Saturday, May 12, 2018

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and Making America Great Again

By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Christians have long claimed that their religion is the foundation of America’s greatness.  But the truth is that America’s greatness is based on its economic and military power; and Christianity has sanctified those worldly powers in derogation of the teachings of Jesus.  America the Beautiful is a great hymn of what America should be, but isn’t; the Battle Hymn of the Republic or Onward Christian Soldiers is more descriptive of the American religious ethic.

America is more politically polarized today than since its Civil War.  Over 70% of Americans claim to be Christians but most of them oppose the compromises needed for a politics of reconciliation.  If America were truly a Christian nation, its people would follow the altruistic moral imperatives taught by Jesus and promote a politics of reconciliation; but the opposite is true.  We are a nation divided along partisan lines defined by competing identity groups.

America is not alone.  Radical right nationalism is undermining democracy around the world.  It promotes the supremacy of a dominant religion, race or ethnic group over others, and populist demagogues in America and Europe have stoked the fears of their constituencies over a wave of immigration from the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.

Religion is part of the problem, so it should also be part of the solution.  America’s greatness in a world of increasing pluralism requires a politics of reconciliation to overcome its bitter divisions, but Christianity has long promoted its supremacy and exclusivity as the one true faith, making it part of the problem.  A politics of reconciliation in America should be based on the altruistic and universal teachings of Jesus as a moral foundation for equal justice under law.

The reasons that the church has derogated the universal teachings of Jesus to exclusivist church beliefs should be obvious.  The worldly power of the church has always depended on its popularity, and Jesus made it clear that following his teachings on altruistic love was a narrow way for the few, not a broad or popular way for the many. (see Matthew 7:13-14)  

The teachings of Jesus are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and love our neighbors as we love ourselves, including our neighbors of other races and religions.  That love command is considered a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, and it should be considered a common word of their politics as well as their faith.  

The altruistic teachings of Jesus are universal in contrast to exclusivist church doctrines.  Jesus emphasized reconciliation and peace and considered all who did the will of God to be his brothers and sisters.  Jesus was a Jew who did not favor any religion over others, but the church subordinated his universal moral teachings to exclusivist Christian doctrines of belief that are conducive to divisive religious and political loyalties that produce hatred and violence.

History reveals the toxic mix of religion and politics.  Institutional Christianity has been corrupted by its unholy alliances with politics and worldly power, beginning in the 4th century when Constantine co-opted Christianity to sanctify the conquests of the Roman Empire, and continuing through the Crusades and Inquisitions of the Middle Ages, followed by the Reformation of the 16th century and its progeny of religious wars throughout Europe.

For America to become great in an increasingly pluralistic world, American Christians must reject their exclusivist religious doctrines and promote a politics of reconciliation based on the greatest commandment as God’s word.  That’s a daunting challenge since the worldly power of Christianity is based on its popularity, and loving those of other religions and races and accepting Christianity as a true faith, but not the only true faith, will not be popular.


For interactive maps that show that America is more diverse than ever--but still segregated, see

Pew Research Center surveys on the public, the political system and American Democracy reveal that most Americans see their country falling short of democratic ideals and values, with more Republicans than Democrats who believe that the American political system is working well. See

Related Commentary:

(12/8/14): Religion and Reason
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(2/8/15): Promoting Religion Through Evangelism: Bringing Light or Darkness?
(5/3/15): A Fundamental Problem with Religion
(6/7/15): The Future of Religion: In Decline and Growing
(6/28/15): Confronting the Evil Among Us
(7/5/15): Reconciliation as a Remedy for Racism and Religious Exclusivism
(7/26/15): Fear and Fundamentalism
(9/6/15): The European Refugee Crisis and Radical Islam
(11/15/15): American Exceptionalism: The Power of Persuasion or Coercion?
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(2/7/16): Jesus Meets Muhammad on Issues of Religion and Politics
(3/12/16): Religion, Race and the Deterioration of Democracy in America
(4/2/16): The Freedom of Religion and Providing for the Common Good
(7/2/16): The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in the Wake of Globalization
(7/23/16): Reconciliation and Reality
(8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide
(9/17/16): A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics
(10/8/16): Revolutionaries, Moderates and Reactionaries in a Polarized Democracy
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(11/19/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation Based on Shared Values
(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy
(12/3/16): Righteous Anger in Religion and Politics
(12/17/16): Discipleship in a Democracy: A Test of Faith, Legitimacy and Politics
(12/31/16): E Pluribus Unum, Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(1/7/17): Religion and Reason as Sources of Political Legitimacy, and Why They Matter
(1/21/17): Religion and Reason Redux: Religion Is Ridiculous
(1/28/17): Saving America from the Church
(2/4/17): When Confrontation Trumps Reconciliation in Politics and Religion
(2/25/17): The Need for a Revolution in Religion and Politics
(3/4/17): Ignorance and Reason in Religion and Politics
(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World
(6/10/17): Religious Exclusivity and Discrimination in Politics
(7/15/17) Religion and Progressive Politics
(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
(9/23/17): Tribalism and the American Civil Religion  
(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion
(11/11/17): A Politics of Reconciliation that Should Begin in the Church
(11/18/17): Radical Religion and the Demise of Democracy
(12/16/17): Can Democracy Survive the Trump Era?
(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy?
(1/20/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Morality and Religion in Politics
(1/27/18): Musings on Conflicting Concepts of Christian Morality in Politics
(3/3/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on America’s Holy War
(3/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christian Morality as a Standard of Legitimacy
(3/31/18): Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy
(4/7/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Need for a Moral Reformation
(4/28/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Virtues and Vices of Christian Morality
(5/5/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Nostalgia as an Obstacle to Progress

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