By Rudy Barnes Jr., March 25, 2023
I’m a retired lawyer, a retired Army officer, and a retired United Methodist pastor, and one who dabbled in politics along the way. If you’ve been following my commentary, you know that I’m skeptical about politics, the law and the church as sources of our standards of legitimacy. The jury is still out on the military, but that’s because we aren’t currently in a war.
Legitimacy is based on public perceptions of what’s right and wrong. That includes laws made in politics and moral standards that are the province of religion. Democracy is the context of legitimacy--both its source and how it’s applied. Democracy has made us masters of our destiny, so that we have only ourselves to blame for whether it’s legitimate and just or not.
Winston Churchill once said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. Russia and China are now challenging the primacy of democracy over autocracy. Putin’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine to restore the Soviet Union is the current challenge to democracy, with China waiting in the wings to assert its claim over Taiwan.
James Carville once said that in politics it’s all about the economy. Continuing to defend Ukraine against Russian aggression will increase America’s massive national debt as a burden on future generations, but they need our support. Most Russians support Putin’s aggression in Ukraine to restore the Soviet Union, but Ukrainians are fighting to preserve their democracy.
The love of freedom and self-determination justify democracy. Lincoln justified the Civil War on preserving the U.S. Union, not to end slavery; and there are those in America who once again are advocating secession. I oppose the politics of Donald Trump and Marjorie Taylor Greene, but think that America could benefit from a national debate on preserving the Union.
In my commentary I have confessed my skepticism of religion and politics; but I should also confess my faith in God as a spiritual power beyond all powers, along with my love of my family and freedom that sustain my hope for the future. Faith is not the same as religion, which is a prepackaged and institutionalized faith that I have rejected after 80 years of exposure to it.
My life experiences have provided me with faith in the teachings of Jesus as God’s Word. It’s summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors of all races and religions as we love ourselves. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful family and a fulfilled life. I’m not skeptical of God’s love--only of the religion and politics that sustain human depravity.
My experience as an octogenarian has made me skeptical of a Christian religion that requires belief in Jesus Christ as a Trinitarian God and the only means of salvation. Reason and my personal life experiences have convinced me that Jesus taught and exemplified God’s Truth, and that following his teachings on our journey of faith--along with a healthy skepticism of religious doctrines--will enable us to find salvation in this world, and the next.
Our Theological Task: The Discipline of the United Methodist Church provides our theological task to distill God’s Truth from ancient scripture by interpreting it based on experience and reason. It’s based on John Wesley’s quadrilateral, a methodology that relies on a mix of tradition, experience and reason to interpret scripture. Wesley’s enlightened way of understanding scripture can prevent believers from succumbing to the temptation of bibliolatry and its false sense of security in accepting ancient scripture as God’s inerrant and infallible word. Our theological task requires us to shape our faith independently of church doctrine and dogma. For a brief description of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral by Lovett H. Weems, Jr. and a chart of its four elements by George E. Koeler, including the danger of bibliolotry, see Weems, John Wesley’s Message Today, Abingdon Press, 1990, pages 11-13. Our Theological Task is provided in The Discipline of the United Methodist Church at pages 78-91. See https://www.cokesbury.com/forms/DynamicContent.aspx?id=87&pageid=920.
On Faith and Religion, the Same but Different, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/10/faith-and-religion-same-but-different.html.
On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religion and the Wisdom of God, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2022/08/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on.html.