Saturday, April 24, 2021

How a Failing Church Could Help Reconcile America's Polarized Politics

    By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Last week’s commentary was on the future of the church.  This week it’s about how a fading White church could help reconcile America’s polarized politics.  Following Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority in the 1980s, the White church became increasingly complicit with Republicans, culminating in the 2016 election of Donald Trump.  Since then it’s all been downhill.

American Christians can be considered color-coded by both partisan politics and race.   Most White Christians are red (Republicans) while most Black Christians are blue (Democrats).  White churches are fading while Black churches seem to be holding their own.  Most churches remain segregated by race and partisan politics--all the more reason for them to be reconciled.

The increasing disillusionment of White Christians with their churches relates to the failure of the church to challenge the egregious immorality of radical right Republican politics.  While there are fewer Christians loyal to Republican politics, they haven’t become loyal to leftist Democratic politics.  Where are those who have left the church gravitating in their politics?

Most who have left the church have not given up their faith, but become independent voters motivated by the altruistic morality taught by Jesus.  It’s summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves.  Those displaced Christians could help reconcile America’s polarized politics.

The church has long been divided into myriad denominations, but it has never been as polarized by partisan politics as it has since 2016.  Restoring the credibility and legitimacy of the church will require giving primacy to following the teachings of Jesus over promoting exclusivist church beliefs.  If that happens there will be positive political consequences.

     The future of Christianity and American democracy depend on restoring altruistic moral values as standards of political legitimacy.  Until 2016, the altruistic and universal teachings of Jesus provided those values, but no longer.  Both political parties are now exploiting a moral vacuum in political legitimacy by promoting divisive partisan values.

     To overcome America’s polarized partisan politics, one or both parties must revive the tradition to cross the aisle and compromise on contentious issues.  Alternatively, a third party could become a reconciling political force.  If America’s two-party duopoly is left to its existing political inertia, it will remain polarized, with little chance of reconciliation.

The demise of a church that has lost its moral compass could ironically be the catalyst that saves American democracy from the tyranny of an immoral majority.  As the moral vacuum in the church becomes more evident it will wither and die as a major force in politics.  If so, a reborn Christianity and democracy could rise Phoenix-like from the ashes of the church.


Suggesting that fading churches could help reconcile America’s polarized politics is just another way of saying that most churches have promoted polarized politics by their failure to criticize egregious and divisive popular demagogues like Donald Trump.  Since its inception, the church has measured its success by its popularity and power, and in its zeal to gain converts it has subordinated following the moral teachings of Jesus (discipleship) to worshiping Jesus as the alter ego of God--even though Jesus never suggested that he was divine.  Exclusivist church doctrines that make belief in a divine Jesus Christ the only means of salvation are a means of cheap grace since they avoid the cost of discipleship.  If the past is a prelude to the future, the church is not likely to change its doctrinal priorities from worshiping Christ to following Jesus. See Robin R. Meyers, Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus, Harper One, 2009.

The Phoenix is a mythological bird of ancient Greek origin associated with the sun, and said to be born again, rising from its ashes.  “Over time, extending beyond its origins, the phoenix could variously ‘symbolize renewal in general as well as the sun, time, the Empire, metempsychosis, consecration, resurrection, life in the heavenly Paradise, Christ, Mary, virginity, the exceptional man, and certain aspects of Christian life’. Some scholars have claimed that the poem De ave phoenice may present the mythological phoenix motif as a symbol of Christ's resurrection.”  See Wikipedia, at


Saturday, April 17, 2021

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Future of the Church

    By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Adam Russell Taylor has asserted that It’s TIme to Rethink American Churches, but he may be a day late and a dollar short to save the church from its demise.  The church is in a precipitous decline, much like that experienced by the European church.  While It’s not going away anytime soon, the church is losing its influence as America’s largest social institution.

Taylor acknowledged that “Americans’ membership in houses of worship has fallen below 50 percent for the first time in 80 years,” and cited David Campbell describing the decline of the church as an “allergic reaction to the religious right.”  Taylor said he “has often wondered why so many evangelical leaders have failed  to challenge the unholy marriage between the church and Republican Party, enabling destructive forces to hijack the gospel.”

Taylor correctly identified the root problem of the church as its failure to make the great commission “to go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:10) its first priority.  Instead of emphasizing following the teachings of Jesus as the word of God, church doctrine has emphasized worshiping Jesus Christ as a Trinitarian form of God as the only means of salvation.

Jesus was a rabbi who called his disciples to follow him, not to worship him.  He never taught that he was divine or suggested the need for a new religion.  Early church leaders knew that discipleship was not popular and made salvation dependent on exclusivist Christian beliefs.  As a form of cheap grace it enabled Christianity to become the world’s most popular religion.


The nadir of Christianity came when a majority of White Christians elected Donald Trump president in 2016.  Trump’s egregious immorality is antithetical to the moral teachings of Jesus, but he was elected with the active support of shameless White evangelical charlatans and their followers.  They sullied Christianty and polarized American partisan politics.

The standards of political legitimacy of most White Christians today resemble the self-centered and materialistic morality of Ayn Rand and the prosperity gospel, and contradict the altruistic moral teachings of Jesus.  In effect, those Christians who supported Donald Trump sacrificed Jesus on the altar of Republican politics, and sounded the death knell of the church.

Most pastors would concede that their top priority is growing the church, and that making discipleship and the stewardship of democracy a church priority would cause a decline in their  congregations.  That makes Taylor’s rethinking the church problematic.  The ugly reality is that discipleship will never be popular in America’s materialistic and hedonistic culture.  

Robin Meyers is more pragmatic.  The title of his book, Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus, summarizes how would-be disciples should rethink the church.  But Meyers’ priority is not likely to ever become the priority of a church that’s committed to being America’s most popular and powerful social institution.


On Adam Russell Taylor’s Time to Rethink the American Church, see

See Robin R. Meyers, Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus, HarperOne, 2009.   

On other commentaries on The Future of the Church that has lost its moral compass, see

(2/8/15): Promoting Religion Through Evangelism: Bringing Light or Darkness?

(2/15/15): Is Religion Good or Evil?

(4/5/15): Seeing the Resurrection in a New Light

(4/19/15): Jesus: A Prophet, God’s Only Son, or the Logos

(10/4/15): Faith and Religion: The Same but Different

(7/9/16): Back to the Future: Race, Religion, Rights and a Politics of Reconciliation

(8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide

(9/17/16): A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics

(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

(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

(4/29/17): A Wesleyan Alternative for an Irrelevant Church

(6/24/17): The Evolution of Religion, Politics and Law: Back to the Future?

(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?

(3/3/18): Musings of a Maveri

ck Methodist on America’s Holy War

(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

(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

(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

(3/2/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Post-Christian America

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

(3/16/19): Musings on the Evolution of Christian Exclusivism to Universalism

(3/23/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Thinking Outside the Box

(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

(6/15/19): 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

(8/10/19): Musings on Christian Nationalism: A Plague on the Church and Democracy

(8/31/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Politics of Christian Zionism

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

(9/21/19): An Afterword on Religion, Legitimacy and Politics from 2014-2019

(10/5/19): Musings on the Moral Relevance of Jesus to Democracy

(11/9/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Virtual Alternative to a Failing Church

(11/16/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Irrelevance of Morality in Politics

(11/23/19): Musings on Jesus and Christ as Conflicting Concepts in Christianity

(12/7/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religious Triumphalism and Politics

(12/14/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Prophets, Scripture and God’s Truth

(12/21/19): Musings on Advent and a Not-so-Merry Christmas for American Democracy

(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?

(11/21/20): Democracy Has Survived Donald Trump, but Can the Church Survive Democracy?

(2/20/21): The Moral Corruption of Christianity and Democracy in the Trump Era

(3/20/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Radical Moral Teachings of Jesus

(3/27/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Civil Religion in a Divided America

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Musings on a New Enlightenment and the Reinvention of American Democracy

    By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

President Biden is leading the efforts of Democrats to go big and reinvent democracy with a paper-thin majority in Congress.  The Biden Bill would add $Trillions to a massive national debt for infrastructure projects and the expansion of social programs; but after Trump neutered the Republican Party, there’s no constructive partisan opposition in Congress.

The Biden Bill would transform American political culture from its emphasis on individual rights to the more socialist norms of European democracy.  If there is no national consensus for the Biden bill and Congress fails to provide the tax revenues needed to pay for its political largesse, it would increase an already massive national debt and undermine America's stability.

America’s deteriorating roads, bridges, rail system and utilities need repair; but before expanding social programs on the heels of extensive pandemic relief, Biden should consider regulating and taxing the super-rich on Wall Street who control America’s means of production and have created disparities of wealth that have depleted the American middle class.

Providing needed infrastructure repairs and adequate regulation of mega-corporations should have a national consensus and bipartisan support.  But a polarized Congress and expiring caps on government spending could allow Democrats to reshape American democracy in the image of their partisan priorities overnight.  That would be a mistake.

The radical components and massive cost of the Biden Bill are akin to a reinvention of American democracy based on the leftist political values of a new Enlightenment.  It deserves a national debate and bipartisan consideration before it’s enacted, and that should come after the 2022 elections when hopefully some partisan balance will be restored in Congress.

The 18th century Enlightenment shaped American democracy with libertarian ideals based on advances in knowledge and reason.  After almost 3 centuries of America’s great experiment with democracy it’s time for a 21st century Enlightenment to reset America’s standards of political legitimacy based on advances in knowledge, reason, and wisdom.

Knowledge, reason and wisdom have been nullified in America’s polarized partisan politics.  Even common sense has been lost in the vast chasm between right-wing Republicans who want to preserve the past against any progressive change and left-wing Democrats who want to eliminate past traditions with their radical progressive ideals.  

America needs to balance its obsession with individual rights with providing for the common good; but that doesn’t require mortgaging its future to pay for the socialist excesses of the Biden Bill.  Before America reinvents its democracy with the Biden bill, a new Enlightenment is needed to affirm America’s new political priorities; and that requires a national consensus based on public debate and bipartisan consideration.


Tony Romm has opined that Biden’s bill reflects Democrats’ bigger role for government.  “The proposed Biden bill reflects a broad political shift underway in Washington, where Democratic leaders have sought to capitalize on their 2020 election victories to advance once dormant policy priorities and unwind years of budget cuts under administrations past. The forthcoming infrastructure and budget proposals showcase Democrats’ broader desire to rethink the role of the federal government over the course of his presidency. Biden linked his philosophy to the massive anti-poverty campaign waged by President Lyndon B. Johnson about six decades ago.  ‘It’s critical to demonstrate that government can function and deliver prosperity, security and opportunity for the people in this country,’ Biden said. But his ambitions largely rest in the hands of Congress, where Democrats maintain only a faint, sometimes politically fractious majority — and Republicans have sounded early notes of opposition to his approach. ‘I’m very disappointed with what I’m reading,’ Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), the top Republican on the chamber’s Environment and Public Works Committee, told reporters last week. ‘I think we need to talk to the American people and say, ‘Is this what you envision with infrastructure? Are these job creators? Are we re-engineering our own social fabric here with a 50-vote majority? The Biden bill is likely to face a resurgence in criticism about the perils of excessive spending — and the long-term consequences of an unmanaged federal debt.  Democratic lawmakers say they anticipate the first Biden budget is expected to include new increases in domestic spending, as Democrats seek to rejuvenate federal agencies that have lost employees and capacity while tackling new challenges,  including the coronavirus pandemic and climate change. For the first time in a decade, though, Congress and the White House are not constrained by across-the-board spending caps, which lawmakers imposed starting in 2011 in an attempt to reduce the deficit.” See

Ishaaan Tharoor has related Biden’s bill to the waning of the neoliberal era.   For much of his political career, President Biden was a custodian of the “neoliberal” order. He was a fixture in a Washington establishment that promoted years of economic globalization and, like political elites in many other countries, embraced the apparent virtues of free trade and fiscal responsibility. Though he often invoked his blue-collar American roots, Biden was a standard-bearer for a brand of “third way” centrist politics that scoffed at class wars and allied itself to Wall Street. As vice president, he stood behind a post-financial crisis recovery that critics argue was inadequate and boosted wealthy and corporate interests over those of the majority of Americans. But in the first few months of his presidency, Biden is cutting a dramatically different figure. After Congress passed his administration’s mammoth $1.9 trillion pandemic stimulus, Biden introduced an even more ambitious legislative plan to overhaul the nation’s infrastructure, create million of new jobs and better align the economy to reckon with the imperatives of climate change — all to the tune of perhaps $4 trillion in spending over the next decade. ‘It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” Biden said of his proposed legislation on Wednesday. ‘It’s a once-in-a-generation investment in America unlike anything we’ve seen or done since we built the interstate highway system.’” See

Dominico Montanaro of NPR sees Biden with his Legacy in mind seeking a U.S. transformation. “While Biden says he hopes to negotiate with Republicans in good faith, he’s not waiting around.  ‘We will not be open to doing nothing,’ the president said. ‘Inaction, simply, is not an option.’  Translation: Get on board or step aside. This Biden technique is one former Gov. Howard Dean, D-Vt., recently described to Politico as ‘smiling as he steamrolls.’ 

Republicans don't see Biden as willing to come around to their positions and say he is instead paying lip service to bipartisanship with the intention of forcing through partisan legislation. 

Biden has said, "We're at an inflection point in American democracy.  This is a moment where we prove whether or not democracy can deliver."  Montaro added, “And whether or not he can, too.”  See

George Scialabba has considered the mediocrity produced by democracy in the context of a new Enlightenment.  He begins with Nietzsche’s parable of the last man: “Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming. ...Behold, I show you the last man.  “What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?” the last man asks, and he blinks.... “We have invented happiness,” say the last men, and they blink.” Scialabba uses  ‘democracy’ to mean the whole Enlightenment program: not just political equality but also feminism, pacifism, human rights, and the welfare state, along with a chastened belief in, and modest hopes for, moral and material progress.  Scialabba cites De Tocqueville, John Stuart Mill, Richard Rorty, William James, D.H. Lawrence, Christopher Lasch and Steve Fraser on the nature of democracy; and Scialabba agrees with Rorty’s “admirably forthright solution to the supposed dilemma of democratic mediocrity,  ‘even if the typical character types of liberal democracies are bland, calculating, petty, and unheroic, the prevalence of such people may be a reasonable price to pay for political freedom.’” See