saturday, January 30, 2021

Musings on Unity or Reconciliation in Politics and Religion--There's a Difference

     By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

President Biden has repeatedly called for bipartisan unity to achieve his political objectives in the first 100 days of his administration; but that’s wishful thinking.  He would be well advised to promote a politics of reconciliation rather than unanimity.  Reconciliation doesn’t require political unity, only a willingness to find consensus based on political common ground.

In America’s polarized partisan politics, a radical right Republican Party and a radical left Democratic Party rely on partisan unity in their fierce competition for political power.  Likewise, in religion, unity on conflicting exclusivist beliefs is not possible; but  reconciliation on moral standards is not only possible but essential to peace in a world of increasing religious pluralism. 

Judaism, Christianity and Islam have common Abrahamic roots but conflicitng beliefs that defy unity; but they can be reconciled with the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves.  It’s taken from the Hebrew Bible, was taught by Jesus and accepted by Muslims as a common word of faith.         

Reconciliation on the altruistic moral imperative to love others as we love ourselves is an attainable objective in both religion and politics.  In politics it requires providing for the common good.  In religion it fosters religious peace in a world of religious hostility.  While such moral reconciliation is possible, a unity of religions or political parties is neither realistic nor desirable.  

By asserting unity as a political goal, Biden risks losing his political credibility to achieve reconciliation at two levels.  First, in the Democratic Party, where liberals oppose his moderate views; and second, in finding allies in the Republican Party to support important bipartisan legislation.  Neither will be easy, and together they represent a formidable challenge.

To be successful in Congress, the Biden administration must fashion a coalition of Democrats, Republicans and independents who share the moral ideal to provide for the common good.  It’s an altruistic political ideal that’s absent in America’s polarized partisan democracy, and one that’s not likely to survive a Biden administration.

Vice President Kamala Harris is the liberal heir apparent in a Democratic Party that has so far supported Biden; but that support will likely dissipate when Harris begins her expected campaign for the 2024 presidency.  That gives Biden only a limited window of opportunity to achieve bipartisan reconciliation on moral issues of political legitimacy.  

A politics of reconciliation requires making the common good a priority over narrow partisan interests.  It’s a formidable moral and political challenge for the Biden administration, and requires that Jews, Christians and Muslims promote the altruistic moral imperative of the greatest commandment to love God and neighbor as a common word of their faith and politics. Unfortunately, the unity of polarized partisan politics continues to trump political reconciliation.    


Molly Roberts has written, Unity is dead.  Long live unity.  She observed, “The past four years brought us a riot of unity and division all at once. If polarization wasn’t more pronounced than ever before, it was certainly more visibly pronounced. The country was divided, and people on both sides were more unified than ever about which camp they belonged in. Reality itself turned controversial. Donald Trump was hacking away at the bedrock beneath us, and far too many were cheering him on.  Some, however, were not. Under threat of collapse, plenty of people who were previously rivals took shelter together: the so-called Never Trumpers who earned retweets from #Resistance zealots; the Lincoln Project crusaders who banded with establishment liberals; even the Bernie Sanders devotees who threw their voices and their votes behind a nominee who failed to inspire them but also failed to fill their loved ones with fear. “Unity” cropped up early on, remember, in those “Unity Task Forces” convened to bring the left and the somewhat-less-left together as the Democrats wrote their platform.

Earlier this month, the harmony reached its peak. Even a number of Trump grovelers and enablers stopped groveling and enabling long enough to stand up and say they believed in democracy’s most basic ideal. (Or they at least believed that a lawful transition of power after an election was preferable to an armed insurrection overturning the results.) ...Whatever the case, that’s already in the past. The common cause that united the unlikely frenemies has fled to Mar-a-Lago, which means there is more room for the little disunities that are the lifeblood of our politics: the infighting, the bickering, the blocking and the tackling. There is less room for an ode to something called unity, which is, when you think about it, just a word after all.”  See

In describing how Biden struggles to define his “unity” promise for a divided nation, House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) said, “Unity can be observed and felt, but not necessarily measured. “Unity to me simply means finding common ground — it doesn’t mean unanimity,” he said. “I don’t know why people think you can’t be unified unless you’re unanimous. That’s all Biden is talking about: trying to find common ground.”

Clyburn liked it to his 58-year marriage to his wife, who died in 2019. “There was never any disunity to our marriage,” he said. “But there was a whole lot of difference of opinion. We were seldom unanimous in what we did and what we thought, but there was always unity.”

Still, Clyburn added, though he believes Biden’s main goal is seeking common ground, the concept can also be warped — and even dangerous.

Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), who often talks with Biden and spoke to him as he prepared the foundation of his campaign, said that some of the symbolic actions in the early days of Biden’s presidency — a day of service shortly before his inauguration, a memorial for coronavirus victims and a bipartisan invitation to lawmakers to join him for a church service — were designed with unity in mind. “It doesn’t mean uniformity, it doesn’t mean conformity or unanimity, it doesn’t mean we’re all going to agree on everything,” Coons said. “Bringing unity to the country starts with telling us the truth, having a real and concrete plan. It’s not just brave words. It’s actually doing the job of being president.”  See

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Term Limits for U.S. Supreme Court Justices

    By Richard Meyer, January 23, 2021

“Bring back amendments.” Justice Antonin Scalia said that to me in 1996 after I asked him for the most important step we could take to eliminate the huge political divide in our country.  Scalia had just given the Law Day speech for our small military legal office at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.   We had invited him with a “What have we got to lose?” attitude.  He came because he failed to R.S.V.P.  that he could not attend in a timely manner, so he felt honor bound to show up.   A classy move by a man renowned for professionalism by friend and foe alike.  

Scalia’s Law Day talk was about the merits of the American process.  He said it was a shame that such a critical part of our political system didn’t get people excited.  “If I want to lead a parade to support free speech, thousands will show, but if the parade is in support of bicameralism, I’ll be walking by myself.”   But it’s the process that gives our rights value, he explained.  Pointing to the rights in the new Russian Constitution, he said they seemed vastly superior to those in the Bill of Rights, but that they “…were not worth much because there was no process to protect them.”  His ultimate point that day was that the nation should be led by the people through their elected leaders, not “…Tony Scalia and eight of his friends.”

Scalia’s stance against judicial activism is well known, but his justification for that stance is frequently misquoted or misunderstood.  No, he did not feel the law should never change.  No, he did not feel that we should continue to live under the tyranny of a group of long dead white men.  Instead, he felt that the Constitution included a procedure to keep it relevant and updated called the amendment process.  The amendment process is difficult, but by requiring three fourths of the states to ratify an amendment, it is probably the most inclusive process in our federal government.  Sidestepping the agreed upon process causes not only voter frustration, but feelings of impotence and sometimes hate…  neither of which are a healthy part of a democratic political system.  By bringing back amendments and following the process our founding fathers created rather than ignoring it, we give the people back their role and voice in the democratic process.  Towards that end, I have an amendment to propose to you.

We should amend the Constitution to end life tenure for Supreme Court justices and instead place a maximum number of years they can serve on the Court.  We need to do this because the selection of judges has become the tail wagging the government dog.  

Former Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell believes the most important legacy of his tenure in that position will be the large numbers of judges and justices he helped appoint.  That statement is incredibly troublesome.  Article I of the Constitution details the immense power and responsibility of Congress… but it does not even mention the advice and consent power.  No, that power is only mentioned in Article II and presented more as a legislative limitation on the executive power.  So, in essence, McConnell is saying that his legacy is not in doing the many jobs tasked to his branch but rather in preventing the Senate from interfering in one job assigned to the President... a President elected by a simply amazing coalition of voters ranging from Baptist preachers to Harley riding bikers united behind the idea that he would nominate the ‘right’ judges and justices.  

If the most important thing our combined executive and legislative branches are doing is picking judges, something is very very wrong in the republic.   

Single issue voting has led to our current political tribalism which in turn drowns out meaningful debate on the myriad of other crises facing our Nation.  The perception of judicial activism is the new normal and we can’t put that genie back in the bottle, but perhaps we can mitigate the effects.  If we limit the time a Justice can serve on the Court (and then allow them to retire at full pay for life), we instantly de-emphasize the importance of each nomination and provide room for other issues to become a more significant part of the national debate.  

Plus, maybe, just maybe, we can bring back amendments in the process.  

Richard Meyer is Interim Executive Director, Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law

University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104


We got here as a result of a perceived breakdown in the process that Scalia held so dear.

Agree or disagree with the Court’s decision in Roe v Wade, you should see that we continue to pay a high cost due to how it came about.  The national debate on abortion was instantly ended by the votes of seven lawyers.  By pulling the decision from the electorate and applying a new meaning to famous words that had already been interpreted countless times over the last century and a half, the Court radicalized those on the losing end of the decision.  It was the metaphoric equivalent of the head ref reinterpreting the rules and deciding to stop a close Superbowl in the middle of the third quarter and declare the leading team the winner.  

(Yes, I realize that Roe v Wade was using a precedent set by Griswald v Connecticut.  Following the precedent of a case that itself subverted the process does not remove that taint.  Please understand that this post is not about the actual substance of either case.  If you support reproductive rights and feel the Roe v Wade decision brought about a just result, imagine if that same Court (or the current Court in 2021) decided to practice some activism in the reverse direction.  They reread the 5th and 14th amendments and their prohibition against depriving one of life without due process of law as granting a right to life that begins at conception.  This would open the door for rapist fathers (or some other interested individual like the parents/grandparents of the mother) to go to court to require a raped mother to carry a child to term.  My guess is that in the next election you would find yourselves in the ranks of the one-issue voters, as many of your counterparts have been for the last five decades.)  

Meanwhile, in that same era the far less contentious Equal Rights Amendment was in the process of failing to get the necessary number of states for ratification.  Suddenly the entire paradigm changed.  If you want to change the Constitution, forget about the incredibly difficult amendment process, all you need to do is appoint the right judges to read it differently!  Social conservatives leapt into this new realm of conflict with both feet, the culmination of which was the election of Donald Trump as our 45th president.  Many if not most who voted for Trump felt somewhere between dislike and outright disgust with his personal character.  My how the party of character has changed.  Christians who voted for Ford over Reagan in the 1976 Republican primary because they were troubled by Reagan’s divorce were now lining up behind a man with enough divorces, bankruptcies, peccadillos, and allegations of worse to be the lead in a telenovela.   I suspect that even if the rumors were proven true, that the man was a Russian puppet that had complete disdain for the military he commands, yet still secure the conservative vote by promising to appoint the right judges.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Truth and Reconciliation in Politics and Religion in a Maze of Conflicting Realities

      By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

After the second impeachment of Donald Trump for instigating a riot in the nation’s Capitol, a maze of conflicting political and religious realities has made it difficult to find truth and reconciliation in America’s fractured democracy.  A consensus is needed on fundamental truths in politics and religion, and on the moral standards of political legitimacy.

What is truth?  That issue has resonated down through the ages since Pontius Pilate asked Jesus that question in the first century (John 18:38).  Today conflicting realities of truth defy reconciliation; and in 2016 churches lost their moral compass when most White Christians sacrificed Jesus on the altar of partisan politics by electing Donald Trump President.

Most Americans claim to be Christians, but they ignore the moral teachings of Jesus as God’s truth even as they worship Jesus Christ as the alter ego of God.  God’s truth is summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves.  It’s a universal truth taken from the Hebrew Bible, taught by Jesus and accepted by Islamic scholars as a common word of faith.

If Christians accept the teachings of Jesus as a moral imperative of God’s truth and as a standard of political legitimacy, Americans can find truth and reconciliation in our maze of conflicting realities.  If not, American democracy will remain polarized by conflicting concepts of truth and morality, and “us versus them” partisan politics will prevent a politics of reconciliation.

The Constitution remains the foundation of America’s rule of law, and the altruistic teachings of Jesus remain a universal moral imperative.  Thomas Jefferson considered the moral teachings of Jesus “the sublimest morality ever taught.”  Today even atheists accept them as altruistic moral imperatives in politics, even if they are ignored by most Christians.

Discerning truth in a maze of conflicting facts and conspiracy theories requires common sense and reason more than a high IQ.  Senator Josh Hawley (R. MO) graduated from Stanford and Yale Law School and clerked for Justice John Roberts, but he ignored the Constitution and reason when he sought to overturn Biden’s election based on non-existent fraud. 

Finding truth and reconciliation requires a consensus on the facts relevant to critical issues and on the legal and moral standards of legitimacy needed to resolve those issues.  But in America’s polarized partisan politics decisions are largely determined by the dominant party, so that truth and reconciliation will remain elusive. 

America’s churches are more a part of the problem than the solution.  They remain racially segregated with most White Christians voting Republican while most Black Christians vote Democratic.  In both America’s politics and religion issues of race are obstacles to finding truth and reconciliation.  A new paradigm is needed for truth and reconciliation in America, and it should begin with a moral reformation in the church.  



In Kantian ethics, a secular categorical imperative is an unconditional moral obligation which is binding in all circumstances and is not dependent on a person's inclination or purpose.  

Thomas Jefferson related the moral teachings of Jesus to secular standards of moral legitimacy like that of Kant.  Jefferson embraced the moral teachings of Jesus but expressed contempt for the distortions and misuse of those teachings by Christian religious leaders. Jefferson wrote Henry Fry on June 17, 1804: "I consider the doctrines of Jesus as delivered by himself to contain the outlines of the sublimest morality that has ever been taught; but I hold in the utmost profound detestation and execration the corruptions of it which have been invested by priestcraft and kingcraft, constituting a conspiracy of church and state against the civil and religious liberties of man." Thomas Jefferson, The Jefferson Bible, edited by O. I. A. Roche, Clarkson H. Potter, Inc., New York, 1964, at p 378; see also Jefferson’s letter to John Adams dated October 13, 1813, at pp 825, 826; Jefferson's commentaries are at pp 325-379. While many Christians considered Jefferson a heretic, Jefferson wrote of himself: “I am a Christian in the only sense in which he [Jesus] wished anyone to be; sincerely attached to his doctrine in preference to all others and ascribing to him every human excellence, believing he never claimed any other.” (p 334) For Jefferson, being a Christian meant following Jesus as God’s word rather than worshiping him as God’s son. He emphasized the moral teachings of Jesus over the mystical, and in so doing emphasized discipleship over orthodox Christian beliefs, a distinction elaborated by Robin R. Meyers in Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and St

art Following Jesus, HarperCollins, 2009. Jon Meacham affirmed Jefferson’s prominent role in shaping American values that are at the heart of legitimacy in American Gospel, Random House, New York, 2006 (see pp 56-58, 72-77, 80-86, 104, 105, 247-250, 263, 264; reference to Jefferson’s Bible at p 389); see also Meacham, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, Random House, New York, 2012, pp 471-473. Denise Spellberg has provided a history of those pioneers of religious freedom and reason who influenced Jefferson and his experience with Islam in Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2013. See Note 2, The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morlaity and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, posted in Resources at

Senator Josh Hawley (R MO) is a well-educated American leader misguided by false concepts of political and religious legitimacy; and he supported the protest on January 6.  “Hawley’s idea of freedom is the freedom to conform to what ...his preferred religious authorities know to be right. In a 2017 speech to the American Renewal Project, Hawley declared, “...There is not one square inch of all creation over which Jesus Christ is not Lord.  We are called to take that message into every sphere of life that we touch, including the political realm.”  Hawley said. “That is our charge. To take the Lordship of Christ, that message, into the public realm, and to seek the obedience of the nations. Of our nation!”  For Senator Hawley, the Lordship of Christ is not that of Jesus, but of Donald Trump.  See Katherine Stewart in The Roots of Josh Hawley’s Rage at

The same disconnect with reality exemplified by Senator Hawley was evident in a Republican meeting in Charleston after the riot at the Capitol.  There are cracks in the absolute Republican loyalty to Trump, but most continue to defend him even after he instigated the riot at the Capitol.  See 523 miles from the US Capitol, a Republcan meeting in Charleston ends in a reckoning at

The unholy mix of white nationalism, the radical right politics of Trump’s Republican Party and distorted Protestant and Catholic evangelicalism are so fused together that it is impossible to define Christianity.  See How White Evangelical Christians Fused With Trump Extremism at

On How Catholic Leaders Helped Give Rise to Violence at the U.S. Capitol, see

Most churches have subordinated the universal moral teachings of Jesus to exclusivist church doctrines.  That has allowed many beliefs and prophecies to claim to be “Christian”, although they conflict with the altruistic teachings of Jesus, reason and common sense.  See For some Christians, the Capitol riot doesn’t change the prophecy: Trump will be president, at

Saturday, January 9, 2021

A Reckoning and Repentance Following the Storming of the Nation's Capitol

         Rudy Barnes, Jr.

January 6 was a day of infamy in American democracy.  A national political reckoning is needed to hold accountable those who instigated and participated in the storming of our Nation’s capitol, but that’s the least of it.  Those millions who saw (or should have seen) such an apocalyptic event coming should experience a deep sense of repentance for their negligence.

 The riot was no surprise.  Since November Trump has often stated that he would not concede and urged his supporters to protest the election, and he was initially pleased with the riot.  The problem is not so much Trump and his most vociferous Republican minions, but with almost half the electorate who have slavenly followed Trump to this debacle of democracy.

America’s corrupt standards of political legitimacy are as much a failure of faith as of politics.  Despite Trump’s depraved morality, most White Christians supported him in 2016 and 2020; and while many evangelical charlatans have openly promoted Trump, most White pastors have ignored him to keep politics out of their churches.  Their silence has been deafening.   

To redeem themselves and their church, pastors must repent of their sins of commission and omission.  They must promote the moral teachings of Jesus summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves.  In  politics, that means promoting the common good.

God’s will is to reconcile and redeem all people, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer; but Satan has done a convincing imitation of God in politics and the church.  In the cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil, Satan is winning the popularity contest.  That’s bad news for America’s democracy; but America should never concede to God’s defeat.   

Abraham Lincoln was America’s first Republican President, and on the eve of America’s Civil War he quoted Jesus, who said that a kingdom or a house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:23-25).   It’s ironic that our current Republican President has once again divided America against itself, and did so with the approval of most White Christians.   

Churches should never promote a political party or a candidate, but they can and should promote the moral standards of political legitimacy.  In The Lord’s Prayer, we pray that God’s kingdom comes and His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  In  a democracy, that requires making the moral teachings of Jesus as God’s word our standards of political legitimacy.

Jesus called his disciples to follow him, not to worship him; but the church reversed those priorities to become popular and powerful.  The nadir of its sacrilege was when White Christians elected Trump, and most continue to support him.  The church is shrinking, but most Americans still claim to be Christians. They can save their church and democracy with a moral reformation if they restore the altruistic teachings of Jesus to primacy in their faith and politics. 


In a prescient commentary on Sedition and SIlence published in Sojourners on January 5, Jim Wallis raised the question: “Will Trump’s sedition and attempted coup be met with silence from faith leaders, especially white Christian leaders whose constituencies voted in their majority for Trump? There are at least two fundamental religious issues at stake here. First is the centrality of truth for Christians: Trump’s  weekend call to Georgia’s Republican secretary of state was filled with one lie after another. “I just want to find 11,780 votes,” Trump admitted. Brad Raffensperger said in response, “Mr. President, the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong.” The next day, the state’s key election official said, “We believe the truth matters.” Does the truth matter to Christians and Christian leaders who supported Donald Trump?  Second, is the biblical abomination of racism and its ideology of white nationalism that stands at the core of the Trump base. It is telling that many of the president’s claims  originated in the dark corners of the web among QAnon conspiracy theorists and message boards often frequented by white supremacists. These sites also call on Trump supporters to come to Washington on the day of Wednesday’s congressional vote — and to come armed.  ...This is no longer just politics, it is theological heresy, and one that needs to be exorcised from white Christianity in America. 

An attempted coup, rooted in white nationalism, is now standing at the ready. When a president continually lies, then calls for action based on his followers’ belief in those lies, that reasoning isn’t just circular — it is evil. More is at stake now than politics. Let’s call it a choice between theological integrity and the idolatry of white Christianity in America. It is now the pro-Trump white Christian leaders who need to break their silence and allegiance to Trump and recommit their allegiance to the truth, and ultimately to following Christ.”  See

On January 6, the Editors of America, The Jesuit Review, echoed Wallis’ alarm, calling for accountability, repentance and reckoning after the storming of the Capitol. “This is an outrage. It is contrary to everything this country stands for and represents a clear and present danger to the constitutional order of this country. This attempt to disrupt and destroy the democratic process should be repugnant to the hearts of all Americans and must be denounced from every platform and pulpit in the country.

It must be noted that the cause of this violence is obvious. For more than four years, President Trump has waged a campaign of demagoguery and division, stoking our fears and prejudices for his personal gain, all while undermining the foundations of the constitutional order. He has been abetted by an army of supporters and apologists in the media and within the Republican Party, who, by turning a blind eye to his worst excesses, also bear some responsibility for today’s events. The right-wing extremists and white supremacists who stormed the capitol today were responding to years of dog whistles as well as overt encouragement from Mr. Trump and his closest supporters. In addition to the complicity of Mr. Trump’s unwavering allies, all Christians are left to reckon with the fact that the name of Jesus and the warrant of the Gospel have been publicly invoked by those defending not only Mr. Trump himself but also his cynical, destructive attempts to reverse the clear results of the presidential election.  

...“‘This isn’t who we are,” President-elect Biden said in response to this outrage. With respect, Mr. Biden, what has happened is in truth a part of who we are, and America must face that fact. Yet it is also true that if Americans can summon the courage to face this moment together with honesty and hope, then we will discover once again that the best of who we are as a country can overcome our worst impulses of the national spirit.” See

Michael Gerson asserted that Trump’s evangelicals were complicit in the desecration of our democracy on January 6. “The practical effects of the fascist occupation of the U.S. Capitol building were quickly undone. The symbols it left behind are indelible. A Confederate flag waved in triumph in the halls of a building never taken by Jefferson Davis. Guns drawn to protect the floor of the House of Representatives from violent attack. A cloddish barbarian in the presiding officer’s chair. The desecration of democracy under the banner “Jesus Saves.”

This post-apocalyptic vision of chaos and national humiliation was the direct and intended consequence of a president’s incitement. It was made possible by quislings such as Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who turned a ceremony of continuity into a rallying cry for hatred and treason. In the aftermath, Republican legislators who still don’t support Trump’s immediate removal from office by constitutional means are guilty of continuing complicity. All this leaves President-elect Joe Biden in a difficult position. Prudence would advise two weeks of patience and then an upbeat attempt to turn the national page. Justice would dictate arresting, trying and imprisoning President Trump for sedition at the soonest possible moment. As of now, I am in the justice camp. The only way to restore boundaries of law and decency is to enforce them. 

...As white nationalists, conspiracy theorists, misogynists, anarchists, criminals and terrorists took hold of the Republican Party, many evangelicals blessed it under the banner “Jesus Saves.”  The political and religious costs of a tight evangelical alliance with violent bigots and crackpots were easily foreseen. I and many others foresaw and foresaw until our fingers ached at the keyboard. Yet Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress and the others either shut their eyes or shared in Trumpian hatreds. “There has never been anyone,” said Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, “who has defended us and who has fought for us, who we have loved more than Donald J. Trump. No one!” 

...The collapse of one disastrous form of Christian social engagement should be an opportunity for the emergence of a more faithful one. And here there are plenty of potent, hopeful Christian principles lying around unused by most evangelicals: A consistent and comprehensive concern for the weak and vulnerable in our society, including the poor, immigrants and refugees. A passion for racial reconciliation and criminal justice reform, rooted in the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity. A deep commitment to public and global health, reflecting the priorities of Christ’s healing ministry. An embrace of political civility as a civilizing norm. A commitment to the liberty of other people’s religions, not just our own. An insistence on public honesty and a belief in the transforming power of unarmed truth.” See


Around 200 Trump supporters gathered at the S.C. State Capitol in Columbia on January 6 to share common cause with protestors in Washington, D.C. seeking to overturn the election of Joe Biden. Zach Dunn, president of conservative group OverWatch USC, said he was at the protest because of “what many people see as a fraudulent election,” he told The State. Elections officials throughout America have said there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the presidential election. Dunn agreed there is no proof, but believed there was enough circumstantial evidence to warrant an investigation. “Much of the world is ignoring truth, and that’s why we’re here today,” said Tom Ward, 63, who spoke at the protest and favored investigating the election.

Michelle Graham, chair of the Republican Liberty Caucus of SC, was at the protest using a microphone and speaker to decry what she believed was election fraud. “We want to support Trump, but this isn’t necessarily about Trump. It’s about the integrity of the elections,” Graham said. “All of them should be investigated, even if we won.”

Several protesters wore QAnon shirts; others waved “Don’t Tread on Me” flags and a group of about 15 men standing together were wearing the Proud Boys’ yellow and black attire. One man walked around the State House saying the “Hail Mary” prayer out loud while marching alongside other protesters carrying pro-Trump banners.  The Columbia, SC, protest was in stark contrast to the scene in Washington D.C., where rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol building to delay Congressional certification of a Joe Biden victory.” See

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Making a Covenant with God for the New Year

    By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Jews, Christians and Muslims have historically used covenants with God to define the obligations of their faith.  For the ancient Hebrews it was based on obedience to Mosaic Law, and for Muslims it required submission to Shari’a law.  Jesus was a maverick Jew who brought a new and universal covenant with God that asserted the primacy of love over law.

The teachings of Jesus are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves.  It was taken from the Hebrew Bible, taught by Jesus and confirmed by Islamic scholars as a common word of faith; but exclusivist religious beliefs have prevented it from becoming a universal covenant with God. 

Jesus only sought to reform his legalistic Jewish religion; he never promoted a new religion or asserted that he was divine.  It was Paul’s doctrine of atonement that made belief in Jesus as the alter ego of God essential to salvation, and exclusivist Christian doctrines evolved into distorted beliefs that God ordained Donald Trump to be America’s political messiah.

John Wesley was an 18th century maverick Anglican priest who sought to reform his stiff-necked Anglican Church with the reconciling power of God’s love and mercy.  He organized his Methodists to promote discipleship with acts of selfless service in orphanages and hospitals.  It has been said that Wesley’s Methodist movement averted a civil war in England.

Wesley advocated renewing a covenant with God at the beginning of each year.  As a UMC pastor I followed his example, and I urge you to do the same.  It’s a commitment to follow the universal teachings of Jesus as summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves.

Exclusivist church doctrines that limit salvation to Christians and condemn those of other religions may have made Christianity the world’s largest and most powerful religion.  But in the process the church has sacrificed the moral imperatives taught by Jesus to popularity and political expediency, and that has cost the church its credibility and legitimacy .

God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer; but Satan does a convincing imitation of God in the church and politics, and is winning the popularity contest in the cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil.  That’s a major problem for America's democracy; but with God’s help, good can prevail over evil.

A corrupt political regime supported by the White church and the pandemic made 2020 a year to put behind us.  For the new year we need to make a covenant with God to restore the moral teachings of Jesus as America’s standards of political legitimacy and promote a politics of reconciliation.  Wesley’s covenant service can help us accomplish that objective, and I have provided below an adaptation of Wesley’s covenant service that I used as a pastor in 2006.      

A Covenant Service at St. John United Methodist Church in Columbia, S.C. (January 1, 2006)

Note: Christ is Greek for Messiah. It means the anointed one, and is not a synonym for God.


Call to Worship:

Pastor: We, like all people of faith who have gone before us, are called into a special relationship with God that transforms our relationship with God and with all of our neighbors.

People: Father God, we are here in repentance, to ask your forgiveness, and to commit ourselves to be disciples of Jesus Christ in the New Year that awaits us.

Hymn: Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult                                                                    UMH  #398

First Reading of Scripture: Exodus 34:8-10, 27, 28

The Call to a Covenant of Discipleship in the Wesleyan Tradition:

God sent us Jesus Christ as His Son and as our Savior.

We now commit ourselves to be disciples of Jesus Christ,

and to follow him as God’s Word wherever he leads us.

God has many services to be done.

Some are more easy and honorable,

others are more difficult and disgraceful.

Some are suited to our inclinations and interests,

others are contrary to both.

In some we may please God and ourselves,

but then there are other works where we cannot please God 

except by denying ourselves, picking up our cross and following Jesus Christ.

It is necessary, therefore, that we consider what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray together:

Father God, we are here to answer the call of Jesus Christ.

We will submit to his command;

We will no longer be our own, but yours as disciples of Jesus Christ.

By following Jesus we will struggle to do your will, not our own, Father God.

We will allow Jesus Christ to give us our place and work from this day forward.

And we will pray daily the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray, saying: Our Father…

Second Reading of Scripture: Hebrews 8:7-13 (Jer 31:31-34); Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13-15  

Hymn: O Young and Fearless Prophet of Ancient Galilee                                     UMH #444                                   

Gospel: Mark 12:28-31

Sermon: Your Covenant with God

The Bible reports several covenants with God, beginning with God rewarding Abraham for his willingness to sacrifice his son to God with a promise to bless Abraham and all of his descendants. (Gen 22:15-18)  Then we have the more elaborate covenant with Moses, with God giving Moses a detailed set of religious rules and rituals to obey, promising blessings for obedience and punishment for disobedience. (Ex 34:8-28)

Later the prophet Jeremiah announced the coming of a new covenant that would replace the old Mosaic rules and rituals.  It would be a covenant of love written in peoples’ hearts.  This prophecy of Jeremiah was cited in the Book of Hebrews as Biblical authority for early Christians to reject the old covenant of Moses for the new covenant of Jesus Christ. (He 8:7-13)

Jesus taught that the rule of God’s love superceded the rule of law.  Paul echoed Jesus when he wrote to the Romans and Galatians that the entire law was summed up in one command: Love your neighbor as yourself. (Rm 13:9,10; Ga 5:14)  In saying this, Paul was reaffirming the primacy of the greatest commandment: We love God by loving others, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves. (Mk 12:28-31

Today is the first day of the New Year, and the first day of the rest of our lives.  It is a good time to make resolutions for the future, and first among them should be our resolution to serve God.

How do we serve God?  Jesus made that very clear in the greatest commandment and the new command: We show our love for God by loving all of His creations.  It is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.  Worship is meaningless if not combined with loving service to others, especially the least, the last and the lost—even our enemies.

In the Biblical tradition, commitments of the faithful were made in covenants.  Therefore, as the people of God, it is only right and proper that we make a commitment and covenant with God here on this New Year’s Day.

You have in your bulletin a form commitment: My Covenant of Discipleship.  Please give this covenant your careful and prayerful consideration; and if you truly mean to keep it, then sign it and keep it in your heart.

This covenant is unlike any other agreement you will ever enter into.  It cannot be enforced against either party.  You are free to disobey it, but there will be consequences if you do—they are the wages of sin and death.  On the other hand if you obey it, there are great benefits to be received.  That is because when it comes to God’s gift of love, you can expect to receive the measure that you give to others--and even more--just as Jesus promised you.

Now let us consider your covenant with God.  John Wesley admonished his people to carefully consider the covenant before committing to it.  I ask you to read over those words and commit them to prayer, then join with me in the Covenant Prayer, which will be followed by holy communion.


Considering Your Covenant with God:

First, set apart some time, more than once, to be spent alone before the Lord;

in seeking earnestly God’s special assistance and gracious acceptance of you;

in carefully thinking through all the conditions of the covenant; in searching your hearts

whether you have already freely given your life to Christ.

Consider your sins, and then consider the commands of Christ,

and whether you, after having carefully considered them, are willing to choose them all.

Be sure that you are clear in these matters so that you do not lie to God.

Second, be serious and in a spirit of holy awe and reverence.

Third, claim God’s covenant, rely upon God’s promise of giving grace and strength,

so you can keep your promise.

Trust not your own strength and power.

Fourth, resolve to be faithful.

You have given to the Lord your hearts, you have opened your mouths to the Lord,

and you have dedicated yourself to God.

With God’s power, never go back.

And last, be then prepared to renew your covenant with the Lord.

If you are prepared to enter into a covenant of discipleship, open your hearts to the Lord, and make your commitment to God as we pray together the Covenant Prayer:

Lord, make me what you will.

I put myself fully into your hands:

Put me to suffering,

let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,

let me be full, let me be empty,

let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and with a willing heart

give it all to your pleasure and disposal.

O Mighty God, who came to mankind as Jesus Christ,

You have now become my covenant friend.

And I, through your infinite mercy and grace, have become your covenant servant.

So be it.  And now let the covenant I have made on earth be ratified in heaven and in my heart through the sacrament of holy communion.

My Covenant of Discipleship

Preamble:  I covenant and commit myself to be a disciple of Jesus Christ; and I acknowledge my dependence upon my faith, the grace of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to sustain me in all things.

As a member of the body of Christ I covenant and commit myself to be a loyal member of the faith community at St. John UMC, and to support this church with my time, talent and resources.  I will support and encourage other members of this congregation to be disciples of Jesus Christ and to follow him as the Word of God on our journey of faith.

Duties and Obligations of Discipleship:  As both an individual disciple and as a member of the body of Christ I covenant and commit myself to regularly perform and fulfill the following duties and obligations:

  I. Individually I will perform acts of compassion and acts of devotion:

           A. Acts of compassion (mercy): I will be sensitive to the needs of those around me, and share with all the forgiveness, love and mercy of God as exemplified by Jesus Christ, with an emphasis on reaching out to the least, the last and the lost, whoever and wherever they might be.

B.  Acts of devotion (piety): I will pray and read Scripture daily, and take time to meditate on the Word of God whenever my spirit is troubled.  

  II. As a member of the body of Christ (the church) I will perform acts of justice and acts of worship:

A. Acts of justice (outreach):  I will work with and support my brothers and sisters in the faith and with those of other faiths to serve the basic human needs of all people, to overcome fear, hatred and violence, and to promote the reconciliation of all people as children of God.

B. Acts of worship (nurture): I will attend church services regularly and participate in my Sunday School class, sharing with others my successes and failures as a disciple so that we might all grow in faith.

Excecution: By signing below, I hereby make this my commitment to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and to faithfully carry out the above duties and obligations.  I will struggle to follow Christ wherever he leads me in my personal life and in my politics, trusting in my faith and the grace of God to give me the strength to keep this sacred covenant.

_____________________________________         Date:_______________

Cited Scripture:

Exodus 34:8-10; 27, 28:

Exodus 34:8 Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. 9 "O Lord, if I have found favor in your eyes," he said, "then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance."

10 Then the LORD said: "I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you.

EX 34:27 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." 28 Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant--the Ten Commandments.

Hebrews 8:7-13 (Jeremiah 31:31-34):

HEB 8:7 For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. 8 But God found fault with the people and said: "The time is coming, declares the Lord,  when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.  8:9 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.  8:10 This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.  8:11 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, `Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 8:12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (see Jeremiah 31:31-34)  8:13 By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.

Romans 13:8-10:

RO 13:8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Galatians 5:13-15:

GAL 5:13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 15 If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Mark 12:28-31

MK 12:28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" 29 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: `Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31 The second is this: `Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."