Saturday, January 28, 2017

Saving America from the Church

  Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            My apologies to Robin R. Meyers, author of Saving Jesus from the Church (HarperOne 2009).  I have adapted the title of his excellent book for this commentary.  But just what is this church that threatens both Jesus and America?  It is so diverse as to defy description, but since 81% of white Christians voted for Donald Trump last November, they represent a church that has abandoned the moral teachings of Jesus and America’s need to provide for the common good.

            Thomas Jefferson once referred to the teachings of Jesus as the most sublime moral code ever designed by man.  But today most white Christians have subordinated the teachings of Jesus to exclusivist doctrines of salvation, and many, if not most, follow evangelists like Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., and Paula White, who preach a prosperity gospel of worldly success.  Having abandoned Jesus as the icon of their faith, they elected Donald Trump as our President.

            The moral teachings of Jesus are summed up in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves, and in the story of the good Samaritan Jesus taught that our neighbors include those of other races and religions.  How could so many people who call themselves Christians reject the moral teachings of Jesus and vote for a rude, crude, nativist and narcissist who has no humility and condemns all who question his alternative facts?

            Over 70% of Americans claim to be Christians.  They are the church, and unless and until they restore the primacy of the teachings of Jesus over the false doctrines of those charlatan evangelists who supported Donald Trump, the church will have no legitimacy.  Those Christians who rejected discipleship to support Donald Trump made their religion seem ridiculous.  If the church elected Donald Trump president, the question is how to save America from the church.

            The solution is simple, but difficult—just as loving our neighbors is simple but difficult.  For the church to be reconciled to God’s word, it must make the teachings of Jesus The Church’s One Foundation.  That’s a problem in a world that defines success based on wealth and power.  Following Jesus doesn’t bring worldly success or popularity, and the cost of discipleship can be great, as it was for Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  And for politicians, discipleship doesn’t win elections.

            Winning elections in America involves competition at its worse, and cooperation is rare with our polarized partisan politics.  Politics is about power, and power corrupts.  There is little place for humble service among those seeking political power, and little hope for a politics of reconciliation in our polarized politics.  The best we can hope for in our flawed democracy is to elect politicians who are committed to serving the common good, not their own good.

             Only voters can save America from the church.  Unlike politicians, voters can follow the teachings of Jesus and seek a politics of reconciliation.  But most Christian voters are not good disciples and are poor stewards of their democracy.  They worship Jesus as their personal savior, but do not follow his teachings as the word of God.  Unless and until Christians become better disciples and stewards of their democracy, they cannot save either their church or America.             

Notes and earlier commentary on related topics:

Thomas Jefferson embraced the moral teachings of Jesus but expressed contempt for the distortions and misuse of those teachings by Christian religious leaders of his day.  Jefferson wrote Henry Fry on June 17, 1804: "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 the 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."  Thomas Jefferson, The Jefferson Bible, edited by O. I. A. Roche, Clarkson H. Potter, Inc., New York, 1964, at p 378; see also Jefferson’s letter to John Adams dated October 13, 1813, at pp 825, 826; Jefferson's commentaries are at pp 325-379.  While many Christians considered Jefferson a heretic, Jefferson wrote of himself: “I am a Christian in the only sense in which he [Jesus] wished anyone to be; sincerely attached to his doctrine in preference to all others and ascribing to him every human excellence, believing he never claimed any other.” (p 334)  For Jefferson, being a Christian meant following Jesus as God’s word rather than worshiping him as God’s son.  He emphasized the moral teachings of Jesus over the mystical, and in so doing emphasized discipleship over orthodox Christian beliefs, a distinction elaborated by Robin R. Meyers in Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus, HarperCollins, 2009.  Jefferson cut and pasted selected portions of the gospel accounts from four Bibles in four languages: Greek, Latin, French, and English (from the King James translation).  His Bible illustrates the moral dimension of religion and its role in shaping legitimacy in US culture.  Jon Meacham affirmed Jefferson’s prominent role in shaping American values in American Gospel, Random House, New York, 2006 (see pp 56-58, 72-77, 80-86, 104, 105, 247-250, 263, 264; reference to Jefferson’s Bible at p 389); see also Meacham, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, Random House, New York, 2012, pp 471-473.  See also, Introduction to The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, at page 10, note 2 at
On how religion is ridiculous and corrupts our politics. see;

On discipleship in democracy: a test of faith, legitimacy and politics. see

On the greatest commandment as a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims, see

On exclusivist evangelical Christian doctrines, see promoting religion through evangelism: bringing light or darkness? at

On differing Christian beliefs in Jesus, see Jesus: a prophet, God’s only son, or the Logos at      

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