By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
This is the 400th commentary on Religion, Legitimacy and Politics. A major topic has been the pervasive extremism of America’s polarized partisan politics. Moderating extremist partisan politics requires altruistic moral standards of political legitimacy that balance individual rights and partisan interests with providing for the common good. That’s a big order.
The toxic extremism of partisan political polarization is a threat to American libertarian democracy. Unless reconciliation can moderate partisan extremism, political legitimacy in America will be corrupted beyond redemption; and the diminishing power of the church to reshape the standards of political legitimacy makes such reconciliation problematic.
Extremism on contentious issues like abortion, gun control and restraining corporate greed on Wall Street illustrate the challenge. Extremist politics on abortion rights and gun control are self-evident. Less evident are increasing disparities in wealth that are diminishing America’s middle class and weakening the stability of libertarian democracy.
Megacorporations on Wall Street control most of the production and prices of consumer goods. The wealthiest 10% of Americans own 89% of corporate stock, and the remaining 90% own only 11%. With runaway inflation and Wall Street shielded from regulation and taxation by big money and a polarized Congress, a shrinking middle class threatens American democracy.
In the past, the church has shaped altruistic moral standards of political legitimacy and moderated extremism by promoting the common good in American politics. But racial issues have contaminated the common good in a white church that has been coopted by the Republican Party and a black church loyal to the Democratic Party.
The American church is in decline, split by race and partisan politics; and its fragmented leadership shows little inclination to be reconciled. The church has sacrificed Jesus on the altar of extremist partisan politics and has ignored the greatest commandment to love God and all of our neighbors as we love ourselves. America has lost its moral compass.
America needs a moral reformation to restore its corrupted standards of political legitimacy, but the mainstream church has cited the separation of church and state in refusing to promote the moral imperatives taught by Jesus in politics. The Constitution prevents Congress from meddling with religion, but it doesn‘t limit religions from promoting morality in politics.
If the church fails to be the paraclete (John 14:23-27) that provides moral stewardship for America’s libertarian democracy based on the greatest commandment, another advocate must be found to lead a moral reformation to moderate the extremism of its polarized partisan politics. Otherwise, Americans will forfeit their privileged lives, their liberty and their pursuit of happiness.
On abortion, Unlike Biden most Democrats want strict abortion limits. See
On Congress wants more red-flag laws, but meets resistance from GOP, states and gun groups, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/07/18/red-flag-laws-biden-state-gop/?utm; see also Musings on gun regulation as a test of libertarian democracy at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2022/06/musings-on-gun-regulation-as-test-of.html.
On how tech megacorporations are opposing regulations that would increase competition, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/07/21/tech-companies-fighting-antitrust-bill/?utm.
On the dangerous disparities of wealth illustrated in the ownership of corporate stock, see https://www.cnbc.com/2021/10/18/the-wealthiest-10percent-of-americans-own-a-record-89percent-of-all-us-stocks.html. See also, Musings on the Stock Market, Inflation and Providing for the Common Good (2/5/22) at
Musings on Inflation, the Stock Market, and the Economy (5/14/22) at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2022/05/musings-on-inflation-stock-market-and.html.
Past commentary on a church that has lost its moral compass:
(8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/08/how-religion-can-bridge-our-political.html
(9/17/16): A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics
(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World
(4/29/17): A Wesleyan Alternative for an Irrelevant Church
(6/24/17): The Evolution of Religion, Politics and Law: Back to the Future?
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(7/15/17): Religion and Progressive Politics
(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism
(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/10/a-21st-century-reformation-to-restore.html.
(1/15/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on America’s Morally Muddled Mainstream
(1/29/22): Musings on the Inadequacy of Religious Moral Standards in American Democracy
(4/23/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Why Americans Are Losing Their Religion
(4/30/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Obsolescence of Christianity in Politics
(6/25/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Church and the Greatest Commandment