Saturday, July 13, 2019

Musings on Sovereignty and Conflicting Loyalties to God and Country

   By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Germany was the most Christian nation in the world when it made Hitler its Fuhrer, and America was the most Christian nation in the world when it elected Donald Trump its president.  The morality of Hitler and Trump is the antithesis of that taught by Jesus; and their political success confirms that conflicting loyalties to God and country can be a toxic mix.
Sovereignty defines our supreme political authority, and that was the issue when Jesus was asked whether Jews had to pay taxes to Caesar.  Jesus avoided a direct answer and implied a dual obligation of sovereignty to both God and secular authority when he said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's.” (Mark 12:15-17)

What kind of God is our sovereign?  Last Sunday was National Sunday and the scripture in my church was from Psalms 78:40-55.  It described a militant and vengeful God who smote Egyptians and then led his chosen Hebrew people to the Promised Land.  Jesus taught of a loving and merciful God, and he urged his followers to Love your enemies (Matthew 5:43-48).       

Trump’s Christian supporters consider him their political messiah.  He resembles King David, who was corrupted by a lust for power and carnal pleasure with Bathsheba; but the Jews of Jesus’ day saw David as a model for their long-awaited messiah who would restore the power and glory of ancient Israel, much as Trump’s supporters expect him to make America great again.  Jews had to wait until 1948 for the United Nations to make Israel a sovereign nation. 

God became sovereign in the Roman Empire when Constantine co-opted Christianity in the 4th century, and that precedent for the divine right to rule was followed until the 18th century, when libertarian democracy challenged the sovereignty of God with the sovereignty of man.  Since then the fragility of democracy has kept sovereignty a relevant consideration in politics.

In 1776 the Declaration of Independence cited the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to challenge Great Britain’s sovereignty in America; but those libertarian ideals ignored the ugly reality of slavery.  After the Civil War race became the most divisive issue in American politics; and both political parties continue to exploit racism.

The history of the British Empire should have taught America something, and Winston Churchill exemplified its contradictions.  He was a courageous military officer who loved combat, and was dedicated to promoting the British Empire. Churchill may have been the best man to lead Britain in World War II, but he was the wrong man to lead Britain in peacetime. 

Trump avoided military service, but has tried to mimic Churchill.  His July 4 celebration in Washington was a vulgar display of patriotism with tanks and flyovers, capped by a floundering speech on the greatness of America’s military power.  It should have been an embarrassment to patriotic Americans, but a recent poll shows that Trump has the support of most white voters.
Christians who support Trump have sacrificed Jesus on the altar of partisan politics.  They have made a mess of Christian morality, corrupting the church and politics with distorted “family values” that condemn homosexuality and abortion, and a materialistic prosperity gospel that is more like Ayn Rand’s self-centered objectivism than the altruistic teachings of Jesus. .   

Those distorted doctrines helped Trump stoke racial fears and animosity among whites and get elected in 2016, and Republicans continue to promote divisive “us versus them” politics (whites versus blacks, Muslims and immigrants).  Democratic candidates for president in 2020 are also playing the race card, promoting volatile racial issues like busing and reparations.

In the greatest commandment Jesus taught that loyalty to God requires loving God and our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves.  God remains sovereign in America, and has made us stewards of our democracy. We must not allow our nation to be divided against itself and converted from a democracy into an authoritarian regime.   


Nancy French has described how to love America on the Fourth of July without falling into Christian nationalism: “With the Fourth of July here, some Christians will invariably attend a patriotic church service and wrestle with their faith and nation. The term “nationalism” carries with it ominous echoes of blood and soil, unsuitable for a nation composed of people from many different ethnicities and many different soils. I prefer the term “patriotism” as a description of the love for the specific idea that binds us together across profound differences. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Four Loves, patriotism asks ‘only to be let alone. It becomes militant only to protect what it loves.’  One of our best qualities about America is we can transcend mere nationalism, because we are composed of people from different soils. How should Christian Americans treat others? This is an important question in an age where our humanitarian crisis at the border is denigrated and mocked by evangelical Trump-supporting leaders.  Jesus set a high standard when he said to ‘do to others what you would have them do to you.’” See 

Jeffrey Rosen has described how the Declaration of Independence unites and divides us: “Since July 4, 1776, Americans have cherished the principles of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”—but disagreed fiercely about how to apply them.   ‘I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence,’ President-elect Abraham Lincoln declared in Philadelphia in February 1861, standing in front of Independence Hall. The previous month, Lincoln had adapted language from the Book of Proverbs to emphasize to a Southern correspondent the place of the Declaration in his own thought. He wrote that ‘the expression of that principle [of Liberty for All], in our Declaration of Independence...was the word ‘fitly spoken’ which has proved an ‘apple of gold’ to us. The Union, and the Constitution, are the picture of silver, subsequently framed around it.’  Ever since it was adopted by the Continental Congress in 1776, the Declaration of Independence has been an almost sacred document in American life. Its influence on the way we think about politics and law is second only to the Constitution. In fact, as Lincoln recognized, the two documents are closely linked. From the Founding era until today, conservatives, liberals and everyone in between have agreed that the theoretical basis of the U.S. Constitution—and American political life in general—can be found in Thomas Jefferson’s most famous sentences: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.  Based on the philosophy of John Locke and the Scottish Enlightenment, these ringing words declare an enduring American consensus: that the purpose of government is to secure the rights of popular sovereignty, equality and liberty.”  The problem is balancing those rights with each other. See  
Rick Atkinson has said, America’s rise and the British Empire decline are of one piece.  What does that say for America’s future?  Atkinson sees parallels in the Revolutionary War to modern counterinsurgency (COIN) on the importance of human terrain and winning hearts and minds:  “...Some British commanders realized that the “human terrain” in America — to borrow a phrase often invoked in modern counterinsurgency doctrine — was extraordinarily complex. Recent scholarship has estimated that roughly 20 percent of the 2 million white Americans in the Colonies during the Revolution remained loyal to the Crown (although loyalty was a slippery concept, contingent on shifting moods and conditions). Trying to broaden that minority left Maj. Gen. Henry Clinton, who would serve longer during the Revolution than any senior British commander, pondering how “to gain the hearts and subdue the minds of America,” a phrase little altered when invoked in Vietnam almost two centuries later.
Further complicating that human terrain were a half-million black slaves, pointedly excluded from the Declaration of Independence maxim that “all men are created equal.” Britain, which had long dominated the global slave trade but was gradually moving toward abolition, offered more than once to free rebel-owned slaves who escaped their American masters and shouldered arms on the king’s behalf or otherwise helped the Crown. Such initiatives enraged American slaveholders, strengthening their rebellious resolve, while failing to boost British battlefield fortunes or to liberate more than a tiny fraction of those held in bondage.  As the war plodded on, persisting for more than 3,000 days, Britain’s shortcomings became more evident and more enervating. ‘...Our stake is deep,” the British writer and historian Horace Walpole wrote. “It is that kind of war in which even victory may ruin us.’ See

David Frum has described Trump’s speech on July 4 as Trump’s Recessional. “Trump’s speech was written by people who did not know what they wanted to say. It was a litany of old glories, a shout-out to heroes carefully balanced by race and sex, but with no conscious theme or message. It narrated old triumphs in war and commerce, but without apparent purpose or direction. First this, then that, now a third thing. Trump wanted pictures and video of his big day: Trump standing in the place where Martin Luther King Jr. once stood, the podium swathed in flags and bunting, bordered by tanks, adoring audience in front, screeching fighter jets overhead … Strong! Proud! The speech existed only to provide a reason why he needed to stand in one place long enough for five waves of warplanes to cross the sky.”  See    

Peter Wehner has lamented the deepening crisis in evangelical Christianity: “Last week, Ralph Reed, the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s founder and chairman, told the group, ‘There has never been anyone who has defended us and who has fought for us, who we have loved more than Donald J. Trump. No one!’
Reed is partially right; for many evangelical Christians, there is no political figure whom they have loved more than Donald Trump.  For them, Trump is a man who will not only push their agenda on issues such as the courts and abortion; he will be ruthless against those they view as threats to all they know and love. For a growing number of evangelicals, Trump’s dehumanizing tactics and cruelty aren’t a bug; they are a feature. Trump “owns the libs,” and they love it. He’ll bring a Glock to a cultural knife fight, and they relish that.  There’s a very high cost to our politics for celebrating the Trump style, but what is most personally painful to me as a person of the Christian faith is the cost to the Christian witness. ...Evangelical Christians should acknowledge the profound damage that’s being done to their movement by its braided political relationship—its love affair, to bring us back to the words of Ralph Reed—with a president who is an ethical and moral wreck. Until that is undone—until followers of Jesus are once again willing to speak truth to power rather than act like court pastors—the crisis in American Christianity will only deepen, its public testimony only dim, its effort to be a healing agent in a broken world only weaken.
At this point, I can’t help but wonder whether that really matters to many of Donald Trump’s besotted evangelical supporters.”  See

A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken between June 28 and July 1 found that “President Trump’s approval rating has risen to the highest point of his presidency, though a slight majority of Americans continue to say they disapprove of his performance in office, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.  ...Still, roughly one-fifth of those who say he is not presidential say they approve of the job he is doing. ...He trails decisively only to former vice president Joe Biden.” The survey also found that “Trump wins majority support among white voters.” See 

Reparations for black descendents of slaves is the most volatile racial issue in the 2020 presidential race, and Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttiegieg, Julian Castro, and other Democratic candidates have expressed support for either House Bill 40 or a similar Senate Bill proposed by Senator Booker.that would consider reparations.  See the 2020 Democratic primary debate over reparations, explained at

In addition to reparations, Kamala Harris has proposed a $100 billion program for black “homebuyers who rent or live in historically red-lined communities,” but she has ignored “affordable housing programs of the past 50 years that have been spectacular failures. See

Note to be outdone by Senator Harris, Mayor Pete Buttiegieg has proposed a “$100 billion “Douglass Plan” (named after abolitionist Frederick Douglass) equal in scope with the Marshall Plan in Europe following World War II ($100 billion in current dollars) that would supplement reparations and include  “a $10 billion fund for black entrepreneurs over 5 years, and to invest $25 billion in historically black colleges.” He committed his administration “to invest in health, home ownership, in entrepreneurship, in access to democracy, and in economic empowerment.” 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, race and politics:
(7/5/15): Reconciliation as a Remedy for Racism and Religious Exclusivism
(7/12/15): Reconciliation in Race and Religion: The Need for Compatibility, not Conformity
(7/19/15): Religion, Heritage and the Confederate Flag
(3/12/16): Religion, Race and the Deterioration of Democracy in America
(3/26/16): Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery
(7/9/16): Back to the Future: Race, Religion, Rights and a Politics of Reconciliation
(7/16/16): The Elusive Ideal of Political Reconciliation
(10/22/16): The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in a Polarized Democracy
(11/19/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation Based on Shared Values
(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy
(2/18/17): Gerrymandering, Race and Polarized Partisan Politics
(8/19/17): Hate, History and the Need for a Politics of Reconciliation
(11/11/17): A Politics of Reconciliation that Should Begin in the Church
(12/9/17): Religion, Race and Identity Politics
(1/6/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Diversity in Democracy
(10/20/18): Lamentations of an Old White Male Maverick Methodist in a Tribal Culture
(12/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Justice in Religion and Politics
(3/9/19): Musings on the Degradation of Democracy in a Post-Christian America
(7/6/19): Musings on Democrats, Busing and Racism: It’s Deja Vu All Over Again

On religion, morality and politics:
(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
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
(3/17/18): Jefferson’s Jesus and Moral Standards in Religion and Politics
(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
(6/8/19): The Moral Failure of the Church to Promote Altruism in Politics 
(6/22/19): The Universal Family of God: Where Inclusivity Trumps Exclusivity
(6/29/19): Musings on a Politics of Reconciliation: An Impossible Dream?
(7/6/19): Musings on Democrats, Busing and Racism: It’s Deja Vu All Over Again

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