Saturday, January 6, 2018

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Diversity in Democracy

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            As a maverick Methodist musing on the topic of religion and politics, I have a question for leaders in the United Methodist Church.  Why haven’t you addressed the need for Christian stewardship in our politics?  After all, the vast majority of white Methodists voted to elect Donald Trump as our president—a man who exemplifies the antithesis of Christian morality.

            In talking to other pastors, I get the impression that religion and politics don’t mix in today’s church.  If so, something has changed since the 1960s when pastors were actively involved in contentious civil rights issues.  If white Methodists now insist upon keeping politics out of the church, they have ignored their own precedent in the stewardship of democracy.

            It is axiomatic that in a democracy everyone has a civic responsibility to participate in the political process and that voter preferences are shaped by the moral standards of their faith.  But while the church has long emphasized the Christian stewardship of our resources, it has been ambivalent on our stewardship of politics in a democracy.  That needs to change.

            Over 70% of American voters claim to be Christians so their moral standards shape American politics.  While white mainline Christians avoid mixing religion and politics, black Christians and evangelical Christians mix religion and politics with problematic results.  Since most black Christians are loyal to the Democratic Party and most white Christians are loyal to the Republican Party, they have perpetuated racial divisions that polarize partisan politics.

            In 1968 white and black Methodist churches merged as the United Methodist Church, but after 50 years most United Methodist churches remain racially segregated.  It’s past time for United Methodists to set an example that addresses racial divisions in the church, as well as differences in religion and sexual preferences that threaten the fabric of our democracy.

            The greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, including our neighbors of other races and religions, is a common word of faith and an altruistic moral standard for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.  Christians elected a President and Congress that have exploited our differences and ignored altruistic moral standards.  It’s time for the church to promote the moral stewardship of democracy with a politics of reconciliation.

            Diversity has been America’s strength over the years, but fear has made our diversity a weakness.  In the years leading up to the Civil War, poor white dirt farmers in the South detested the rich slave-holding aristocrats who exploited them, but their fear of losing their political power with the emancipation of slaves who outnumbered them was greater than their hatred for the aristocrats, and it motivated them to fight and die for illusory states rights

            Today there is a similar fear among white voters that has produced an unlikely coalition of the rich and poor based on the perceived loss of white privilege.  Demographers have confirmed that fear predicting that an increasing number of non-whites will soon make whites a minority in America.  That seems to have motivated many white Christians to support Trump’s make America great again politics with its fake promise to return to the halcyon days of the past. 

            Our faith teaches us that God is love, that there is no fear in love, and that perfect love drives out fear. (I John 4:16-18)  We can’t prevent increased diversity and changing values in our democracy, but we can manage them.  Our faith defines our moral standards of legitimacy (what is right and wrong), which in turn shape our politics and laws—for good or bad.   
            Since most U. S. voters consider themselves Christians, the future relevance of the church depends on it promoting the moral stewardship of democracy with a politics of reconciliation for divisive issues of race, religion and sexual preference.  The United Methodist Church should lead the way in a moral revival of the American civil religion, but that’s something it has yet to do.

Related Commentary:

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(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(2/8/15): Promoting Religion Through Evangelism: Bringing Light or Darkness?
(2/15/15): Is Religion Good or Evil?
(3/8/15): Wealth, Politics, Religion and Economic Justice
(3/15/15): The Kingdom of God, Politics and the Church
(4/12/15): Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy
(7/12/15): Reconciliation in Race and Religion: The Need for Compatibility, not Conformity
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(2/27/16): Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy in Faith, Freedom and Politics
(3/26/16): Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery
(6/4/16): Christianity and Capitalism: Strange Bedfellows in Politics
(6/18/16): A Politics of Reconciliation with Liberty and Justice for All
(6/28/15): Confronting the Evil Among Us
(7/5/15): Reconciliation as a Remedy for Racism and Religious Exclusivism
(8/9/15): Balancing Individual Rights with Collective Responsibilities
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(3/12/16): Religion, Race and the Deterioration of Democracy in America
(4/30/16): The Relevance of Religion to Politics
(5/7/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(5/21/16): Religious Fundamentalism and a Politics of Reconciliation
(8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide
(9/17/16): A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics
(11/19/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation Based on Shared Values
(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy
(12/17/16): Discipleship in a Democracy: A Test of Faith, Legitimacy and Politics
(2/11/17): The Mega-Merger of Wall Street, Politics and Religion
(2/25/17): The Need for a Revolution in Religion and Politics
(3/11/17): Accountability and the Stewardship of Democracy
(3/18/17): Moral Ambiguity in Religion and 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
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(7/15/17) Religion and Progressive Politics
(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 
(8/19/17) Hate, History and the Need for a Politics of Reconciliation
(9/9/17): The Evolution of the American Civil Religion and Habits of the Heart
(11/4/17): What to Believe? Truth or Consequences in Religion and Politics
(11/11/17): A Politics of Reconciliation that Should Begin in the Church
(11/18/17): Radical Religion and the Demise of Democracy
(12/2/17): How Religious Standards of Legitimacy Shape Politics, for Good or Bad
(12/9/17): Religion, Race and Identity Politics         
(12/16/17): Can Democracy Survive the Trump Era?
(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy?
(12/30/17): The Fat’s in the Fire, but We Haven’t Heard the Fat Lady Sing

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