By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
America is a nation polarized by irreconcilable differences in politics, race, and religion. We need a politics of reconciliation based on shared values that enables us to find consensus on issues essential to maintaining the fabric of our democracy. If we remain polarized, our differences will fester into anger, hostility and even violence, as they did 160 years ago.
God’s will is that we be reconciled and redeemed as spiritual brothers and sisters, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer us. God’s will is 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’s a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.
Religious beliefs provide the moral standards that determine how we relate to each other, and most Americans claim to be Christians. If we truly believe that we should love others as we love ourselves, that altruistic moral principle should shape our politics so that providing for the common good should take precedence over divisive partisan objectives.
In the cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil, Satan divides and conquers by doing a convincing imitation of God in the church and politics. The church has allowed divisive partisan politics to subordinate the altruistic moral teachings of Jesus; and by failing to promote a politics of reconciliation the church has aided and abetted Satan’s will to divide and conquer.
The church lost its moral compass in 2016 when most white Christians elected a man for president whose self-centered immorality is the antitheses of the altruistic morality taught by Jesus. A racially segregated church has contributed to the polarization of partisan politics, with most white Christians voting Republican and most black Christians voting Democratic.
God’s will for reconciliation has been lost in America’s racially divided religions and politics. It would take a 21st century Reformation to conform church doctrines to the universal moral teachings of Jesus. As an alternative, people of diverse races and religions must look beyond the church to promote a politics of reconciliation based on shared altruistic values.
Religions have provided prophets to bring God’s truth to worldly leaders throughout history; but after democracy gave people the right to choose their own political destiny, religions conformed to corrupt popular values and have done more harm than good. When Germans and Italians chose fascism over democracy in the 1930s, they sacrificed their liberty for oppression.
In 2016 white Christians sacrificed Jesus on the altar of partisan politics and planted the seeds of demagoguery in American democracy. Since a democracy requires consensus on critical issues, a polarized democracy is a failed democracy. Can Americans promote a politics of reconciliation and redeem their democracy and their church? We’ll find out after November 3.
In discussing the role of religion in presidential politics, Kenneth L. Woodward has made the dubious claim that “religion has rarely been a significant factor in our presidential politics, and isn’t likely to be in the upcoming election.” But Woodward contradicts his own statement when he acknowledges that “George McGovern ushered religion into the 1972 Democratic Platform with the party’s “Methodist Moment.” It was when The party platform “best reflected Methodism’s ethos of high-minded moralism. It mirrored the Methodists’ 1972 Book of Resolutions. When Woodward interviewed Hillary Clinton at the White House in 1994, she told him she still kept a copy of this book in her private quarters.”
In 1976 Jimmy Carter made his “born again” Christian beliefs a campaign issue and won the election in a peanut blitz. But that would be the last time a Democratic presidential candidate won with the “Christian” vote. In the 1980s Republican operatives and Jerry Falwell organized white Christians in the religious right of the Republican Party with The Moral Majority; and while Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush didn’t make religion a major campaign issue, George W. Bush and Doanld Trump did just that, and Trump is depending on white Christians to keep him in the White House when they vote in November 2020.
Woodward noted that “Exit polls taken in November 2016 showed that four out of five white Evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump—despite his long history of philandering and his manifest lack of character. More than one newspaper editorial asked: Does this vote not demonstrate the moral hypocrisy of white Evangelical voters?” Woodward doesn’t define who qualifies as a Christian, and uses John Green’s estimate that “no more than 17 persent of adult Americans now qualify as ‘religiously committed,’ with roughly 20 percent of adult Americans identifying as Nones with no religious affiliation or identity. Woodward notes “the peril of assuming that religion can be politically significant in a society that isn’t all that religious in the first place.”
As for churches, Woodward asserts that “many Evangelical pastors tend to be individualistic religious entrepreneurs, building up church membership the way salesmen build a customer base. This gives them a professional affinity with free-enterprise capitalism, and therefore with classic Republican principles. But for that very reason they are wary of preaching politics: they do not want to divide their congregations.” Woodward could say the same for pastors in mainline white Christian churches. They have put the popularity of the church over the moral teachings of Jesus, or discipleship. Woodward erroneously limits Christians to the 17% who are “religiously committed;” but over 70% of Americans claim to be Christians, and their vast diversity defies any limitation based on who are “religiously committed”. The fact that mainline Christian churches don’t make any distinction between the moral teachings of Jesus and the distorted doctrines of the prosperity gospel associated with Trump supporters is damning. Muslims have a similar problem and cannot exclude radical Islamists like those in al Quada and ISIS from Islam. See https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/religion-presidential-politics?utm_source=Main+Reader
As we approach our 2020 elections, it’s useful to recall the events leading up to the 1933 elections in Germany. There was a fire in the German Reichstag, its parliament building, six days before the 1933 elections. “The Reichstag Fire Decree was issued by German President Paul von Hindenburg on the advice of Chancellor Adolf Hitler on 28 February 1933 in immediate response to the Reichstag fire. The decree nullified many of the key civil liberties of German citizens. With Nazis in powerful positions in the German government, the decree was used as the legal basis for the imprisonment of anyone considered to be opponents of the Nazis, and to suppress publications not considered "friendly" to the Nazi cause. The decree is considered by historians as one of the key steps in the establishment of a one-party Nazi state in Germany. Göring issued a directive to the Prussian police authorities on 3 March, stating that in addition to the constitutional rights stripped by the decree, "all other restraints on police action imposed by Reich and State law" were abolished "so far as this is necessary … to achieve the purpose of the decree."
The Reichstag Fire Decree remained in force for the duration of the Nazi era, allowing Hitler to rule under what amounted to martial law. Along with the Enabling Act, it formed the legal basis for Hitler's dictatorship. The Nazis' use of the Reichstag Fire Decree to give their dictatorship the appearance of legality, combined with the broader misuse of Article 48, was fresh on the minds of framers of the postwar Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany. They opted to significantly curb the powers of the president, to the point that he has little de facto executive power.” See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reichstag_Fire_Decree#:~:text=The%20Reichstag%20Fire%20Decree%20remained,legal%20basis%20for%20Hitler's%20dictatorship.
In 1933 Germany was the most Christian nation in Europe; and like Trump in America today, Hitler and his Nationalist Socialist (Nazi) Party had the support of most Christians in 1933. See HansTiefel, The German Lutheran Church and the Rise of National Socialism at htttps://www.jstor.org/stable/3164219?read-now=1&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents, Church History, Vol. 41, No. 3 (Sep., 1972), pp. 326-336 (11 pages), Cambridge University Press.