By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Making the teachings of Jesus relevant today would help reconcile contentious political and religious differences that plague our tribal culture. Jesus taught love over law and mercy over sacrifice. His universal teachings on God’s reconciling love are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves.
Jesus was a Jew who never advocated any religion over others, not even his own. Over the years his teachings have proven to be timeless truths of reconciliation in a world of polarized partisan politics and religious beliefs, in stark contrast to church doctrines that continue to foster tribalism with exclusivist beliefs that Jesus never taught.
if Christianity were to shift its emphasis to following Jesus rather than worshiping him as a Trinitarian God, the world would be a different and better place. The church would no longer be the most powerful social institution in the world, but it could promote the moral imperative of reconciliation that would reduce tribalism in a world of increasing religious and political conflict.
The problem with Christian universalism is that democracy has made popularity the measure of success in religion as well as in politics--and the teachings of Jesus were never popular. The popularity of traditional Christianity is based on its exclusivist beliefs as the only means of salvation. Christian universalism would likely cost the church its popularity and power.
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 politics and religion. That has enabled demagogues like Trump and his surrogate, Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, to promote Chrisitan nationalism to gain political power. It’s the church, not Jesus, that’s irrelevant today.
Today contentious and divisive issues like racism and gun violence threaten democracy, and the church has lost its moral compass. Conflicting standards of morality are defined more by partisan politics than by the church. Restoring the moral primacy of the teachings of Jesus in Christianity is needed to restore political legitimacy as well as the legitimacy of Christianity.
Many of our issues today were never addressed by Jesus since they were irrelevant to his time and place; but the timeless principle of providing for the common good is both relevant and essential to reconcile our political and religious divisions. They need only be adapted to our time and place and incorporated into our faith and politics.
To promote religious and political reconciliation, the church should resurrect Christian universalism to replace exclusivist Christian beliefs. It’s not a new idea. Thomas Jefferson was a maverick Christian who considered the teachings of Jesus “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man.” While the church has rejected the primacy of the moral teachings of Jesus in Christianity, history has validated the relevancy of those moral standards of legitimacy.
On: Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy (January 8, 2015), see
On a recent poll taken by the Episcopal church on how Jesus is perceived (and often ignored) in America, and how the church might improve the relevance of Jesus in the church and politics, see https://www.episcopalchurch.org/publicaffairs/new-poll-confirms-jesus-remains-important-spiritual-figure-but-pandemic-had-effect-on-religious-activity/.
On popularity as a corrupting influence on the church, see Musings on Popularity as a Corrupting Influence in Democracy and Christianity, January 1, 2022, at
On Doug Mastriano, a fanatic GOP gubernatorial candidate promoting Christian nationalism, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/06/02/doub-mastriano-gun-regulations-nazis-danger-democracy/?utm.
On The Jefferson Bible, see Kevin Spinale, When Thomas Jefferson rewrote the Bible, at https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2020/12/04/catholic-book-club-thomas-jefferson-bible-239382?utm_source=piano&utm_medium=email&utm. See also, Barnes, Jefferson’s Jesus and Moral Standards of Legitimacy in Religion and Politics, March 17, 2018, at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/03/jeffersons-jesus-and-moral-standards-in.html.
Jefferson held the teachings of Jesus in high regard but he detested church doctrines. In 1804 he wrote Henry Fry: “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 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.” Jefferson considered himself a maverick Christian, and wrote of himself: “I am a Christian in the only sense in which Jesus wished anyone to be; sincerely attached to his doctrine in preference to all others ascribing to him every human excellence, believing he never claimed any other.” See Note 2 at page 425 toThe Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, anintrefaith study guide posted in the Resources at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/. The Introduction (pp 10-15) provides an overview of the study guide. Reference to Jefferson’s 1804 letter to Henry Fry is at end note 2.
Thomas Jefferson was a child of the Enlightenment who asserted the need for institutional change in the church as well as in other institutions of law and politics in words that are prominently displayed in the lobby of the Judge Advocate General’s School in Charlottesville, Virginia: Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change in circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. See Rudolph C. Barnes, Jr., Military Legitimacy: Might and Right in the New Millennium, Frank Cass, London (1996), at page 2.
Although Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence, being a slaveholder has called his credibility on theology into question. Modern theologians, like those of the Jesus Seminar, have vouched for Jeffereson’s credibility on the teachings of Jesus. “Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) scrutinized the gospels with the intent to separate the real teachings of Jesus, the figure of history, from the encrustations of Christian doctrine.” See The Five Gospels, by Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover and the Jesus Seminar, Macmillan Publishing Company (1993), p. 2. The title to Robin M. Myers’ book says it all: Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Following Jesus, Harper One (2009).
Last Sunday was celebrated as Ascension Day. In The Apostles’ Creed Christians profess belief that after the crucifixion Jesus Christ “rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” The profession of Christian beliefs in The Apostles’ Creed makes no mention of following the moral teachings of Jesus.
On Paul’s atonement doctrine as an explanation of the crucifixion and resurrection, and on Jesus saying “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13), see Seeing The Resurrection in a new light, April 5, 2015, at
Martin Thielen has debunked blood atonement as the foundational belief in Christianity. See https://doubtersparish.com/2022/03/29/the-night-i-stopped-believing-in-substitutionary-blood-atonement/.
Theien has also asserted his status as a maverick Methodist in Orthodox No Longer at https://mailchi.mp/doubtersparish/orthodox-no-longer-pro-life-god-and-guns-leaving-church-or-staying?e=93c639913e.
For additional commentary on how exclusivist Chritian beliefs subordinate the moral teachings of Jesus, and the need for Christian universalism to restore the primacy of the moral teachings of Jesus over exclusivist Christian beliefs, see:
(4/5/15): Seeing the Resurrection in a New Light
(4/19/15): Jesus: A Prophet, God’s Only Son, or the Logos? http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/04/jesus-prophet-god-only-son-or-logos.html
(1/2/16): God in Three Concepts
(1/21/17): Religion and Reason Redux: Religion Is Ridiculous
(1/28/17): Saving America from the Church
(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World
(6/17/17): Religious Exclusivity: Does It Matter? http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/06/religious-exclusivity-does-it-matter.html.
(7/22/17): Hell No!
(8/5/17): Does Religion Seek to Reconcile and Redeem or to Divide and Conquer?
(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism
(9/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of Christian Universalism
(3/16/19): Musings on the Evolution of Christian Exclusivism to Universalism
(4/20/19): Musings on the Resurrection of Altruistic Morality in Dying Democracies
(5/11/19): Musings on the Relevance of Jefferson’s Jesus in the 21st Century
(5/25/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Divinity and Moral Teachings of Jesus
(6/8/19): The Moral Failure of the Church to Promote Altruism in Politics
(6/15/19): Back to the Future: A 21st Century Pentecost for the Church
(6/22/19): The Universal Family of God: Where Inclusivity Trumps Exclusivity
(6/29/19): Musings on a Politics of Reconciliation: An Impossible Dream?
(7/20/19): Musings on Diversity in Democracy: Who Are Our Neighbors?
(8/3/19): Musings on the Dismal Future of the Church and Democracy in America
(8/31/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Politics of Christian Zionism
(9/7/19): Musings on the Self-Destruction of Christianity and American Democracy
(10/26/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Discipleship in a Democracy
(11/9/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Virtual Alternative to a Failing Church
(11/16/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Irrelevance of Morality in Politics
(11/23/19): Musings on Jesus and Christ as Conflicting Concepts in Christianity
(1/11/20): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christians as a Moral Minority
(2/22/20): Musings on Why All Politics and Religion Are Local (and not Universal)
(4/4/20): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of America’s Values
(1/2/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Making a Covenant with God for the New Year
(1/16/21): Truth and Reconciliation in Politics and Religion in a Maze of Conflicting Realities
(5/22/21): Musings on Morality and Politics and the Need for a Civil Religion in America
(10/9/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Relevance of Jesus Today
(11/6/21): Musings on the Need for Political and Religious Reconciliation in America
(12/4/21): Musings on How Universal Heterodox Beliefs Promote Religious Reconciliation
(1/1/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Renewing a Covenant with God in 2022
(2/19/22): Musings on Reconciliation to Resolve the Dilemma of Diversity in Democracy