Saturday, May 27, 2023

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on God's Grace and Reconciling Love

By Rudy Barnes, Jr. 

              God's grace and God’s reconciling love are the same spiritual power, but Christian theology has restricted that universal truth.  The grace of God that provides salvation is not limited to Christians.  It can be shared by all people who seek to do God’s will (Mark 3:33-35).  All who accept God’s love and share it with others can know the peace and joy of eternal life.

Jesus taught that God’s will is summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves.  It’s taken from the Hebrew Bible, was taught by Jesus and has been accepted as a common word of faith by Muslims. Jesus was a maverick Jew who never promoted any religion, not even his own. 

There has been continuing debate during the history of Christianity over whether Paul’s atonement doctrine and concept of justifying grace (see Romans 3) gave precedence to faith in Jesus Christ as the alter ego of God of faith over acts of love for salvation; but James reversed Paul’s priorities and gave precedence to deeds of love over exclusivist beliefs (see James 2).

During the Reformation, Martin Luther emphasized faith in God’s grace as the only means of salvation.  John Wesley shaped a version of grace for Methodism in the 18th century described by Bishop Kenneth Carder.  If not for the concept of exclusivist salvation embedded in Christian theology on grace, it would describe God’s grace as a form of God’s universal love.

The concepts of grace promoted by St. Paul, Martin Luther and John Wesley reveal the distinctions between the universal teachings of Jesus on altruistic love and exclusivist church doctrines on grace and salvation.  They remind us that Jesus called his disciples to follow him, not to worship him.  Jesus was a Jew who knew that any claim of divinity would be blasphemy.

The early church knew that Christianity would never be popular if discipleship was essential to salvation.  The cost of discipleship was too high, so the church promoted exclusivist beliefs in Jesus as a Trinitarian form of God as the only means of salvation.  That made discipleship optional, and enabled Christianity to become the world’s most popular religion.

Grace through belief in exclusivist creeds never taught by Jesus became the Christian means of salvation.  Popularity has long been the measure of success for the church, and  when it became the world’s largest religion, the cheap grace of exclusivist beliefs became resistant to reforms based on the more costly forms of discipleship taught by Jesus.

The church lost its legitimacy when a majority of white Christians elected Donald Trump President in 2016.  Today those clergy whose livelihoods are dependent on a popular church and Christians who ignore the cost of discipleship and think their salvation depends solely on belief in Jesus Christ as their personal savior are on a sinking ship. The church is declining and should consider the cost of discipleship as a price it must pay to salvage its legitimacy.


The Prayer of St. Francis describes the reconciling power of God’s love in this life and the next:          Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; To be understood, as to understand; To be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. See

On A Wesleyan understanding of grace that describes prevenient, justifying and sanctifying grace, by Retired Bishop Kenneth L. Carder, see,are%20all%20givens%20or%20gifts.

For a comprehensive PRRI survey of Religion and Congregations in a Time of Social and Political Upheaval taken from findings of a 2022 Health of Congregations Study, see 

Religion and Congregations in a Time of Social ...

Public Religion Research Institute › Research.

On Ross Douthat’s commentary on What Has Trump Cost American Christianity?, see

On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Divinity and Moral Teachings of Jesus, see

On Religious Exclusivity: Does It Matter?  See

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Musings on God's Simple, Universal and Timeless Truth

By Rudy Barnes, Jr.,

Jesus was a maverick Jew in 1st century Palestine.  His teachings didn’t address issues like democracy and human rights since they weren’t relevant to his time and place; but his altruistic moral teachings on how we should relate to each other were simple, universal and timeless truths as relevant to our times today as they were to the ancient times of Jesus.

The teachings of Jesus met the requirements of the KISS principle to keep it simple. He taught that to enter God’s kingdom we must have the mind of a child. (Matthew 18:3)  Thomas Jefferson considered the teachings of Jesus “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man;" but Jesus never taught that he was divine or God’s blood sacrifice to save us from sin.  

The teachings of Jesus are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves. (Mark 12:28-33)  It’s a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims that expresses the will of God; and Jesus taught that all who did the will of God were his spiritual brothers and sisters. (Mark 3:34)

If the early church had taught that salvation required universal love for all others rather than an exclusivist belief in Jesus Christ as a Trinitarian form of God (something that Jesus never taught), the world would look different today.  Instead of divisive religious conflict between the Abrahamic religions, church doctrine would have promoted religious reconciliation.

Jesus called his disciples to follow him, not to worship him; but the church knew that the teachings of Jesus on altruistic love would never be popular, so it subordinated his teachings to mystical Christian beliefs.  It was a ploy that promoted the cheap grace of exclusivist Christian beliefs over discipleship, and enabled Christianity to become the world’s most popular religion.

Christianity in America is now declining.  For the church to restore its legitimacy it will have to emphasize following Jesus as God’s universal Word rather than worshiping Jesus as the alter ego of God.  That would require church leaders to reject exclusivist Christian beliefs on salvation and emphasize discipleship as God’s will--a mission impossible for a popular church.

In the unlikely event the church ever promotes universal salvation, it would then have to be the moral steward of political legitimacy in America’s polarized partisan politics and promote the common good.  Jesus never backed away from controversy in his day, but most 21st century churches have avoided political controversy to keep peace in their congregations.

So long as popularity remains the measure of success in America’s politics and church, it’s unlikely the church will ever address divisive political issues.  Since the teachings of Jesus were never popular, it’s unlikely that God’s simple, universal and timeless truths taught by Jesus will ever prevail over the cheap and easy grace provided by exclusivist Christian beliefs. 


KISS is a backronym for "keep it simple, stupid", is a design principle noted by the U.S. Navy in 1960.[1][2] The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore simplicity should be a key goal in design, and that unnecessary complexity should be avoided. The phrase has been associated with aircraft engineer Kelly Johnson.[3] The term "KISS principle" was in popular use by 1970.[4] Variations on the phrase include: "Keep it simple, silly", "keep it short and simple", "keep it simple and straightforward",[5] and "keep it small and simple.  See


On the greatest commandment as a common word of faith, see and


Thomas Jefferson was a deist who held the teachings of Jesus in high regard while he 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.” Jefferson assembled The Jefferson Bible on the moral teachings of Jesus, and many biblical scholars consider Jefferson prescient in separating the actual teachings of Jesus from what the gospel writers had likely put on his lips. Robin Meyers echoed Jefferson’s criticism in Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus.  See Jefferson’s Jesus and Moral Standards in Religion and Politics at  See also Musings on the Evolution of  Christianity into the American Civil Religion (December 10, 2022) at

The Jesus Seminar is a distinguished group of Christian scholars who recognized Thomas Jefferson as a pioneer “who scrutinized the gospels with the intent to separate the real teachings of Jesus, the figure of history, from the crustaceans of Christian doctrine.”  See The Five Gospels, In the Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus, What Did Jesus Really Say? Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover and The Jesus Seminar, A Polebridge Press Book, Macmillan Publishing Company, NY, 1993 (at pp 2,3).


In his tour of America in 1834, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that religion is a two-edged sword in democracy:  While Christians ``readily espouse the cause of human liberty as the source of all moral greatness,” and “will not refuse to acknowledge that all citizens are equal in the eye of the law, …religion is entangled in those institutions that democracy assails, and is not infrequently brought to reject the equality it loves and to curse that cause of liberty as a foe.”  De Tocqueville noted that secular citizens are skeptical of religion in politics but know “that liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”  See De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, The Cooperative Publication Society and the Colonial Press, 1900, p 12.      

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Musings on Racial Reparations, Reconciliation and Justice

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., May 13, 2023

Justice means different things to different people--especially those of different races.  Last week a California panel called for a state law that would pay billions in racial reparations.  Racism is the most divisive political issue in America, and racial reconciliation, not reparations, is needed to reduce racism.  Reparations would only exacerbate racism and racial injustice.

Justice has no price tag.  Civil rights laws can provide damages for violations of civil rights laws, but not for systematic racism.  Reparations require laws that define the wrongs done and who is entitled to damages.  Reparations were paid to those Japanese incarcerated in America during WWII; but there is no precedent for racial reparations to descendants of slaves.  

Laws providing reparations to the descendants of slaves would open a Pandora's box for descendants of those who have suffered other forms of discrimination.  Unless monetary damages are limited to those who actually suffer discrimination, such damages would go beyond civil rights and equal justice under the law, and be an unworkable political remedy. 

When racial reparations are defined in money entitlements, they don’t provide racial reconciliation or justice, only a demand for more entitlements and more racism.  Racial reconciliation, not reparations, is needed to reduce racism and provide for the common good. Racial reparations would further divide races in America, not reconcile them.

Americans have trouble distinguishing between the cause and effect of racism, and there are no serious efforts to address the negative attitudes that cause racism and the resulting violence.  The churches expected to promote moral principles of justice and reconciliation are part of the problem, since most congregations are racially segregated.

Pluralistic democracy is being tested globally by numerous forms of discrimination and prejudice, with racism at the top of the list.  The first requirement for justice in a pluralistic democracy is finding peace among political adversaries.  That requires making racial reconciliation a moral priority.  So far, American democracy has failed the test.  

The fabric of America’s polarized democracy is coming apart at its racial and partisan seams.  Racial, religious and ethnic divisions are threatening the demise of democracy, with  increasing gun violence an indicator of the anger rising from real and perceived forms of racial, religious and ethnic discrimination.  Reparations would only create more violence.

The greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors of other races and religions is a moral imperative to seek reconciliation.  It doesn't require consensus on all issues, only a commitment to seek the common good.  As a moral imperative taught by Jesus it should be a priority of Christianity, but the church has made exclusivist beliefs a priority over reconciliation.  That’s not likely to change since most congregations avoid racial and partisan political issues.




On A California panel calling for billions in racial reparations for descendants of slaves, see

One  commentator has opined that “There simply is no legitimate claim to ‘equity’ from anyone [e.g. illegal immigrants] outside of Americans descended from slaves.”  See Biden's Open Border Hurts Black Americans Most of All—and We Know It at

On this day 141 years ago, a new [immigration] law began reshaping America. More than a century later, Congress apologized for it. See  

Counterpoint: The Danger of Racial Reparations as a Means of Restorative Justice, at See also, Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Overcoming Racism, at

On religion, race and politics:

(7/5/15): Reconciliation as a Remedy for Racism and Religious Exclusivism

(7/12/15): Reconciliation in Race and Religion: The Need for Compatibility, not Conformity

(7/19/15): Religion, Heritage and the Confederate Flag

(3/12/16): Religion, Race and the Deterioration of Democracy in America

(3/26/16): Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery

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

(7/16/16): The Elusive Ideal of Political Reconciliation

(10/22/16): The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in a Polarized Democracy

(11/19/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation Based on Shared Values

(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy

(2/18/17): Gerrymandering, Race and Polarized Partisan Politics

(8/19/17): Hate, History and the Need for a Politics of Reconciliation

(11/11/17): A Politics of Reconciliation that Should Begin in the Church

(12/9/17): Religion, Race and Identity Politics         

(1/6/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Diversity in Democracy

(10/20/18): Lamentations of an Old White Male Maverick Methodist in a Tribal Culture

(12/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Justice in Religion and Politics

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

(7/6/19): Musings on Democrats, Busing and Racism: It’s Deja Vu All Over Again

(7/20/19): Musings on Diversity in Democracy: Who Are Our Neighbors?

(11/2/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Polarization and Reconciliation

(7/11/20): Musings on America’s Culture War, Racism and Christian Morality in Politics

(8/1/20): Musings on Echoes from 1860 as America Seeks Truth and Reconciliation

(8//8/20): Musings on Religion and Racism: Belief in a White Jesus and White Supremacy

(8/15/20): Musings on Racism, Reparations, Racial Disparities and the Federal Reserve

(9/12/20): Musings on the Demise of American Democracy: Is It Deja Vu All Over Again?

(9/19/20): Musings on Law and Order, Reconciliation and Racial Justice

(12/5/20): Musings on the Preference of White Christians for Demagoguery over Democracy

(1/16/21): Truth and Reconciliation in Politics and Religion in a Maze of Conflicting Realities

(2/15/21): Counterpoint: The Danger of Racial Reparations as a Means of Restorative Justice

(4/3/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Overcoming Racism

(6/12/21): From Hammond and Tillman to Trump: A Legacy of Shame for South Carolina

(6/26/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Critical Race Theory and The 1619 Project

(7/3/21): Musings on Slavery and Systemic Racism on Independence Day

(7/10/21): Musings on the Need for Racial Reconciliation in America’s Divisive Democracy

(2/19/22): Musings on Reconciliation to Resolve the Dilemma of Diversity in Democracy

(8/6/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Moderating Hatred in Partisan Politics