By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Following World War II American democracy was seen as a light on a hill to the rest of the world; but that light dimmed after most white Christians lost their moral compass and elected Donald Trump as their President in 2016. A Godless Chinese autocracy now challenges America’s materialistic and hedonistic democracy as the world’s economic and political ideal.
Senator Josh Hawley (R Mo) and Doug Mastriono, a state senator from Pennsylvania, represent the moral failure of American Christianity and democracy. They both have impressive credentials and claim to be Christians, but they extol Donald Trump as God’s chosen leader of America even though Trump exemplifies evil as described by Jesus (see Mark 7:21-23).
American democracy is stifled by a two-party duopoly that’s hopelessly polarized. Republicans can’t break away from Trump as their iconic leader and Democrats are weakening the economy with excessive spending that’s increasing an astronomical national debt as they seek to convert a libertarian democracy into a socialist democracy.
Jesus taught that God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, including those of other races and religions. In politics, that requires an emphasis on providing for the common good. For America’s polarized democracy to survive, there must be a politics of reconciliation to provide for the common good.
The lyrics of America the Beautiful describe a mythical utopia that never existed. When that patriotic hymn was published in 1904, America’s culture was far from beautiful; yet for many in my generation those lyrics described an ideal worth living, fighting and dying for. Sadly, that noble ideal dissipated in the election of 2016.
Over my 78 years, I’ve seen a degradation of American Christianity and democracy. I share the libertarian dreams of my forebears. I have served my nation in public office at home and in uniform overseas, and shared the altruistic moral teachings of Jesus as a UMC pastor. In that time I have lost faith in religion and politics, but not in God’s power to restore America.
As a witness to how human depravity has corrupted Christianity and democracy, I have to doubt whether they can be saved from the dustbin of history. Even so, as masters of our destiny, we must try to salvage our religion and democracy from their demise. Can we transform an ugly America into America the Beautiful?
Most Americans claim to be Christians. They can restore the legitimacy of American Christianity and politics by asserting the primacy of the universal moral teachings of Jesus over exclusivist and divisive Christian beliefs never taught by Jesus. They must become good stewards of democracy by promoting a politics of reconciliation to end partisan polarization, and then balance individual rights and partisan objectives with providing for the common good.
Senator Josh Hawley (R Mo) has impressive credentials, but his personal history and his continuing support of Donald Trump’s anti-democratic assertions mark him as a radical-right Republican ideologue.
“As a U.S. senator, Hawley had led the charge to object to the 2020 election on the false premise that some states failed to follow the law, bolstering the baseless claims from President Donald Trump that the election was stolen and should be overturned. Hawley had said the ascent of Joe Biden to the presidency “depends” on what would happen on Jan. 6, the day of a pro forma congressional vote to affirm the election. He had been photographed that day pumping his fist in the air as some Trump supporters were gathering on the grounds outside the U.S. Capitol. Later, as rioters ransacked the building and several senators huddled in a secure room, fearing for their lives and trying to persuade their pro-Trump colleagues to withdraw their efforts to undermine democracy, Hawley remained combative in pushing the very falsehoods that had helped stoke the violence.
At 41, the freshman senator had become a face of a movement built on the lie that the 2020 election was fraudulent. “You have caused this!” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) erupted at him, referring to the events building up to the storming of the Capitol. Over the course of his rapid rise in politics — from law school professor to state attorney general to his 2018 election to the Senate — Hawley has followed two parallel paths, each reflecting a different political persona. On one, he has pursued elite privilege, even relative to other senators, commuting to a private high school, attending Stanford University and Yale Law School, clerking at the Supreme Court, and working for a powerful Washington law firm, all while courting liberal professors and establishment Republicans who enabled his ascent.On the other, he has expressed sympathy with some of the country’s most far-right, anti-government extremists, demonstrating a willingness to see the world through their grievance-infused prism even after horrific attacks — from Oklahoma City in 1995, when he was 15, to the Capitol attack in 2021. In the wake of Jan. 6, Hawley has made clear that he is committed to just one of those personas...the one that propelled him to promote Trump’s baseless election claims and help inspire an insurrection, and it has made Hawley an instant star in today’s far-right Republican Party.”
Hawley, an evangelical, had seen how Trump captured the presidency in 2016, in part by winning the White evangelical vote by 80 to 16 percent. So, when Hawley spoke before a group of ministers in Kansas City in December 2017, he sounded like a different person than the one who had written five years earlier that there were “distinct missions of church and state — is it really the role of government, for instance, to promote ‘Christian values’ or refurbish America’s Christian heritage?” The state, he had written, should not be used “to convert non-believers.” But in his 2017 speech, he advocated going into “the public realm and to seek the obedience of the nations, of our nation … to transform our society to reflect the gospel truth and lordship of Jesus Christ.” The speech drew a rebuke from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is dedicated to upholding the separation of church and state. The foundation wrote to the former constitutional law professor that his remark “stands in glaring defiance of the very Constitution that you swore an oath to uphold.”
Hawley’s position has increasingly taken hold in the party, where leaders at every level have embraced the false claims of election fraud. Trump remains the most popular figure in the country among GOP voters, and lawmakers who opposed the electoral college challenge have been booed at home and faced withering criticism from local party officials. On April 17, in his first public appearance in Missouri since the events of Jan. 6, Hawley...was swarmed by several hundred people who had gathered at a Lincoln Day dinner fundraiser for Christian County’s Republican Party. “We love Josh Hawley because he stands up for Missouri’s values,” said Wanda Marteen, 78, who organized the event. “The first thing, the big thing he stood up for, is the election. We feel like it was fraudulent.” See
Doug Mastriono is a state senator from Pennsylvania who, like Josh Hawley, has impressive credentials and a significant Republican following in his state. He is an even more of an advocate than Hawley for Christian nationalism and Trump’s antidemocratic rhetoric that the 2020 election was stolen. See https://www.newyorker.com/news/on-religion/a-pennsylvania-lawmaker-and-the-resurgence-of-christian-nationalism?utm_source=nl&utm_brand=tny&utm.
On America the Beautiful, see Musings of a Maverick Methodist on America the Blessed and Beautiful--or is it? at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2019/02/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on_16.html,
America the Beautiful, By Katharine Lee Bates, from UMH Hymnal, p 696:
O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plain!
God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.
O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness, and every gain divine!
O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law.