Saturday, November 28, 2020

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Thanksgiving

    By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Religion, Legitimacy and Politics are in disarray this Thanksgiving.  In spite of our dysfunctional religions and politics, I’m truly thankful for the 78 years of my life, my family, and for the opportunity to live in these crazy times.  I’ve had many blessings in a fascinating life and cling to the hope that we will find solutions for our many problems in the future.

It brings to mind the South Carolina motto: Dum Spiro Spero: While I breathe, I hope.  Hope can keep us going even when our expectations are low.  I remain hopeful rather than optimistic that the church can be reborn to promote a politics of reconciliation based on the altruistic moral teachings of Jesus so that we can heal the deep divisions in our partisan politics.

I’m not a Democrat or a Republican.  I’m an independent centrist who believes that there is a spiritual power beyond all powers that can enable us to overcome our human depravity and sustain our failing democracy.  How can we begin to turn our hope into expectations this Thanksgiving?  We must find common political values with those whose values are diametrically opposed to ours.

Those common values should begin with the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves.  It’s taken from the Hebrew Bible, was taught by Jesus and has been affirmed by Islamic scholars as a common word of faith.  In politics that translates into providing for the common good.

President-Elect Biden and I are the same age, and we’re both hopeful that Americans will support a politics of reconciliation.  In a democracy we’re masters of our political destiny, and Trump’s attempts to reverse the election show him to be an enemy of democracy.  To promote a politics of reconciliation, both parties need to support our constitutional democracy.

We have a long way to go.  The elections of 2020 will evict Trump from the White House, but intractable divisions remain in our polarized partisan politics.  Political reconciliation doesn’t require conformity in our politics, only on compatible political values.  Disagreement is expected, but America needs consensus on the values of political legitimacy to sustain its democracy. 

Most of us will spend Thanksgiving and Christmas self-quarantined from our loved ones, but we can give thanks for the blessings of our democracy by sharing a commitment to the altruistic values needed to preserve our democracy.  The fabric of our democracy came apart in the political polarization that led to the Civil War, and we can’t allow that to happen again.

This holiday season, let’s give thanks for our freedom and democracy by seeking to restore political legitimacy in America with a politics of reconciliation.  It must begin with seeking peace within ourselves, and then seeking reconciliation with our neighbors based on common altruistic values.  American democracy cannot withstand our continuing partisan hostility.     

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Democracy Has Survived Donald Trump, But Can the Church Survive Democracy?

     By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Democracy survived Donald Trump in the 2020 election, but it’s doubtful that the church can survive democracy.  The church in its myriad forms remains a popular social institution, and most Americans claim to be Christians; but in America’s materialistic and hedonistic culture the church no longer promotes the altruistic moral teachings of Jesus in politics--if it ever did.      

The 2020 elections revealed two Americas that are hostile to each other, and the church has failed its mission to promote a politics of reconciliation.  It has left a moral vacuum filled by divisive distortions of Christianity like the prosperity gospel.  A consensus on the fundamental values of political legitimacy is needed to preserve the fabric of American democracy.  

The altruistic greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, including those of other races and religions, was taken from the Hebrew Bible, was taught by Jesus and accepted as a common word of faith by Muslim scholars.  For the church to be resurrected, it must promote a politics of reconciliation based on this common word of faith.             

God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer.  But Satan has done a convincing imitation of God in the church and in politics, and is winning the popularity contest between the forces of good and evil in democracy.  The church lost its credibility and legitimacy by failing to promote God’s will with a politics of reconciliation.

Both politics and religion thrive on popularity in America’s democracy, and the divisive, callous and vulgar politics of Trumpism have superseded the altruistic and reconciling teachings of Jesus.  Trump had almost seven million more votes in 2020 than in 2016; only a record turnout saved American democracy from demise under another four years of a Trump regime.  

But even without Trump, Trumpism remains a vital force in politics.  While his egregious immorality is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus, Trump reshaped the Republican Party and most white Christians voted for him in 2020.  Few church pulpits spoke out against the divisive evils of Trump before the 2020 election, and that cost the church its credibility and legitimacy.

Four years of Trump’s divisive politics did not diminish his Christian supporters.  Today there are even more Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, committed to radical-right Trump nationalism.  Militant white evangelicals recently formed the Patriot Church to confirm their faith with misguided patriotism.  Partisan division and hatred have become pervasive in America.    

In spite of the dismal trends in Christianity, there are glimmers of hope that a remnant of the church can give it a new spiritual birth.  Jesus has been crucified on the altar of partisan politics in America’s materialistic and hedonistic democracy, but his universal and altruistic teachings to reconcile and redeem humans from their depravity will never die.  Thanks be to God!


Michael Gerson has asserted a massive failure of character among Republicans--with evangelicals out in front.How could such a thing happen in the GOP? It is the culmination of Trump’s influence among Republicans, and among White evangelical Christians in particular. Their main justification for supporting Trump — that the president’s character should be ignored in favor of his policies — has become a serious danger to the republic. Trump never even presented the pretense of good character. His revolt against the establishment was always a revolt against the ethical ground rules by which the establishment played.Republicans accepted it as part of the Trump package. And some of his most fervent defenses came from White evangelicals.  ...Two lessons can be drawn from the Republican failure of moral judgment. First, democracy is an inherently moral enterprise. And second, U.S. politics would be better off if White evangelicals consistently applied their moral tradition to public life. Not only Christians, of course, can stand for integrity. But consider what would happen if White evangelicals insisted on supporting honest, compassionate, decent, civil, self-controlled men and women for office. The alternative is our current reality, in which evangelicals have often been a malicious and malignant influence in U.S. politics.”


Dana Milbank has described Trump’s racial appeals as a White evangelical tsunami.  “White evangelicals are only 15 percent of the population, but seems clear that White evangelicals maintained the roughly 26 percent proportion of the electorate they’ve occupied since 2008, even though their proportion of the population has steadily shrunk from 21 percent in 2008.  Because they maintained their roughly 80 percent support for Republicans (76 percent and 81 percent in the two exit polls) of recent years, it also means some 40 percent of Trump voters came from a group that is only 15 percent of America. There is vanishingly little that Democrats (or Republicans, for that matter) can do to persuade voters to switch sides, because race, and views on race, are the most important factors determining how people vote. Add to the White evangelicals’ turnout the votes of the smaller proportions of White mainline Protestants and Catholics with high levels of racial resentment, as defined by the American Values Survey, and you’ve accounted for the bulk of Trump’s coalition.”  See

On the UNHOLY GOSPEL: How deep state, deep church, QAnon and Trumpism have infected the Catholic Church. Massimo Faggioli cites Mark Noll’s, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, “I think it’s the beginning of a trajectory that is likely, unfortunately, to make the Catholic Church in the U.S. what happened to white evangelicals over the last 40, 50 years—placing the deep feeling of their theological tradition at the service of nationalism and now ethnic–racial nationalism. Which means Catholicism will no longer define itself by a series of texts, positions, and international connections, but on the basis of party affiliation and ideological adhesion to a libertarian view of the economy, where you deserve what you get and you get what you deserve.”  And so, beside a global Catholic Church, it would become something separate: isolated, angry, and alone, shouting accusations into the air.” See   

Anabaptists are the remnant  of the church that could save it from moral irrelevance.  The six denominations of the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. (MCC) has issued a statement that concludes with  “three steps for “reorienting ourselves toward compassion and away from judgment”: 

  • Restate our primary commitment to God above earthly kingdoms. 

  • Follow Jesus, practicing reconciliation, humility, nonviolence, unity and peace

  • Ask for the Spirit’s guidance in our interactions within our families, churches, society and world.” 


On the rise of ”Patriot Churches,” see


Related Commentary on the future of a church that has lost its moral compass:

(1/28/17): Saving America from the Church

(3/18/17): Moral Ambiguity in Religion and Politics

(4/15/17): Easter and the Christian Paradox

(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

(7/22/17): Hell No!

(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism

(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion

(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy?

(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

(7/14/18): Musings on Why Christians Should Put Moral Standards Over Mystical Beliefs

(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

(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

(11/3/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist: Has God Blessed Us or Damned Us?

(12/1/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Mystical Logos

(12/15/18): Musings on the Great Commission and Religious and Political Tribalism

(12/22/18): Musings on Faith and Works: The Unity of All Believers and The Last Judgment

(2/9/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Hypocrisy of American Christianity

(3/9/19): Musings on the Degradation of Democracy in a Post-Christian America

(3/9/19): Musings on the Degradation of Democracy in a Post-Christian America

(5/11/19): Musings on the Relevance of Jefferson’s Jesus in the 21st Century

(6/8/19): The Moral Failure of the Church to Promote Altruism in Politics

(6/15/19): Back to the Future: A 21st Century Pentecost for the Church

(6/22/19): The Universal Family of God: Where Inclusivity Trumps Exclusivity

(8/3/19): Musings on the Dismal Future of  the Church and Democracy in America

(9/7/19): Musings on the Self-Destruction of Christianity and American Democracy

(12/28/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the End as a New Beginning

(1/11/20): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christians as a Moral Minority

(2/1/20): Musings on the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Altar of Partisan Politics

(6/13/20): Was Jesus the Prophet of the Gospels or the Christ of the Church?

(7/18/20): Musings on Atheism and Religion and Living Life to the Full

Friday, November 13, 2020

Musings on Irreconcilable Differences in American Politics

      By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

The 2020 election confirmed that the partisan hostility and hate in American politics has not diminished.  In marriage a divorce can resolve such irreconcilable differences, but not in politics.  A politics of reconciliation requires minimizing partisan hostility in Congress, and one way to do that is to shift the center of gravity in American politics from Washington to the states.

The Constitution supports a devolution of legislative power to the states.  The Tenth Amendment affirms that the states retain all powers not delegated to the United States.  Partisan politics at the state level are less divisive than those in Congress.  They are more bottom-up than top-down, and limit a concentration of political power in Washington.

Having elected a president, Democrats are heady about pushing their liberal agenda, but they’re not likely to pass much of it with a new Congress that’s split between conservatives and liberals.  Most state legislatures are more moderate than Congress and can continue to make progress on major issues, while Congress remains gridlocked in partisan debate.  

To restore a functioning Congress the states must assume more responsibility for contentious legislation on education, law enforcement, housing, health care and abortion.  That would leave Congress with fewer partisan national issues, like those related to foreign policy, national defense, immigration, interstate commerce and Social Security.

Restoring an emphasis on law-making at the state level is not a partisan issue and is consistent with bringing governance closer to the people.  Federalism was a political priority in the 1970s and 1980s with revenue sharing.  The new Congress should emphasize a new federalism to counter partisan polarization and promote a politics of reconciliation.

Those in Congress committed to follow their national party leaders will likely resist sharing control of important legislation with states, where national partisan control is minimal.  Partisan polarization has debilitated Congress, making it an existential issue in American democracy; and a new federalism could revive the long lost spirit of compromise in Congress.

A new federalism emphasizing state legislation on domestic issues that defy resolution in Congress, like those on gun control and abortion, would not divest Congress of its legislative power.  It would provide more options for legislative priorities, and remind Americans that their  democracy is a federal system with power shared by the states and the national government. 

Donald Trump will be evicted from the White House in January, but partisan polarization will continue to unravel the fabric of America’s democracy unless it’s countered by a politics of reconciliation.  That will require a new federalism that enables state governments to fulfill the legislative priorities of a dysfunctional Congress that’s paralyzed by partisan polarization.


Michael Luo has observed that the work of saving democracy must go on after Trump. “In the end, bigotry, mendacity, and narcissism lost. Decency and reason won. Despite Donald Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the election results, after four chaotic years, the country will escape the ordeal of his Presidency. Seventy-seven million people voted for Joe Biden, the most ever for a Presidential candidate—an estimable accomplishment in the face of an incumbent President. The 2020 election, however, failed to produce a thoroughgoing repudiation of Trumpism and its race-based, grievance-driven brand of politics. Even amid a devastating pandemic and economic downturn, roughly seventy-two million Americans voted for the President, nine million more than voted for him in 2016. 

Biden, in his victory speech on Saturday, in Wilmington, Delaware, pledged “to be a President who seeks not to divide but to unify, who doesn’t see red states and blue states, only sees the United States.” It is a message he staked his campaign on and now plans to make a central theme of his Presidency. “We have to stop treating our opponents as our enemies,” he said on Saturday. “They are not our enemies. They are Americans.” He is hardly the first politician to make such an appeal, and Republicans, inevitably, will view him as an avatar of the Party they loathe. But ordinary citizens, conveying Biden’s sentiment to their friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members, might actually succeed in rekindling an American identity that is resolute against intolerance and injustice, promotes inclusion and respect for all, and brings us closer to the ideal of one nation, indivisible.  See

Bill McCormack, S.J. has noted that Joe Biden said now is the time to heal.  But what if Americans don’t want reconciliatio?  McCormack went on to explain, “It is a common trope that the nation must transcend its divisions after a presidential election, that we need to achieve unity in order to face the challenges of the future. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. said in his first speech after being declared the winner: ‘We are not enemies. We are Americans. This is the time to heal in America.’

But this election felt different for many Americans. The country was divided to the point that few were surprised by reports of family members cutting each other out of their lives.

David Roberts, a writer for Vox, suggested: “Instead of ‘reaching out,’ why don’t we take this opportunity to make very clear that racism, xenophobia, and authoritarianism are repugnant to a decent society. When someone expresses racism, xenophobia, or authoritarianism in public, they SHOULD face backlash.” U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, was not ready to forgive and forget, tweeting, “Is anyone archiving these Trump sycophants for when they try to downplay or deny their complicity in the future?”

Perhaps Mr. Biden was wrong, and this is not the time for healing.

It can be unclear what the political elite means by words like reconciliation or unity. But Christians know that the aim of reconciliation is peace, the shalom or eirene that instantiates and points toward the kingdom of God. As Mr. Daniel Philpott writes, reconciliation fundamentally “restores and promotes the common good,” an effort made possible both by God as author of the covenant with his people and humans as God’s cooperators.

This is a beautiful image of reconciliation. But it also confronts us with some less-than-beautiful realities. If Christians are not oriented toward the kingdom of God, then they will not be able to participate in the work of reconciliation at its most profound levels. And if one discerns that others are not oriented toward the kingdom, perhaps attempts to reconcile with them are impossible or even wrong. See ”

Philip Kennicott seesTrumpism as a lifestyle disease, chronic in America. “No matter what happens to Donald Trump or who assumes the presidency in January, we can say this: He brought the truth of America to the surface. I’ll leave his policies and his politics — to the extent that he ever had policies or coherent politics — to the pundits. As a critic, I can say that he embodied, embraced or inflamed almost everything ugly in American culture, past, present and perhaps future. He made it palpable and tangible even to people inclined to see the bright side of everything. That this week’s election wasn’t a repudiation of Trumpism, that some 6 million more Americans believe in it now compared with four years ago, is horrifying. But it’s also reality, and it’s always best to face reality.

Trumpism is embedded in America and can be fought only through rigorous self-discipline, through constant surveillance of the thoughts we think, the words we use and the assumptions we make. There was white supremacy before we started thinking of it as Trumpism, but before Trump, there also was a tendency to think of it as “out there” rather than “in here.” Now we know it not as a perverse blemish on American culture but as foundational to American culture. That’s progress.

On a summer morning in 1861, holiday makers, the picnic crowd, the Washington swells went out to the For now, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s election is what we have in lieu of miracles and healing wells. We’ll have to see if that’s enough.battlefield at Manassas to watch a quick and decisive battle bring an end to the Civil War. Head east past the battlefield on Interstate 66 and you’re roughly retracing the holiday crowd’s steps when they fled back to Washington in panic and disorder after Confederate troops routed Union forces. Some of them, safe again in the nation’s capital, were perhaps slightly less ignorant about the magnitude of the war that awaited them.

Disillusionment isn’t an event — it’s a process. It doesn’t arrive and do its work all at once, like an epiphany. It is a way of living, a perpetual vigilance, a habit of mind. We may wish that Trumpism could be defeated, like an external enemy. But reality requires that we think of it as a chronic condition of American public life — not a virus that can be quarantined and perhaps cured, but a lifestyle disease rooted in sedentary thinking.”  See

Michael Gerson sees this election as a reflection of who we are as a country.  “Politics has become a function of culture. A factual debate can be adjudicated. Policy differences can be compromised. Even an ideological conflict can be bridged or transcended. But if our differences are an expression of our identities — rural vs. urban, religious vs. secular, nationalist vs. cosmopolitan — then political loss threatens a whole way of life.

Donald Trump was elected to the office once held by Thomas Jefferson because he understood or intuited the cultural nature of American politics. His 2016 election was proof that a presidential candidate can win without proposing specific policies. His 2020 campaign was proof that an incumbent can nearly win reelection without having performed basic public duties. Policy and performance are irrelevant when there is only one political question: Is he on our side in the great cultural conflict? 

Any political system that preempts the Golden Rule is an attack on the ideal of human equality at the foundation of democracy. If we hold to constitutional values, dehumanization is a dangerous and discrediting form of hypocrisy.

In a divided nation, Americans need to defend a space in their lives where cable news does not reach, where social media does not incite, and where the basic, natural tendency is to treat other people like human beings. This offers not just the prospect of greater tolerance, but the hope of healing. See

Alyssa Rosenberg reported that after the election Kamala Harris invoked joy, Joe Biden asked for reconciliation.  Can they get both?  “For many Americans, the idea of joy is not exactly compatible with the prospect of a return to the way things were, and reconciliation seems highly dubious.”  See

For previous commentary on states rights and the future of democracy, see Musings on Megalomania, States Rights and the Future of Democracy (#282, 4/18/2020) at