Saturday, July 7, 2018

Whose America Is This? Musings on Conflicting Standards of Legitimacy in Religion and Politics

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

On July 4 the United States celebrated its 242nd birthday.  Over the years America has become more culturally diverse, but today over 70% of Americans still claim to be Christians.  While the primary source of moral standards of legitimacy in America is Christianity, its myriad forms offer conflicting standards of legitimacy that foster contentious partisan divisions.

There is the prosperity gospel that more closely resembles the self-centered objectivist gospel of Ayn Rand than the gospel of Jesus, which remains the moral guide for traditional Christians.  Then there are Christian fundamentalists who believe that the entire Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God with its more than 600 provisions of Mosaic Law. And then there are the remaining 30% of Americans who are none of the above.

Whose America Is This?  The conflicting standards of legitimacy among those who call themselves Christians are evident in a nation bitterly divided by partisan and racial polarization.  In American politics it’s us versus them, with radical right white Republicans squared off against minorities in a radical left Democrat Party.  There’s no room left in either party for moderates.

It’s not the first time Americans have been dangerously polarized.  In 1860 political polarization led to a terrible Civil War that cost the lives of 600,000 Americans, and it would be another 100 years before black Americans were guaranteed their civil rights.  Racial hatred still permeates and defines our polarized bipolar politics, and few voters are willing to consider a third party option that could break up partisan gridlock and promote a politics of reconciliation.

Donald Trump’s campaign logo was to Make America Great Again  It opened the door to old racial and religious hatreds and undermined the political values that made America great in the past.  Those values included the willingness of Americans to aid the oppressed around the world and to defend political freedom by promoting human rights and democracy.  Today Donald Trump seems hellbent on undermining the policies that made America great in the past.

Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority energized the Republican neo-evangelical movement in the 1980s, and it culminated in the election of Donald Trump in 2016.  Until then Congress was able to compromise on major issues, balancing individual wants and rights with providing for the common good. But that changed after the election of Trump in 2016.

Donald Trump is a consummate narcissist who has been known for his unrestrained greed.  With the support of a loyal Republican majority in Congress, Trump has promoted radical right domestic and foreign policies that are antithetical to the moral teachings of Jesus and that conflict with America’s traditional emphasis on liberty in law.  But most white Christians elected Trump to office and continue to support him. They should be ashamed of themselves.

America’s birthday is a good time to reflect on what it should be and who it belongs to.  Most colonists at the time of the Declaration of Independence were recent immigrants. Their grievances against the tyranny of King George III assert “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”  That would make Donald Trump a tyrant, most notably on his zero tolerance immigration policies.  

The church in its myriad variations must find unity in the teachings of Jesus as moral imperatives of faith to save itself and America from the ravages of moral depravity.  The teachings of Jesus are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves.  That love command is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

America belongs to all of its people, and as long as Christianity is the dominant religion in America it must assume the moral stewardship of politics and promote a politics of reconciliation with altruistic standards of moral legitimacy.  The church must oppose racist and nativist immigration policies that separate children from parents seeking asylum in the U.S., and support international alliances needed to protect U.S. national security and provide world peace.


Fox and Friends went to Williamsburg on July 4 to chat with one “Thomas Jefferson” on the Declaration of Independence.  They may have been surprised when a reading of the Declaration revealed that the oppressive policies of of King George III were remarkably similar to those of Donald Trump.  See

Jim McDermott has looked to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to define the American Dream: “Ask a hundred people today to describe the American Dream and most will give an answer inspired by the best-known phrase from the Declaration of Independence: ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ Americans have long looked to these three ideas as the fundamental expression of our aspirations; and yet the most striking element about them is how often we employ them while ignoring that none of them acknowledge the broader context in which we live.  But there is another document at the heart of our nation’s founding, and it offers a very different American Dream: the Constitution. ...The Constitution’s purpose was in fact to describe our aspirations. What did we hope for? What did we want for our lives?
...[and] What is the American Dream? It is a community of justice, peace and safety for all, with an eye on always improving the general welfare, built and maintained by everyone. There is no us and them here, no sense of accepted winners and losers. ...To live the American Dream is not only to choose to help others when they are in need, but to embrace that we need others to build that more perfect society we long for. It is to acknowledge not our own desire but others’ needs, not our rights but others’ wisdom, not our individual positions but our common, ongoing work.”  See

Most pastors of white mainline Protestant churches in South Carolina avoid mixing their religion and politics in  the pulpit. That’s because it’s risky business to preach the politics of loving your neighbors of other races and religions to those who support Donald Trump.  But discipleship involves the risk of preaching God’s truth to political power, and that requires calling out those who support a President who has made a mockery of God’s truth, patriotism, and the moral imperatives of our faith.  One dismayed California pastor did just that, but then he only had a few Trump supporters in his congregation. See
David Brooks has criticized modern meritocracy for its “misplaced notion of the self” and the failure to be truly open to all, lacking “...a civic consciousness, a sense that we live life embedded in community and nation, that we owe a debt to community and nation and that the essence of the admirable life is community before self.” See
On Religion, Law and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy as it relates to the moral and legal concepts of Islamist extremism and how those standards of legitimacy conflict with human rights and traditional Christian moral concepts of legitimacy, see Barnes, Religion, Law and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy at

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