Rudy Barnes, Jr., September 10, 2022
What do the Constitution, the Bible and Democracy have in common? Not much. The Constitution provides a framework for American democracy and secular law. The Bible says nothing about democracy, but a lot about God’s law. The Bible is based on the sovereignty of God over man, while the Constitution provides for the political sovereignty of man.
The Enlightenment of the 18th century marked the end of the divine right to rule under the sovereignty of God with the birth of the political sovereignty of man in democracy. Most of the Founding Fathers were deists. Like Thomas Jefferson, they were skeptical of institutional religion and made religious freedom the first of the fundamental freedoms in the Bill of Rights.
The Constitution emphasizes individual freedom under a secular rule of law, and it balances individual freedom with providing for the common good. It provides for an electoral process to elect the President, a separation of the executive, legislative and judicial branches, and a civilian head of the military, all to prevent a dangerous concentration of political power.
Despite the separation of powers, polarized partisan politics have paralyzed Congress and allowed the executive branch to expand its power. Donald Trump tried to reverse his loss in 2020 by challenging the legitimacy of the election; and Joe Biden recently encroached upon the power of Congress when he issued an executive order providing for student debt relief.
There has been no judicial challenge to Biden’s executive order yet, but it’s inevitable. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse; and Biden’s executive order provides billions of dollars in debt relief to millions of student debtors, with no national emergency to justify it--and it comes just before 2022 midterm elections.
On September 1 Biden lambasted “MAGA Republicans” as “the enemy of American democracy.” Before his partisan speech, Biden had promised to seek the reconciliation of America’s polarized partisan politics. Biden now shares responsibility with Trump for the deepening partisan divide in America’s polarized politics.
The Constitution doesn’t mandate political reconciliation for a divided democracy; but the altruistic teachings of Jesus do just that. They are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves, and our political adversaries are included as our neighbors. It’s considered a common word of faith by Jews, Christians and Muslims, alike.
Thomas Jefferson considered the teachings of Jesus “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man;” but Jefferson was critical of a church that subordinated the moral teachings of Jesus to exclusivist beliefs never taught by Jesus. In 2016 the church lost its moral compass when most white Christians elected Trump President; but those voters can restore America’s political legitimacy by promoting the common good over divisive partisan politics.
See Musings on the Consequences of Forgiving Student Debt, (September 3, 2022), at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2022/08/musings-on-consequences-of-forgiving.html,
A viable third party could break up America’s polarized partisan logjam. See https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/06/opinion/moderate-party-new-jersey.html?searchResultPosition=1. Other voting options that could defuse partisan polarization are fusion voting that allows candidates to run on more than one party ticket, and ranked choice voting that allows voters to rank their votes for more than one candidate. See Musings on Fascism and Socialism, and a Nasty Trump Versus a Nice Biden at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/ (9/3/2022). These alternative voting methods are opposed by party loyalists since they would dilute partisan political power. It will take a moral reformation to remedy America’s extremist partisan politics. See Partisan Alternatives for a Politics of Reconciliation (12/10/2016) at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/12/partisan-alternatives-for-politics-of.html.
See also, Tribalism and the American Civil Religion (9/23/2017) at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/09/tribalism-and-american-civil-religion.html.
On fusion voting, see https://ballotpedia.org/Fusion_voting.
On ranked choice voting, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ranked-choice_voting_in_the_United_States#:~:text.
Jesus was a maverick Jewish rabbi who infuriated other Jewish leaders when he challenged Mosaic Law as God’s standard of righteousness with the primacy of love over law. See Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Love Over Law and Social Justice (7/27/19) at
http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2019/07/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on-love.html, and Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Radical Moral Teachings of Jesus (3/20/21) at
Thomas Jefferson assembled The Jefferson Bible as his personal collection of the moral teachings of Jesus, leaving out many of the mystical matters in the gospel accounts. Jefferson understood that political legitimacy depended upon moral standards, not mystical beliefs, and that the moral standards of political legitimacy in America were derived from the Christian religion. Jefferson held the teachings of Jesus in high regard but detested church doctrines. In 1804 he wrote: “I consider the doctrines of Jesus as delivered by himself to contain the outlines of the sublimest morality that has ever been taught; but I hold in utmost profound detestation and execration, the corruptions of it which have been invested by priestcraft and kingcraft, constituting a conspiracy of church and state against the civil and religious liberties of man.” Robin Meyers has echoed Jefferson’s criticism of the church in Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus, Even so, the church has continued to promote exclusivist church beliefs that emphasize worshiping Jesus as God rather than following him as God’s word. See Jefferson’s Jesus and Moral Standards in Religion and Politics (3/17/18) at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/03/jeffersons-jesus-and-moral-standards-in.html.
Trump’s “morality” is based on self-centered moral standards similar to those of Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy. It’s reminiscent of Old Testament standards of justice based on God rewarding the obedient and punishing the disobedient based on Biblical Laws that defined standards of legitimacy. “Life is a battleground between good and evil. This extreme dualism [can] lead to the adoption of apocalyptic religious beliefs. As the books of Daniel and Revelation reveal, the evil world will soon come to a violent end with the righteous few saved by Jesus who will take them to safety in heaven. God is portrayed as a global terrorist who brutally annihilates all the evil people who oppose him.” And Trump’s supporters see him as their god. See https://progressivechristianity.org/resources/on-defeating-trumpism-the-answer-lies-in-the-new-testament/.
Other commentary on the church and political legitimacy:
(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy? http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/12/if-democracy-survives-trump-era-can.html.
(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
(6/22/19): The Universal Family of God: Where Inclusivity Trumps Exclusivity
(11/21/20): Democracy Has Survived Donald Trump, but Can the Church Survive Democracy?
(1/15/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on America’s Morally Muddled Mainstream
(1/22/22): Musings on Popularity as a Corrupting Influence in Democracy and Christianity
(1/29/22): Musings on the Inadequacy of Religious Moral Standards in American Democracy
(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
(6/25/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Church and the Greatest Commandment
(7/23/22): Musings on Moderating Extremism in American Religion, Legitimacy and Politics
(8/6/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Moderating Hatred in Partisan Politics
(8/13/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religion and the Wisdom of Godhttp://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2022/08/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on.html.
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