E pluribus unum: That’s Latin for Out of many, one. It was the U.S. national motto until 1956,
when it was replaced by In God we trust. In the wake of the November election, we need
to ask ourselves, are we still a nation committed to being out of many, one, or are we just a nation of many? And in a pluralistic democracy,
what does it mean to trust in God?
U.S. is a religious nation. Most
Americans claim to be Christians, and Christianity, like Islam, has resisted
reconciliation with other religions. Each
claims to be the one true faith to attract members, and the worldly power of
each religion is based on the number of its members.
an increasingly pluralistic world, such religious exclusivism causes hate and
violence; and in democracies where fundamental human rights are necessary to
protect minorities from the tyranny of a religious majority, religion can be an
obstacle to human rights and justice.
religions to be compatible with democracy, human rights and justice in
pluralistic nations, they must promote a politics of reconciliation. This has not happened where Christians and
Muslims have been a majority, and the jury is out on Jews in Israel.
generation evangelical Christian leaders like Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Franklin
Graham mobilized their followers to elect Donald Trump to be their President,
and Trump’s national security advisor has referred to Muslims as “evil people.” In Islamic nations Muslims continue to deny
the fundamental freedoms of religion and speech with apostasy and blasphemy
laws. And in Israel, democracy is
jeopardized by continuing violence with Palestinians, who may soon become a
will of God is to reconcile and redeem all humanity as one in spirit, while the
will of Satan is to divide and conquer.
But in the great cosmic battle between good and evil, Satan does a
convincing imitation of God, and does his best work in the church, mosque and
right movements are casting a dark shadow over the world. They are supported by religious zealots who
have mistaken Satan’s hate and divisive powers for the powers of God. They represent a dire challenge for both our
religion and politics.
function as moral buffers to popular demagogues who seek to undermine civil
liberties in democracies. Fareed Zakaria
cited Alexis de Tocqueville in noting that religious groups can be a buffer
against authoritarianism by “weakening the moral empire of the majority” and
protecting minorities against a tyranny of the majority. But it should be noted that de Tocqueville
saw religion as both a polarizing and reconciling force in Democracy in
is hope that Judaism, Christianity and Islam can mitigate against religious
polarization and promote a politics of reconciliation in America and around the
greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves—including
those of other races and religions—is a
common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. That love command provides a theological
foundation for a politics of reconciliation.
Parker got it right when she said it’s hard to think about a Happy New Year
after Trump has released a malevolent
spirit upon the land; and its especially hard for Christians since
evangelical Christians made Trump’s election possible. Even so, let’s make e pluribus unum a New Year’s resolution in both our faith and our
politics. We need to resist the divisive
power of hate and violence with a politics of reconciliation, but never concede
to the evil forces that seek to divide and conquer us.
In his tour of America in 1834, Alexis
de Tocqueville observed that religion is a two-edged sword in democracy: While Christians “readily espouse the cause
of human liberty as the source of all moral greatness,” and “will not refuse to
acknowledge that all citizens are equal in the eye of the law, …religion is
entangled in those institutions that democracy assails, and is not infrequently
brought to reject the equality it loves and to curse that cause of liberty as a
foe.” De Tocqueville noted that secular
citizens are skeptical of religion in politics but know “that liberty cannot be
established without morality, nor morality without faith.” See De Tocqueville, Democracy in America,
The Cooperative Publication Society and the Colonial Press, 1900, p 12.
John’s Gospel Advent is about the coming of Jesus as the mystical Logos, or Word of God. Jesus was a
light that shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
(John 1:1-5; 3:19-21) Jesus symbolized
God’s light, and at the heart of John’s Gospel is the new command to love one
another. (John 13:34) It is John’s
version of the greatest commandment
that is found in the other three gospel accounts.
is about the light of God’s love coming into a dark world. It represents the power of God’s love to
reconcile and redeem humanity in contrast to Satan’s dark power to divide and
conquer humanity. But Satan does a convincing
imitation of God, and does some of his best work in the church, mosque and in
politics—as we have witnessed over the past year.
from the recent election, half of all Americans—most of them claiming to be
Christians—have little love for those who do not share their race or religion. Last month they made Donald Trump their President,
and through his designated national security advisor he has proclaimed Muslims
to be “evil people.” In so doing he has furthered
the evil cause of radical Islamists by polarizing our religions and setting the
stage for more religious hate and violence.
election of Donald Trump should be an embarrassment to Christians. He is the antithesis of Christian morality. But then Christianity comes in all flavors
these days, from the prosperity gospel that promises health and wealth to
believers to Catholic monks and nuns who take a vow of poverty. Ironically, progressive Christians and
Muslims have more shared values than do progressives and fundamentalists within
the same religion.
election of Donald Trump was not the first time that Christianity took a dark
turn. From crusades, inquisitions and in
religious wars up to the Enlightenment in the 17th century, the
toxic combination of religion, power and politics corrupted the world. In the 19th century the U.S.
defied the moral imperatives of its faith with a terrible Civil War, and in the
20th century Germany and Italy, both Christian nations, took the
dark road to fascism and World War II.
has made religions in America and around the world more pluralistic and
contentious. The next four years will be
a test for libertarian democracy. A
politics of reconciliation is necessary, but it cannot be based on hate and
anger for those unlike us. It must be
based on shared altruistic values that are absent in our current polarized
The greatest commandment to love God and
our neighbors as ourselves is a common
word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, and it provides the
shared altruistic values needed for a politics of reconciliation. A commitment
to love our neighbors as ourselves—including our neighbors of other races and
religions—can bring the light of God’s love into our dark world of polarized politics.
the light of God’s love shine on you—and all of us—this Christmas and throughout
the New Year, and may God’s light dispel the darkness that threatens to
In the context of religion and a
politics of reconciliation, Anthony T. Kronman has suggested that Walt
Whitman’s 19th century American religion be referred to as …born-again paganism: a reaffirmation of the
unity of God and the world, enriched by the central teaching of the three
creationist religions that insist so vehemently on their separation.
paganism gives spiritual depth to America’s culture of individualism. It
explains our reverence for diversity in a way that avoids the worst excesses of
identity politics. And it gives us a God that is magnified, not threatened, by
the restless drive to explain all things that is such a striking feature of our
these respects, born-again paganism suits us well. It is the right religion for
Growing up “in the middle” as a
colored person (neither white nor black) in South Africa, Trevor Noah has put
the concept of a politics of reconciliation in more contemporary terms:
given what we’ve seen in this election, Mr. Trump’s victory has only amplified
the voices of extremism. It has made their arguments more simplistic and more
emotional at a time when they ought to be growing more subtle and more complex.
We should give no quarter to intolerance and injustice in this world, but we
can be steadfast on the subject of Mr. Trump’s unfitness for office while still
reaching out to reason with his supporters. We can be unwavering in our
commitment to racial equality while still breaking bread with the same racist
people who’ve oppressed us. I know it can be done because I had no choice but
to do it, and it is the reason I am where I am today.
On religion and a politics of reconciliation
based on shared values, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/11/religion-and-politics-of-reconciliation.html.
many variations of Christianity share one thing in common. It is discipleship,
and it requires following the teachings of Jesus as the word of God. Those teachings are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and
our neighbors as we love ourselves. And
in a democracy, discipleship requires that we relate our love for others—all others—to our politics.
Americans claim to be Christians, and they elected Donald Trump their President. In so doing they and their religion failed a
test of faith, legitimacy and politics.
Our faith is the primary source of our standards of legitimacy, and our moral
and legal standards of legitimacy shape our politics—for good or bad.
stewardship of democracy is a test of faith.
When Christians fail to relate the moral imperatives of their faith to
politics, they compromise their discipleship and the legitimacy of the church. Churches are complicit in this failure. They fail to emphasize the stewardship of
democracy as an act of discipleship, citing a wall of separation between the church
is no legal requirement to separate religion and politics. The First Amendment to the Constitution
prohibits government from establishing or promoting any religion, but it does
not prohibit religions from relating their faith to politics. In fact, any church that does not relate the
duties of discipleship to democracy is as dead as a body without the spirit.
(See James 1:26).
Wesley’s first priority for discipleship was to do no harm, then to do good. Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave meaning to The Cost
of Discipleship when he left the safety of a seminary in the U.S. to
confront Hitler, and made the ultimate sacrifice. Donald Trump may not be another Hitler, but all
indications are that his regime will threaten the legitimacy of our democracy.
won’t take long to determine whether Donald Trump will be the dangerous demagogue
that many expect him to be. If so, Christians
and church leaders will have failed their test of faith, legitimacy and
politics. To appeal that failing grade they
must justify their support of a man who represents the antithesis of Christian
morality. Perhaps the rest of us were
is a remedial assignment for those who failed their test of faith. It is to read the four gospels—or even just
one of them. They are the only place to find
the teachings of Jesus on discipleship, and they should be read carefully,
critically and prayerfully. They don’t
address all modern political issues, but they provide the timeless altruistic principles
needed for that task.
study of the gospels and self-reflection should be accompanied by interfaith discussions
on how our faith shapes our standards of legitimacy and politics. Judaism, Christianity and Islam must all
promote a politics of reconciliation to preserve the fabric of democracy in our
increasingly pluralistic and polarized world.
put our failures behind us and focus on following the moral teachings of Jesus
as the heart of legitimacy and the means to promote a politics of
reconciliation. Discipleship in our
democracy is not just for Christians, but for all those who wish to prevent the
fabric of our polarized democracy from unraveling—whatever their faith.
is divided by partisan political polarization that threatens the very fabric of
our democracy. A politics of reconciliation
is needed that allows the rejection of conflicting values. The
greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as ourselves is a common word of faith for Jews,
Christians and Muslims alike. It was
reasonable to assume that it provided shared values for most Americans, but the
recent election debunked that assumption.
of Donald Trump’s supporters claimed to be Christians, but they rejected the moral
imperatives of their faith when they voted for a man who exemplified the
antithesis of Christian morality. Since
most Christians don’t seem to apply the altruistic values of their faith to
their politics, more secular partisan alternatives must be considered to
prevent the unraveling of the fabric of our democracy.
electoral college and a two-party duopoly have defined U.S political
history. The two parties have usually produced
enough diversity to prevent political polarization, but when the Republican
Party arose from the wreckage of the Whig Party in 1854, the Democrat and
Republican parties led the U.S. to its most divisive polarization in history: The
between the two parties is healthy, so long as it is civil and there is the
capability to compromise on major issues.
But when differences between the two parties are defined by hostile
constituencies holding irreconcilable values, as leading up to the Civil War
and as they are today, bipolar partisan hostility can be dysfunctional and dangerous.
shared religious values, there are only two structural alternatives to counter dangerous
partisan polarization. First, reorganize
one or both of the two parties; or second, create additional parties. The objective of both is to allow political
diversity without hostility through a politics of reconciliation that defuses
the risk of bipolar political polarization.
polarization has become the norm, and identity politics based on special
interest groups now take precedence over providing for the common good. A leftist Democrat Party now challenges
traditions with an intellectual elite and a coalition of minority groups, while
a radical-right, predominately white and blue collar GOP now seeks to preserve
traditions and return to the idyllic days of the past.
has been considerable commentary on changes needed in both the Republican and
Democrat Parties. Before the election, when
it was widely expected that Hillary Clinton would defeat Donald Trump, the
focus was on restructuring a Republican Party hijacked by the radical
right. Now public attention has turned
to reshaping a Democrat Party whose leftist identity politics were rejected by electoral
votes, even as they were approved by a majority of voters.
its electoral victories, it seems unlikely that the GOP will abandon its new
radical right posture, and with the popularity of Bernie Sanders, it seems
unlikely that Democrats will reject socialism to reclaim the political middle
ground. That leaves no place for those
political moderates who have previously decided elections, and it opens the
door to a third party.
there be a third party competitive with Republicans and Democrats in 2018? David Houle has three forecasts: That Donald
Trump will be a one-term president; that division in the country in a time of
unprecedented change will create massive movements, demonstrations and civil
disobedience; and that 2016 will be the last year of a two-party system.
democracies have multiple parties, but they are structured differently than the
American two-party system. To enable a
third party to succeed at the national level in the U.S. the electoral college
would have to be eliminated or modified and structural changes made in Congress. Also, American voters would have to change
their view of third party candidates.
American Party of South Carolina is a third party that ran congressional
candidates in the recent election. They ran
believing that most voters were disgusted with the two parties and would
support third party candidates, but election results indicated that most voters
were loyal to the two major parties.
Third party candidates received less than 5% of the vote.
third party candidates have ever received enough votes to seriously challenge
GOP and Democrat candidates at the national level. Most voters apparently believe that a vote
for a third party candidate is a wasted vote.
That must change for third party candidates to gain the credibility
needed to compete with Republican and Democrat candidates.
healthy democracy requires partisan opposition to hold the party in power accountable. A radical right GOP and leftist Democrat
Party have abandoned moderate voters and the shared altruistic values that once
mitigated against partisan polarization.
A third party is needed. Perhaps
in 2018 voters will support a third party as the means to a politics of
is a place for righteous anger in American religion and politics. That’s because the church has failed to
provide the shared values needed for a politics of reconciliation. By failing to promote the moral teachings of
Jesus in the stewardship of our democracy, the church has allowed partisan
politics to become so polarized that they have ignored the common good.
the recent election the black church promoted Democrat candidates, while the
so-called evangelical church and most white Catholics promoted Republican
candidates. The mainline Protestant
church abstained, avoiding the toxic mix of religion and politics. And few Christians questioned those
inconsistent positions of the church on the role of faith and politics.
election revealed a dangerous political divide that threatens to unravel the
fabric of American democracy. Americans
have not been so deeply divided since they fought a Civil War to preserve their
union. Today social, economic and
cultural differences have once again polarized our politics and undermined the
shared values so essential for a healthy democracy.
American two-party duopoly is partly to blame for our political polarization
and gridlock. Unlike parliamentary
democracies with multiple parties that share power and mitigate against bipolar
stalemate, the American two-party duopoly depends upon moderates within each
party to avoid political polarization, making it vulnerable to partisan
polarization and gridlock.
moderates have become a rarity in American politics. Partisan polarization has become the norm
with a leftist Democrat Party that challenges traditions with an intellectual
elite and a coalition of minority groups, and a radical-right GOP that is
predominately white and blue collar, and that seeks to preserve traditions and return
to the idyllic days of the past.
the recent election, Donald Trump was more effective in motivating his radical-right
supporters than was Hillary Clinton in motivating her leftist supporters—at
least for electoral votes. But tribalism
and contentious identity politics left a post-election landscape of polarized partisan
politics, with little prospect for balancing group (or tribal) special interests
with providing for the overall common good, which is essential for any healthy
lack of political moderation in America is hard to understand. It is a nation where most identify as Jews,
Christians or Muslims, and all share belief in the greatest commandment to love God and their neighbors as themselves
as a common word of faith. But most voters defied that altruistic
principle of faith and voted to make a nativist narcissist their President.
civic obligation to provide for the common good is a matter of morality, not
law; and religion is the primary source of moral standards. If voters don’t honor the altruistic moral standards
of their faith, there are no shared values to hold the fabric of American
democracy together. The 14th
Amendment and civil rights laws guarantee equal protection of the law to all
citizens, but the law cannot mandate a political commitment to care for others
and provide for the common good. That is
a moral obligation.
distinction between the role of law and morality in democracy underscores the
important role of religion in politics.
The 1st amendment to the Constitution doesn’t require the
separation of religion and politics; it only prohibits government from
establishing or promoting any religion. In
fact, any religion that doesn’t relate the moral imperatives of its faith to
politics is impotent. It is as dead in a
democracy as a body without the spirit. (See James 2:26)
is a related principle of morality and law that relates to religion and
politics. The enforcement of religious
law distorts libertarian concepts of justice based on human rights and the
secular rule of law, as when apostasy and blasphemy laws deny the fundamental
freedoms of religion and speech, and women and religious minorities are denied
equal justice under law.
happened in colonial America under the Puritans, and continues today in Islamic
nations—even in democracies—where the primacy of Islamic law, or shari’a, creates
a tyranny of the majority. Whenever religion
uses coercive political power to impose its laws on others, it produces
injustice. Without a commitment to provide
for the common good of all, regardless of their race, religion or sexual
preference, libertarian democracy is doomed to fail.
election of Donald Trump was made possible by self-proclaimed Christians, like
those of the prosperity gospel, whose religious beliefs subordinate the
altruistic teachings of Jesus to selfish materialistic desires. That makes those who believe that the moral
teachings of Jesus should be at the heart of Christianity angry—and it’s a righteous
On the prosperity gospel as a
distorted version Christianity that motivated Trump supporters, see