Saturday, September 1, 2018

Musings on the American Civil Religion and Christianity at a Crossroads

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

The August primaries portend a political and religious armageddon in November.  White evangelical Christians with moral standards antithetical to those taught by Jesus have invested Donald Trump and his Republican Party with the political power to reshape the American civil religion.  If there is no effective centrist movement to promote political reconciliation, American politics and its Christian religion are doomed to further partisan polarization and extremism.

The American civil religion is where religion and politics intersect to shape American cultural values.  Concepts of Christian morality have defined the values of the American civil religion from its inception until the election of 2016, when distorted doctrines of family values and the prosperity gospel preempted the altruistic values taught by Jesus.  Increasing partisan polarization and tribalism have since threatened to unravel the fabric of American democracy.

Within the myriad variations of the Christian church, there is no indication of a reform movement to restore the altruistic values taught by Jesus within Christianity or of a centrist politics of reconciliation.  White evangelicals have made their bed with Trump and his Republican minions, and mainstream churches have continued to avoid mixing religion and politics, aiding and abetting evangelicals in their active support of radical right politics.

But there’s still time for mainstream Christian churches to revitalize the altruistic values taught by Jesus and balance individual wants and rights with providing for the common good.  Over 70% of Americans claim to be Christian, and many, if not most, relate to traditional forms of Christianity rather than to highly politicized evangelical Christianity. Even so, most white Christians have so far supported Donald Trump and those Republicans loyal to him.

The future of Christianity and the American civil religion depend upon the majority of Americans who claim to be Christians reasserting sanity to American religion and politics; and over the next two months pulpits in America pulpit can help make that happen.  But if those pulpits remain quiescent and the November elections produce more of the same polarized politics, Christians will have allowed a great religious and political travesty to occur in America.

How can the American pulpit accomplish this formidable task?  By preaching the word of God, beginning with the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, including our neighbors of other races and religions. That’s a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, and it requires an understanding what it means to love our neighbors, who they are, and how that applies to the stewardship of democracy.

The task of the American pulpit is subject to the fierce urgency of now.  If by November 6 the church cannot save Christianity from the distorted doctrines of white evangelical Christians that have stripped Christianity of the altruistic teachings of Jesus, then individual progressive Christians must save Jesus from an impotent church that has lost its legitimacy and relevance.

The American civil religion and Christianity are at a crossroads. Since the birth of our nation the church has been the steward of God’s word and altruistic values in America’s civil religion and politics, but it has failed in its stewardship of America’s democracy.  The jury is out on whether the church can reclaim its legitimacy and moral leadership in America’s religion and politics, but a verdict will be rendered on November 6.


In the wake of the latest spate of misrepresentations and lies by Trump, Colbert King has questioned the silence of pulpits in American churches and asked: Can pulpits across the nation stand for Trump?  See

In urging Christians to reject Trump’s hateful divisiveness and predictions of violence if Democrats should win this November, Kathleen Parker has asked, What apocalyptic vision guides our president?  See

John Pavlovitz has simplified the distinction between those white evangelical Christians who support Trump and those more traditional Christians who struggle to follow the moral teachings of Jesus by saying Christians supporting Trump aren’t Christians.  See

President Trump’s evangelical advisory board is a who’s who of charlatan evangelicals who have gained their influence with Trump and run of the White House with their obsequious praise of Trump.  See

Michael Gerson has cited President Trump’s recent remarks to evangelical Christians at the White House to capture where Republican politics is heading. “This November 6 election,” Trump said, “is very much a referendum on not only me, it’s a referendum on your religion.” A direct, unadorned appeal to tribal hostilities. Fighting for Trump, the president argued, is the only way to defend the Christian faith. None of these men and women of God, apparently, gagged on their hors d’oeuvres.
“It’s not a question of like or dislike, it’s a question that [Democrats] will overturn everything that we’ve done, and they will do it quickly and violently. And violently. There is violence.” Here Trump is preparing his audience for the possibility of bloodshed by predicting it from the other side. Christians, evidently, need to start taking “Onward, Christian Soldiers” more literally.  This is now what passes for GOP discourse — the cultivation of anger, fear, grievances, prejudices and hatreds.” See

The recent party primaries in Florida indicate that the Republican Party favors Trump supporters and that Democrats will continue their move from centrist candidates to leftist candidates.  See

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