Saturday, August 26, 2023

Musings on Changing Christian Doctrine to Promote the Common Good

By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

After 2,000 years of promoting Christianity as the one true faith, the church needs to revive the universal teachings of Jesus and promote the common good with the  greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including our neighbors of other races and religions, as we love ourselves.  It’s a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Jesus was a maverick Jewish rabbi who never taught that God favored one religion over others, or that he was divine.  He emphasized simplicity and humility, saying that “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”, and that salvation comes when we serve the least of those among us. (Matthew 18:3-4; 25:31-46).

Jesus never indicated that he was born of a virgin or was the alter ego of God in the Holy Trinity.  Jesus called his disciples to follow him, not to worship him (Matthew 4:19), and he condemned sanctimonious and hypocritical religious leaders who lacked humility and promoted themselves as “a brood of vipers” (Matthew 23).  

Jesus was a prophet in the Jewish tradition whose teachings often included hyperbole. Turning the other cheek to avoid exacerbating violence, plucking out an eye or cutting off a hand to avoid temptation, or giving all one had to any who asked for assistance, were all exaggerations that should not be taken literally included in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount.


Jesus put love over law when he debunked Jewish dietary laws as standards for moral purity or virtue, teaching that our vices come from our hearts, not our stomachs: “...Out of men’s hearts come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.” (Mark 7:20-22)

Jesus also disobeyed Jewish laws that prohibited good works on the Sabbath, saying “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).  Jesus asked, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4)  He called sinners, not the righteous (Mark 2:15-17), and taught that all who did God’s will were his brothers and sisters in the universal family of God. (Mark 3:31-35)

The story of the rich man seeking salvation in Mark 10:17-27 illustrates the danger of loving riches.  Jesus loved the rich man and told him to give his wealth to the poor and follow him, but the rich man turned and sadly walked away.  Perhaps he felt that God had rewarded him with his wealth, since he had told Jesus that he had been obedient to Jewish law.  

Jesus advocated love for those of other races and religions, even our adversaries.  He put love over law, emphasizing humble service and sharing our wealth with the needy.  Jesus promoted the common good, but it ultimately led to the cross; 2,000 years later, greed and the lust for power continue to corrupt the church and politics.  Can the universal teachings of Jesus to promote the common good save the church and our democracy from their demise?


On The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith, see

On  Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Love Over Law and Social Justice

On The Arrogance of Power, Humility and a Politics of Reconciliation, see

On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Virtues and Vices of Christian Morality, see

On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Justice in Religion and Politics, see

On Musings on Promoting the Common Good as Essential for Political Legitimacy, see

On Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Universal and Altruistic Jesus, see

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Universal and Altruistic Jesus

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., August 19, 2023

Thomas Jefferson considered the universal teachings of Jesus “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man.”  In 1820 Jefferson fashioned a Gospel account that the Biblical scholars of The Jesus Seminar acclaimed as prescient, based on their objective ”to separate the real teachings of Jesus, the figure of history, from the encrustations of Christian doctrine.”  

Jefferson’s seminal work was first published in 1904.  It’s now known as The Jefferson Bible, and even though it has been praised by prominent biblical scholars in The Jesus Seminar, the church has rejected The Jefferson Bible since it rejects exclusivist church beliefs on salvation that have long been a priority of Christian doctrine, although never taught by Jesus.

Martin Theilen and Robin Meyers are retired pastors who have abandoned exclusivist church doctrines to embrace the universal and altruistic teachings of Jesus as the Word of God.  Theilen and Meyers share an emphasis on following the teachings of Jesus rather than worshiping Christ as the alter ego of God and the only means of salvation.

Jefferson’s Jesus is especially relevant today.  Church membership is diminishing with most white Christians supporting a Republican Party led by a narcissist who is the antithesis of a universal and altruistic Jesus.  The church has failed to challenge the morality of Trump’s supporters who have redefined Christian morality by making Trump, not Jesus, their exemplar.

The measure of success for the church is its popularity, and ironically the teachings of Jesus were never popular.  Even so, in the 1960s some progressive white Christians risked their popularity to follow Jesus and promote civil rights; but since then most white Christians have been loyal to the Republican Party and avoided controversial political issues in their church.

The  church lost its moral compass in 2016 when a majority of white Christians elected Donald Trump.  To restore its lost legitimacy the white church must promote the common good by making the greatest commandment a moral imperative of its faith, demonstrating love for God and their neighbors as they love themselves, including those of other races and religions.

Jesus was a universalist Jew who taught that salvation was based on serving the least of those among us (Matthew 25:11-46), not on exclusivist religious  beliefs; and Jesus never asserted his divinity or favored one religion over others.  The church needs to reassess its moral priorities and make the greatest commandment a universal common word of faith.

There are many critical political issues in America today, and gun violence should be at the top of the list; but gun regulation is opposed by most white Christians in America, and some consider the right to bear arms as a sacred right.  America needs to rediscover a universal and altruistic Jesus, and promote the reconciliation of its divisive partisan politics.


A distinguished group of biblical scholars has recognized Thomas Jefferson as a pioneer in The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus in The Five Gospels, New Translation and Commentary by Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar, at pages 2 and 3.   A Polebridge Press Book, McMillan Publishing Company, NY, 1993.  “The book is dedicated to Galileo Galilei, who altered our view of the heavens forever, Thomas Jefferson,  who took scissors and paste to the gospels, and David Freiedrich Strauss, who pioneered the quest for the historical Jesus.”     

Jefferson’s Jesus provides the universal teachings of Jesus on morality taken from the Gospels.  They are compared with those of Muhammad in The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy.  It’s an interfaith study guide based on Jefferson’s Jesus and is posted in the Resources at The Introduction (pp 10-15) provides an overview of the study guide, and reference to Jefferson’s 1804 letter to Henry Fry is at end note 2 at p 425.  Like many of the Founding Fathers, Jefferson was a deist, a spiritual but not religious, agnostic or heterodox Christian.  The terms have overlapping meanings that distinguish them from orthodox Christians.  In a world of increasingly pluralistic religions, non-orthodox truth seekers will likely determine the future of religion and the moral standards of political legitimacy that shape the American civil religion. On Thomas Jefferson and Alexis deTocqueville and their views on the moral values of religion in American politics, see Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy (July 1, 2017) at

Martin Thielen has described his Long Farewell to Traditional Religion (and What Remains) at


Robin Meyers has answered the question, What is the Meaning of Salvation in Progressive Christianity? at  

His views on how exclusivist church doctrines have distorted the teachings of Jesus and undermined the legitimacy of the church are summarized in the title to his book, Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus, Harper One, 2009.     

Russell Moore, formally of the Southern Baptist Convention, thinks evangelicals have come dangerously adrift of morality.  See; see also


On The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism see

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


Saturday, August 12, 2023

Musings on Promoting the Common Good as Essential to Political Legitimacy

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., August 12, 2023

The Constitution defines American democracy.  It provides the means for Americans to determine their own political destiny, but it cannot protect Americans from themselves.  Paul Harvey once reminded Americans that political rights depend on moral responsibilities.  Without altruistic moral standards of political legitimacy, American democracy can become a disaster.

Political legitimacy in a democracy requires national values that promote the common good; and except in wartime America has never had a lasting consensus on its national values.  Polarized partisan politics have been common in peacetime from 1800 to 2023; and now as then, religion and politics have been interwoven in America’s standards of political legitimacy.

Christianity in its many forms has shaped  American values, and the Founding Fathers anticipated demagogues like Donald Trump.  In 1790, Alexander Hamilton noted that “flattering the prejudices of the people and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions” is a sure path to demagoguery in politics; and religious values have been a primary means to that end.

Thomas Jefferson asserted that “the teachings of Jesus were the most sublime moral code ever designed by man,” but neither Hamilton or Jefferson, nor any politician since them, embraced that altruistic moral code.  The 1860 Civil War and today’s polarized partisan politics bear witness to that truth.  As Lincoln observed, “a house  divided against itself cannot stand.”

Today most mainstream churches avoid emphasizing the teachings of Jesus to politics, claiming the Constitutional separation of church and state.  The Constitution does not prohibit Christians promoting the moral teachings of Jesus in politics; and to make it worse, the church subordinates the teachings of Jesus to exclusivist Christian beliefs never taught by Jesus.

The moral imperative of the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors of other races and politics as we love ourselves is essential to preserve American democracy.  Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln all affirmed the moral imperative to promote the common good.  To ignore the painful lessons of history dooms us to repeat them.

History confirms that our religious and civic virtues are interwoven.  The church has failed to be a moral steward of American democracy since promoting the common good would likely diminish its popularity.  Just as in politics, the church has lost its credibility and legitimacy.  An altruistic civil religion is needed to save American democracy from its civic myopia.  

Rights in a democracy depend on civic responsibilities that promote the common good and the reconciliation of radical partisan differences.  The church has failed to be a moral steward of democracy, but the lessons of history remind us that we must promote the common good and political legitimacy to preserve the fabric of American democracy and our freedom.


Jeffrey Rosenis an authority on the Constitution who has opined that the Founders anticipated Trump.  “A key concern of James Madison and Alexander Hamilton was that demagogues would incite mobs and factions to defy the rule of law, overturn free and fair elections and undermine American democracy. When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper…is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity,” Hamilton warned, “he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.’” 

According to J. Michael Luttig, a former U.S. Court of Appeals judge, “the federal indictment issued against President Trump asserts that he attempted to overturn the results of the 2020 election by conspiring to spread such “convulsions and disorders” through a series of knowing lies. The indictment alleges that soon after election day, Trump “pursued unlawful means of discounting legitimate votes and subverting the election results,” perpetuating three separate criminal conspiracies: to impede the collection and counting of the ballots, Congress’s certification of the results on Jan. 6, 2021, and the right to vote itself. The indictment alleges that all three conspiracies involved a concerted effort by Trump and his co-conspirators to subvert the election results using “knowingly false claims of election fraud.” In particular, Trump allegedly “organized fraudulent slates of electors in seven targeted states”; tried to use “the power and authority of the Justice Department to conduct sham election crime investigations”; tried to enlist Vice President Mike Pence “to fraudulently alter the election results”; and, as violence broke out on Jan. 6, redoubled his efforts to “convince Members of Congress to further delay the certification.” Partisan passions ran high in 1800, as they do today, but American institutions and norms survived, thanks to the self-restraint of the leading institutional players and their commitment to preserving the Union. That institutional self-restraint was shattered in the decades leading up to the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln ran in 1860 as a defender of the Union and the rule of law against the threat of mob violence. The shared norms and constitutional commitments that had prevailed a generation earlier were not strong enough to avert the disaster of war.

 The great question today is which of these historical precedents our leaders and the public will follow. The challenge for Republicans and Democrats alike will be to join in defending the rule of law and to allow the judicial process to take its course. Otherwise, the election of 2024 may turn into a tragic rupture of our institutions, more like 1860 than 1800. At the end of their lives, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who had reconciled in the decade after the explosive election of 1800, were pessimistic about the future of the American experiment. Adams worried that American citizens lacked sufficient civic virtue to sustain the republic, and Jefferson feared that factional clashes over slavery would destroy the Union. Among the Founding generation, only James Madison was moderately optimistic that American institutions would survive. He hoped that public opinion could be educated to overcome the most destructive partisan passions. In our own polarized age, Madison’s optimism now looks quaint. The Founders feared direct democracy and devised a Constitution to tame it, to the frustration of reformers today. They would be astonished by our current political system, with its presidential primary system, nationwide campaigning and ever-more sophisticated media targeting, all of which has given new opportunities to partisan extremists and demagogues.” See

Thomas Jefferson considered the teachings of Jesus “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man,” but Jefferson had nothing but contempt for church doctrines and dogma.  Alexis DeTocqueville praised Democracy in America when he visited the U.S. in the1830s, and he considered the many variations of Christianity essential to American democracy; but DeTocqueville failed to foresee America’s coming Civil War.  On Thomas Jefferson and Alexis deTocqueville and their views on the moral values of religion in American politics, see Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy (July 1, 2017) at

Saturday, August 5, 2023

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on How We Love God

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., August 5, 2023

The greatest commandment tells us that we love God by loving others-even those we don’t like-as we love ourselves.  Don’t confuse loving God with worshiping God, even though many pastors emphasize worship and supporting the church as ways to love God.  Jesus emphasized humble service to the least of those among us as the way to love God.  

Faith is important, but affirmations of faith are no substitute for acts of love for others and promoting the common good in politics.  Most churches avoid controversial moral issues in politics and emphasize belief in exclusivist Christian doctrine rather than promoting the common good.  They need to reverse their priorities of faith and focus on acts of love rather than belief.

God is spirit.  We can only love God by loving others.  The greatest commandment includes two separate commandments: the first is to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength. (see the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:5); and the second is to Love your neighbor as you love yourself. (Leviticus 19:18).

If we love God by loving our neighbors, just who are our neighbors?  Jesus answered that question with the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), in which a Samaritan stopped to help a wounded Jew who had been bypassed by several Jews.  The idea of a Samaritan as a good neighbor shocked Jews who detested Samaritans as apostates. 

Like prophets before him, Jesus taught that God expects our mercy, not sacrifice (see Matthew 9:10-13, citing Hosea 6:6 and Amos 5:21; also Matthew 12:7).  We show our love for God through loving acts of mercy and compassion and by seeking reconciliation with our adversaries, not through ancient religious rituals like a blood sacrifice.

         Worship services should conclude with the following benediction: Worship is over, let the service begin.  Sharing the reconciling love of God with our adversaries is the best way to show our love for God; and unless the church makes following the greatest command a priority over promoting exclusivist church beliefs, it’s not following the moral imperatives taught by Jesus.  

The love of God must be given in order to be received (Luke 6:36-38).  That’s the nature of discipleship.  The church has failed its evangelical mission by allowing exclusivist church doctrines to take precedence over the moral imperatives taught by Jesus.  It will take a civil religion to save the soul of American democracy from further moral corruption.

If the church doesn’t reform itself, it will take another secular Enlightenment to promote the altruistic priorities taught by Jesus in a civil religion to save America from self-destruction.  Edmund Burke once predicted that in a democracy “Americans would forge their own shackles'', and more recently Pogo observed, “We have met the enemy and it’s us.”  Christian morality must be applied to democracy, or once again it will come apart at its seams--as it did in 1860.


The authority in this commentary is from the teachings of Jesus in the Gospel accounts.  I could have mentioned Thomas Jefferson, Alexis DeTocqueville and Abraham Lincoln, but they have been cited often before.  My primary objective is to convince Christians that the altruistic moral imperatives taught by Jesus should be emphasized in the church to save both the church and democracy from the dustbin of history.