Saturday, December 17, 2016

Discipleship in a Democracy: A Test of Faith, Legitimacy and Politics

   By Rudy Barnes, Jr.     

            The 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.

            Most 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.      
            The 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 and state.

            There 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).      

            John 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.

            It 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 wrong.

            There 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.

            A 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.

            Let’s 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.


On the ambiguous cause and effect relationship between religion and politics, see

In religious terms those Christians who voted for Donald Trump must repent of that failure of discipleship and make a commitment to follow the teachings of Jesus as the word of God.  See

For an interfaith study guide on The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, see  This is a Resource posted at and  The Introduction explains its purpose, which is to compare the teachings of Jesus selected by Thomas Jefferson as “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man” with the teachings or revelations of Muhammad.  The first 18 topics are a summary of moral teachings of Jesus taken from the Gospel of Mark.  It should be noted that while Jefferson admired Jesus, he was harshly critical of institutional Christianity.

On church leaders who understand how discipleship requires opposing unprincipled demagogues like Donald Trump, see and Notes cited.
On irreconcilable differences and the demise of democracy, see

On the need for a politics of reconciliation in a polarized democracy, see
On religion and a politics of reconciliation based on shared values, see

On religion and reconciliation following an apocalyptic election, see

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