Saturday, June 25, 2022

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Church and the Greatest Commandment

             By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

The church in its myriad forms is the institutional face of Christianity, and the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves summarizes the teachings of Jesus.  It was taken from the Hebrew Bible and taught by Jesus, and is accepted by Islamic scholars as a common word of faith.  But what does it mean, and who are our neighbors? 

     Our neighbors include those of other races and religions, and those we would rather ignore; and in politics loving them means providing for the common good and protecting all of them from those who would do them harm.  God is love, and God’s reconciling love can make all of us spiritual brothers and sisters in the universal family of God. (I John 4:16-21)

Religion complicates this moral imperative of faith with conflicting standards of belief and morality.  Jesus was a Jew who never promoted any religion, not even his own.  He spoke of a coming kingdom of God that was not of this world and was bigger than any religion; and he once described the faith of a pagan Roman centurion as “greater than any in Israel.” (Mt 8:5-12)  


The teachings of Jesus are timeless and universal truths that conflict with exclusivist Christian beliefs in the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.  Those creeds are speculations of mystical beliefs by early church fathers that ignore the moral teachings of Jesus and assert that belief in Jesus Christ as a Trinitarian form of God is the only means of salvation.  

The altruistic moral teachings of Jesus are relevant to our politics, even though Jesus never mentioned democracy or individual rights, since they were irrelevant to his time and place.  Christian nationalism is a toxic form of Christianity that equates love of God with love of country.  It’s prevalent in both America and Russia, and should be condemned by the church.

Christianity remains the world’s largest religion; but in America it’s in decline, and the election of 2016 confirmed that the church has lost its moral compass.  Most churches have become irrelevant in politics.  To avoid controversy they fail to relate the moral teachings of Jesus to politics, and have become little more than sacred social clubs.

The declining popularity of the church indicates it will not likely be a meaningful agent of political change in the future.  Even so, the church will continue to be a place where Christians meet and eat and are affirmed by their pastors to be God’s people based on their exclusivist beliefs, even if they ignore the moral imperative to love God and their neighbors in their politics.

History has proven the teachings of Jesus to be a timeless and universal statement of God’s truth,  It affirms God’s will to reconcile and redeem humanity, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer.  But Satan does a convincing imitation of God in politics and the church, and the rise of Christian nationalism is evidence that Satan is winning the popularity contest in the cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil.


On the greatest commandment, see The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith (1/11/15)


On Christian nationalism The Guardian has reported, A growing number of prominent Christian leaders are sounding alarms about threats to democracy posed by ReAwaken America rallies where Donald Trump loyalists Michael Flynn and Roger Stone and rightwing pastors have spread misinformation about the 2020 elections and Covid-19 vaccines, and distorted Christian teachings. The falsehoods pushed at ReAwaken gatherings have prompted some Christian leaders to warn that America’s political and spiritual health is threatened by a toxic mix of Christian nationalism, lies about Trump’s loss to Joe Biden, and ahistorical views of the nation’s founding principle of the separation of church and state. Several well-known Christian leaders, including the president of the Christian social justice group Sojourners and the executive director of a major Baptist group, have called on American churches to speak out against the messages promoted at ReAwaken America rallies that have been held in Oklahoma, Arizona, Texas, California, South Carolina and other states.

Other tour rallies, some of which have been held in religious spaces, are slated for New York and Virginia this summer and some local Christian leaders are being encouraged to publicly voice concerns about the dangerous rhetoric and messages they convey. ‘This ReAwaken tour is peddling dangerous lies about both the election and the pandemic,’ Adam Russell Taylor, the president of Sojourners, told the Guardian. ‘Jesus taught us that the truth will set us free, and these lies hold people captive to these dangerous falsehoods. They also exacerbate the toxic polarization we’re seeing in both the church and the wider society.’ Taylor added he was deeply concerned about “a conflation between Christianity and a nationalistic form of patriotism” at the “tour rallies which are promoting a more overt form of Christian nationalism”.  See

Previous commentary on Christian  nationalism:

(4/12/19): Musings on Religion, Nationalism and Libertarian Democracy

(7/13/19): Musings on Sovereignty and Conflicting Loyalties to God and Country  

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

(5/22/21): Musings on Morality and Politics and the Need for a Civil Religion in America html.

(3/26/22): Musings on Civil Religion, Christian Nationalism, and Cancel Culture in America and Russia

Fifty years after publishing his book, What to Believe? Carl Krieg has considered “three different moral attitudes about believing in God--that the universe is either moral, immoral or amoral.  Krieg has rejected concepts of an immoral or amoral world, and still believes that despite all the moral anomalies, that somehow, some way, sometime and somewhere,  God makes it right in a moral universe.”  But Krieg says “the line dividing people is not whether they believe in God or not, but whether they are loving or not.” See

Bishop Spong has described Christian creeds as “propositional statements” of religious belief that “are little more than idolatry, and at best only pointers to the mystery of God.”  Spong has noted that “the first creed of the church was only three words: Jesus is messiah, a claim that in the life of Jesus the transcendent power of the divine has been met and engaged.”  See

Martin Thielen is a retired UMC pastor who has abandoned traditional Christian theology for a more progressive form of Christianity.  Thielen has interviewed “a small group of people who represent a much larger and rapidly growing group of people who no longer hold traditional Christian views, and has described three trends that have emerged.  

They no longer believe in traditional theology

Most traditional Christians believe in an all-powerful and all-knowing, loving heavenly father who supernaturally intervenes in the world, who can be experienced directly through prayer, and who performs miracles. My small group of seven unorthodox persons no longer believe in that kind of personal, supernatural, and interventionist God. In a world of cancer, dementia, hurricanes, floods, hunger, pandemics, genocide, and wars, they reject the idea that God directly intervenes. This group also rejects belief in the virgin birth, healing miracles, a literal resurrection, and the ascension. Their Jesus is human, not divine. As you would expect, none of them believe in biblical literalism. For them, the Bible is a human document, with all the limitations of biblical times—from science to social issues to theological concepts. While they still see value in Scripture, they do not believe the Bible is “the Word of God for the people of God.” This unorthodox group also rejects a literal hell, the second coming, substitutionary atonement, exclusive salvation, the efficacy of petitionary prayer, and the Trinity. They didn’t consciously choose to reject orthodox theology. Rather than one major break with orthodoxy, all of them told stories about losing traditional faith over many years, the death of a thousand cuts. Several expressed significant feelings of grief over their loss of traditional faith. But integrity demanded that they honestly acknowledge (to themselves and others) that they no longer believe. In short, they all came to a point where they “could not pretend” to affirm orthodox religion. On the other hand, each member of the group affirmed several nontraditional beliefs.

They No Longer Believe in Institutional Religion:

The seven people I interviewed were at one point active members in a local church, and several served as pastors. Two of them still attend church but for relational--not religious--reasons. The other five have left church. None of them harbor overtly hostile feelings toward the church. Most articulated some kind of love-hate relationship with institutional religion. Most believe that in spite of making some positive contributions, the church has mostly failed to follow the life, teachings, and example of Jesus, and as a result, they finally gave up on it. Two of them still attend a traditional congregation because of personal history, family, and congregational friendships, not because they believe the church’s theology or its institutional integrity.

What, if Anything, Do They Believe?

They are not unbelievers and have much in common theologically. All of them affirm belief in some kind of mysterious life-force Spirit in the universe. They also believe in traditional Christian values like love, integrity, compassion, character, humility, and justice, and affirm Christian practices like forgiveness, generosity, service, and gratitude. Mostly they still believe in Jesus. Not the divine Christ who was born of a virgin, walked on water, healed the blind, rose from the dead, and ascended to the sky. Instead, they believe in the human Jesus who loved sinners, extended grace, welcomed outsiders, blessed children, exhibited compassion, engaged in acts of kindness, and demanded justice. All of them still consider themselves to be followers of Jesus and seek to emulate his teachings, example, and spirit. In short, while this group of nontraditional believers are post-orthodox and (mostly) post-church, they are definitely not post-Jesus. Regardless of their theology or church affiliation, each one of them expressed an abiding love for Jesus. See

On the future of a church that has lost its moral compass:

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

(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

(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

(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

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

(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

(12/22/18): 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

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

(5/25/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Divinity and Moral Teachings of Jesus

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

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

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

(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

(1/9/21): A Reckoning and Repentance Following the Storming of the Nation’s Capitol

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

(4/17/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Future of the Church

(7/17/21): Christianity and Politics: Separated by Irreconcilable Differences

(8/14/21): Musings on Conflicting Concepts of God’s Truth in Christianity

(1/22/22): Musings on Popularity as a Corrupting Influence in Democracy and Christianity

(4/23/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Why Americans Are Losing Their Religion

(4/30/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Obsolescence of Christianity in Politics


Saturday, June 18, 2022

Musings on Shifting Strategies Against Russian Aggression in Ukraine

           By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

The center of gravity has shifted in Ukraine.  Optimism that Russia’s aggression can be stopped with arms and indirect aid provided by American and NATO forces now seems wishful thinking.  Putin has acknowledged that his objective is to restore the Russian empire, beginning with Ukraine.  A new strategy is needed to counter Putin’s might makes right megalomania.

Without a diplomatic solution, Russia will likely annex much of Eastern Ukraine, as it did Crimea in 2014.  If so, Putin will likely resettle the annexed area with Russians loyal to Putin to prevent a restoration of the status quo ante.  The war would then transition from conventional conflict to partisan unconventional warfare (UW), with public support the primary objective.  

Partisan UW is the flipside of counterinsurgency (COIN).  In both UW and COIN, legitimacy and public support determine the strategic political objectives that define mission success, rather than overwhelming military force.  If Putin can resettle annexed areas in Ukraine with Russians loyal to him, it would be difficult to end any Russian occupation.


In annexed areas strategic emphasis would shift from conventional conflict to political UW operations; and the diplomat-warriors of US Special Operations Forces (SOF) have the unique skills to advise, assist and support UW.  But so long as Putin continues his aggression in Ukraine, conventional arms, training and assistance from the US and NATO will still be needed.   

Ukraine can invite other nations to assist in its defense against Russian aggression so long as it retains its sovereignty; but if and when Russia occupies and annexes an area in Ukraine, the situation would  change.  Any intervention in an area annexed by Russia would be a belligerent act of war against Russia, and would increase the risk of a nuclear response.

America’s failures in Viet Nam and Afghanistan were due to a lack of legitimacy and public support; but there should be no lack of public support opposing Russian annexation of any part of Ukraine and replacing Ukranians with Russians loyal to Putin.  Should that happen, it would be difficult to achieve the public support needed to restore Ukrainian sovereignty.

With Putin’s revelation that he’s committed to restore the Russian empire of Peter the Great, his threat to democracy and world peace extends well beyond Ukraine.  His unrelenting aggression and vastly superior military power over that of Ukraine requires outside support to counter Putin’s aggression.  The alternative is to capitulate to Putin’s conquest of Ukraine.

There’s nothing new about partisan UW.  It has traditionally been the means of the weak to oppose the aggression of the strong and aggressive.  Putin’s aggression threatens the sovereignty of every nation.  The U.S. and NATO must not let the risk of nuclear retaliation intimidate them.  Putin must be denied his illusions of grandeur to restore the Russian empire.     



“Ukrainian partisans in occupied areas of the country are increasing attacks and sabotage efforts on Russian forces and their local collaborators, with organized underground efforts appearing to spread.  ‘It’s clear that the plan for partisan warfare was long and well prepared. …Ukrainian partisan forces started being trained after Russia’s intervention in 2014 but they became part of Ukraine’s state structures last summer, according to Serhii Kuzan, head of the Ukrainian Center for Security and Cooperation, a Ukrainian thinktank that specialises in military analysis. …Partisan forces, along with Ukraine’s territorial army, were part of new self-defence measures introduced across the country, said Kuzan. ‘The idea is for the occupier to always feel the presence of the partisans and for them never to feel safe,’ said Kuzan. “Recently, the partisan forces in Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions carried out a coordinated sticker and flyer campaign against the so-called Russian world.See

Anticipating a Russian occupation of Ukraine, the U.S. and its allies are quietly preparing for a Ukrainian government-in-exile and  a long insurgency.  See

“As Russian President Vladimir Putin ramps up his brutal attack on Ukraine, he’s likened himself to Tsar Peter the Great, who waged war on Sweden in the 18th-century, claiming that like his predecessor, he too is reclaiming Russian land. “Peter the Great waged the Great Northern War for 21 years. [...] He did not take anything from them, he returned [what was Russia's],”Putin said, after visiting an exhibition on the 350th birthday of the 18th century leader. “Apparently, it also fell to us to return [what is Russia's] and strengthen [the country]”, he added, in televised comments. Where Putin had earlier pushed the narrative that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a “special military operation” aimed at deposing a government he deemed a threat for wanting to join Nato, his recent comments imply that the war is also about expanding Russia’s territory.”  See also, Putin links war to Russia’s imperial past, at

“Fighting remains fierce in Severodonetsk, the epicenter of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and now the city appears to be fully cut off after its last remaining bridge was destroyed. A top military official with the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic said Ukrainian fighters in the city should now “surrender, or die.”  Russian and Ukrainian forces in the city — the last stronghold of Ukraine in the Luhansk province — are fighting for “literally every meter,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said. Russian troops have tried to encircle and seize Severodonetsk for some time and losing control of the city would be a major blow to Ukraine. Zelenskyy said last night that his country is dealing with “absolute evil” and that Ukraine’s forces must “knock out the occupiers from all our areas.”  See

Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared the end of “the era of the unipolar world” in a combative speech that lambasted Western countries at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday.  “When they won the Cold War, the US declared themselves God’s own representatives on earth, people who have no responsibilities – only interests. They have declared those interests sacred. Now it’s one-way traffic, which makes the world unstable,” Putin told the audience. The Russian president has long framed his decision to launch an invasion of Ukraine as a response to Kyiv’s growing diplomatic and security ties with the West. Last week, he hinted that his aim in Ukraine is the restoration of Russia as an imperial power.” See

With scant options in Ukraine, U.S. and allies prepare for a long war.  See

References to military legitimacy and public support in unconventional operations before 9/11 are in Military Legitimacy: Might and Right in the New Millennium, by Rudolph C. Barnes, Jr., Frank Cass (1996).  In chapter 2, military legitimacy is described as “a derivative of political legitimacy, which has been defined as the willing acceptance of the right of a government to govern or of a group or agency to make and enforce decisions ...[and] is the central concern of all parties involved in a conflict. The willing acceptance required to establish the legitimacy of military operations and activities must come from a nation's people. Public support represents that acceptance; and in a democracy public support is both a requirement and measure of military legitimacy. A manuscript of Military Legitimacy is posted at or at

For a perspective of legitimacy and public support in the SOF training and advisory mission and the role of the SOF diplomat warrior in Africa, see Back to the Future, in Special Warfare, at

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Musings on Gun Regulation as a Test of Libertarian Democracy

            By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

After the recent massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, there’s a new public clamor for gun control, especially for assault weapons like the AR-15.  Once again the Second Amendment right to bear arms remains the biggest political obstacle to gun regulation, but the right to bear arms doesn’t prohibit regulating that right to provide for the common good.

No constitutional rights are absolute.  There are legal limits on all fundamental freedoms in the Bill of Rights, such as the freedoms of religion and speech--all except the right to bear arms.  In a libertarian democracy, all freedoms must have limits to protect the rights of others, and the right to bear lethal arms is the most dangerous of all the freedoms to our public safety.

The need to protect life and liberty requires the regulation of lethal weapons; but the gun lobby has stymied all regulations of firearms.  Common sense requires reasonable regulations that respect the right to bear arms as well as the other freedoms in democracy.  In fact, the freedom to bear arms cannot exist without reasonable restrictions.


The idea of absolute freedom in a libertarian democracy is license for anarchy.  All rights in a democracy must be balanced with the responsibility to protect the rights of others, even those we don’t like.  That’s a requirement of the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves; and in politics it requires providing for the common good.

American democracy is over 200 years old, and for libertarians like me, individual freedom is our most precious right.  As a retired Army officer I learned long ago that for freedom to thrive in America it must be provided for all, not just a few; and our laws, beginning with the Constitution,  provide a balance for our rights and responsibilities to others.

Many Americans seem to think that their freedoms take priority over the freedoms of others.  They need to think again, and consider limiting the right to purchase guns to those over 21 who don’t have mental health issues, requiring background checks and red flag laws to ensure gun owners aren’t a danger to public safety, and banning the sale of assault weapons.

Those who continue to oppose all gun regulations are blind to the evil of increasing gun violence and the need for gun regulations to provide for public safety.  If they continue to ignore the increasing number of casualties of gun violence and oppose all gun regulations, they need to realize that they are not protecting their freedom in democracy, but corrupting it.

Democracy makes us masters of our political destiny, but it also allows us to forfeit our freedoms.  We live in a culture of gun violence, with our values learned in the home, church or gang.  Laws aren’t a quick fix, but are a needed beginning point to discourage gun violence.  It took years for gun violence to shape our culture, and it will take years before we can purge that evil from our culture.  We need to start preserving our democracy from self destruction now.


“Actor Matthew McConaughey, a native of Uvalde, Tex., urged lawmakers to act on gun control Tuesday in impassioned remarks delivered in a surprise appearance on the White House briefing room’s podium. ‘Responsible gun owners are fed up with the Second Amendment being abused and hijacked by some deranged individuals,’ McConaughey said. ‘These regulations are not a step back, they’re a step forward for civil society and the Second Amendment.’ Lawmakers, he said, have a window of opportunity now to pass meaningful gun-control changes. The actor called for the creation of a waiting period for purchasing AR-15 rifles, as well as for raising the minimum age for purchasing that type of weapon to 21. He also called for universal background checks and red flag laws. Gun responsibility, he said, is something most Americans “agree on more than we don’t.”  See

Kathleen Parker has acknowledged that gun violence is a cultural evil in America. “Our epidemic of violence is nothing short of an urgent public health issue and should be approached as such. Finding the cure, like that for long covid, will take time. Maybe decades. But recognizing and correctly naming a problem is always the first step.  It’s the culture. And the culture is dripping with blood.  We need to understand that we are at war with the culture of violence. And to paraphrase cartoonist Walt Kelly: The enemy is us.” See

“The House passed the Protecting Our Kids Act on a 223-204 vote Wednesday that fell mostly on party lines. Congressional Democrats who swiftly assembled the package earlier this month say it will reduce gun violence. Five Republicans crossed over to support the legislation, which would be the most significant gun control measure passed by Congress in nearly two decades. However, it faces uncertainty in the Senate. The legislation faces difficulty in the evenly split Senate, where Republicans have signaled some willingness to consider the issue. Texas Senator John Cornyn, a Republican negotiator on gun control in the Senate, on Wednesday posted a video of a speech on the status of the talks that included few specifics. He identified mental health as a major factor behind mass shootings and evaluating security at schools. While he expressed optimism the talks would produce a bill, he pushed back against "artificial deadlines" for votes on any legislation.”  See See also,