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 http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/p/resources.html.
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 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/11/opinion/josh-hawley-religion-democracy.html.
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 https://www.thestate.com/news/politics-government/article248445260.html?ac_cid=DM362881&ac_bid=-884397294.
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 https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/FMfcgxwKkRKcNbCdpSmkhWTRvkJCrxGZ;
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