Saturday, June 8, 2019

The Moral Failure of the Church to Promote Altruism in Politics

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Most Americans claim to be Christians, but you wouldn’t know it from their politics.  In 2016 they elected a man whose moral standards are antithetical to those taught by Jesus, and since then most pastors have either supported Trump or avoided criticizing him.  If you can tell Christians by their love, there aren’t many white Christians left in America.

Since the birth of America the church has promoted the teachings of Jesus as God’s word, but those altruistic moral teachings have been eroded by a rising tide of cultural change, increasing religious diversity, racism and partisan political polarization.  The failure of the church to promote the moral stewardship of democracy in America has led to a moral crisis.

The greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, including those of other races and religions, is a summary of the teachings of Jesus.  It is taken from the Hebrew Bible, was taught by Jesus, and is accepted by Muslim scholars as a common word of faith.  But as a moral imperative of altruism in politics, it has been ignored by the church.

Altruism in politics requires balancing individual wants and rights with providing for the common good.  Taxes and regulations are needed to balance dangerous disparities in wealth created by unregulated capitalism.  The exploitation of the middle class by the rich and powerful of Wall Street threaten democracy, but the church has ignored issues of economic justice.

Perhaps the most difficult challenge to altruism in politics is the use of lethal force to protect people from those who would do them harm.  That’s the function of domestic law enforcement and the military. Pacifism can only be an ideal. If it were a political imperative there would be no effective law enforcement and no military defense for America.

In law enforcement the primary issue is the use of excessive force, and in the military it’s whether to forcefully intervene in the affairs of other nations; but the church rarely addresses either of those moral issues.  The altruistic moral standard for both should be to limit lethal force to self-defense and the defense of others, but that standard is often blurred by partisan politics.

The state provides public safety by arresting lawbreakers and then denying those convicted of serious crimes of their liberty or life.  While every accused is entitled to the due process of law to insure equal justice under law before a conviction, racism can distort the criminal justice process; and the church rarely considers such criminal justice issues.

Contentious political issues on economic justice, criminal justice, immigration, health care, the environment, foreign policy and military operations are complicated by conflicting concepts of Christian morality.  That’s evident in the distorted “family values” and a prosperity gospel of most white Christians that conflict with the altruistic teachings of Jesus.

Mean-spirited “tweets” of the Republican president have been at the vortex of America’s political immorality, and too often Democrats have reciprocated in kind.  The church should be promoting a politics of reconciliation, but most pastors emphasize exclusivist Christian beliefs bereft of morality that exacerbate religious differences in a world of increasing religious diversity.

In the past the church promoted altruism in politics, first during the widespread economic deprivation of the Great Depression and then in World War II.  But that altruism was motivated by circumstances, not by a moral revival in the church. It will probably take another cataclysmic event like an economic crisis or a war to overcome the current moral ennui of the church.

Altruism in American Christianity and politics has become a casualty of narrow-minded identity groups and the greed of a privileged class whose wealth and power now control our economy and politics.  The church has lost its moral compass, and its failure to promote the stewardship of democracy in America’s moral crisis foreshadows the demise of democracy.


The birth of fundamentalism in the early 20th century marked the beginning of the end of the church as a the primary source of morality in politics.  It gave birth to a form of Christian morality that emphasized the Bible as God’s inerrant and infallible truth over the altruistic moral teachings of Jesus, and has evolved into a form of evangelicalism that promotes distorted doctrines of family values and a prosperity gospel.  See

The Charlotte Observer reported that Franklin Graham and 250 other Christian leaders called for Sunday, June 2, to be a ‘Special Day of Prayer for the President.”  Graham posted, “In the history of our country, no president has been attacked as he has. I believe the only hope for him, and this nation, is God. This is a critical time for America. We’re on the edge of a precipice. Time is short. We need to pray for God to intervene. We need to ask God to protect, strengthen, encourage, and guide the President,” See

John Pavlovitch has attributed the increasing exodus of people from the church to its failure of moral leadership.  See

James Carroll has blamed deficiencies in the Catholic Church on clericalism, “the vesting of power in an all-male and celibate clergy,” and he advocates ending the priesthood to remedy the problem. “My five years in the priesthood, even in its most liberal wing, gave me a fetid taste of this caste system. Clericalism, with its cult of secrecy, its theological misogyny, its sexual repressiveness, and its hierarchical power based on threats of a doom-laden afterlife, is at the root of Roman Catholic dysfunction. The clerical system’s obsession with status thwarts even the merits of otherwise good priests and distorts the Gospels’ message of selfless love, which the Church was established to proclaim. Clericalism is both the underlying cause and the ongoing enabler of the present Catholic catastrophe. I left the priesthood 45 years ago, before knowing fully what had soured me, but clericalism was the reason.” See

Related commentary:
On the greatest commandment and love over law:
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(1/18/15): Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(3/31/18): Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy
(10/13/18): Musings on a Common Word of Faith and Politics for Christians and Muslims
(2/23/19): Musings on Loving Your Enemy, Including the Enemy Within

On religion, morality and politics:
(12/29/14): Religion, Violence and Military Legitimacy
(2/8/15): Promoting Religion Through Evangelism: Bringing Light or Darkness?
(2/15/15): Is Religion Good or Evil?
(4/12/15): Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy
(6/28/15): Confronting the Evil Among Us
(7/12/15): Reconciliation in Race and Religion: The Need for Compatibility, not Conformity
(8/9/15): Balancing Individual Rights with Collective Responsibilities
(8/23/15): Legitimacy as a Context and Paradigm to Resolve Religious Conflict
(11/15/15): American Exceptionalism: The Power of Persuasion or Coercion?
(1/16/16): Religion, Politics and Public Expectations
(3/26/16): Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery
4/30/16): The Relevance of Religion to Politics
(5/7/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(5/28/16): Nihilism as a Threat to Politics, Religion and Morality
(7/2/16): The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in the Wake of Globalization
(8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide
(9/24/16): The Evolution of Religion and Politics from Oppression to Freedom
(11/5/16): Religion, Liberty and Justice at Home and Abroad
(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
(3/4/17): Ignorance and Reason in Religion and Politics
(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
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(7/15/17): Religion and Progressive Politics
(7/29/17): Speaking God’s Truth to Man’s Power
(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
(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion
(10/21/17): The Symbiotic Relationship between Freedom and Religion
(11/18/17): Radical Religion and the Demise of Democracy
(12/2/17): How Religious Standards of Legitimacy Shape Politics, for Good or Bad
(12/16/17): Can Democracy Survive the Trump Era?
(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy?
(1/6/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Diversity in Democracy
(1/13/18): Nationalist Politics and Exclusivist Religion: Obstacles to Reconciliation and Peace
(1/27/18): Musings on Conflicting Concepts of Christian Morality in Politics
(2/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religion, Freedom and 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
(5/12/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and Making America Great Again
(5/19/18): Musings on Morality and Law as Symbiotic but Conflicting Standards of Legitimacy
(7/21/18): Musings on America’s Moral and Political Mess and Who Should Clean It Up
(8/4/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religious Problems and Solutions in Politics
(8/11/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Changing Morality in Religion and Politics
(8/25/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Moral Priorities in Religion and Politics
(9/1/18): Musings on the American Civil Religion and Christianity at a Crossroads
(9/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of Christian Universalism
(10/6/18): Musings on Moral Universalism in Religion and Politics
(10/27/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Migrant Tidal Wave
(11/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and the Legitimacy of Democracy
(1/5/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Building Political Walls or Bridges
(2/16/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on America the Blessed and Beautiful--or is it?
(3/30/19): Musings on What the Mueller Report Doesn’t Say About Trump’s Wrongdoing
(4/12/19): Musings on Religion, Nationalism and Libertarian Democracy
(4/20/19): Musings on the Resurrection of Altruistic Morality in Dying Democracies
(4/27/19): Musings on the Legitimacy of Crony Capitalism and Progressive Capitalism
(5/4/19): Musings on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
(5/11/19): Musings on the Relevance of Jefferson’s Jesus in the 21st Century
(5/18/19): Outsiders Versus Insiders in Religion, Legitimacy and Politics
(5/25/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Divinity and Moral Teachings of Jesus

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