By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Most of America’s mainstream churches avoid mixing politics with religion, citing a mistaken view of the Constitution. A notable exception are white nationalist churches aligned with the Republican Party. Today mainstream churches have shrunk in number and influence by avoiding contentious issues that shape the moral standards of political legitimacy.
With popularity the measure of success in the church and politics, church leaders avoid divisive splits over political issues. The United Methodist Church (UMC) is no longer united. While its congregations have long been racially divided; in the last few years disaffiliation based primarily on sexual preferences has further divided and weakened the UMC.
In most churches the silence has been deafening on political issues like immigration and the wars in Ukraine and Israel. The church lost its moral compass over the issue of slavery in the Civil War, and again in 2016 when most white Christians elected Donald Trump. His narcissistic morality is the antithesis of the altruistic morality taught by Jesus, yet he remains popular with most white Christians. That underscores the need for a new covenant with God.
Jews, Christians and Muslims have historically used covenants with God to define the obligations of their faith to their politics. For the ancient Hebrews it was based on obedience to Mosaic Law, and Muslims require submission to Shari’a law. Jesus was a maverick Jew who brought a new and universal covenant with God that asserted the primacy of love over law.
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. It was taken from the Hebrew Bible, taught by Jesus and confirmed by Islamic scholars as a common word of faith; but exclusivist church doctrines have prevented it from being a universal covenant with God.
Jesus sought to reform his Jewish religion, and never asserted that he was divine. It was Paul’s doctrine of atonement that subordinated the moral teachings of Jesus to exclusivist belief in Jesus Christ as a Trinitarian form of God as the only means of salvation. The focus on exclusivist beliefs allowed Christians to elect Donald Trump as their political messiah in 2016.
John Wesley was a maverick 18th century Anglican priest who sought to reform his stiff-necked Anglican Church with the reconciling power of God’s love and mercy. He organized his Methodists to follow the teachings of Jesus with acts of selfless service in orphanages and hospitals. It has been said that Wesley’s Methodist movement averted a civil war in England.
Wesley advocated renewing a covenant with God at the beginning of each year. Christianity became the world’s largest religion and Methodism its largest Protestant denomination in America by sacrificing the moral teachings of Jesus to exclusivist Christian beliefs as the only means of salvation. It is a form of cheap grace that has cost the church its credibility and legitimacy. A new covenant with God can begin to remedy that deficiency.
On the mistaken view that the Constitution mandates the separation of church and state, see
On disaffiliation within the UMC, see With a Deadline Looming, the United Methodist Church
On a growing trend from traditional churches to more progressive anti-dogma spiritual collectives, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2023/12/21/us-religion-nones/.
On The Greatest Commandment as A Common Word of Faith, see
On Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy, see
On Who Is My Neighbor?, see
Excerpts from A Covenant Service at St. John UMC in Columbia, S.C. (Jan.1, 2006):
Call to Worship:
Pastor: We, like all people of faith who have gone before us, are called into a special relationship with God that transforms our relationship with God and with all of our neighbors.
People: Father God, we are here in repentance, to ask your forgiveness, and to commit ourselves to be disciples of Jesus in the New Year that awaits us.
Hymn: Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult UMH #398
First Reading of Scripture: Exodus 34:8-10, 27, 28
The Call to a Covenant of Discipleship in the Wesleyan Tradition:
God sent us Jesus as His Word.
We now commit ourselves to follow Jesus wherever he leads us.
God has many services to be done.
Some are more easy and honorable,
others are more difficult and disgraceful.
Some are suited to our inclinations and interests, others are contrary to both.
In some we may please God and ourselves,
but then there are other works where we cannot please God
except by denying ourselves, picking up our cross and following Jesus.
It is necessary, therefore, that we consider what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Let us pray together:
Father God, we are here to answer the call of Jesus to follow him as Your Word.
We will submit to his command;
We will no longer be our own, but yours as followers of Jesus.
By following Jesus we will struggle to do your will, not our own.
We will allow the teachings of Jesus to give us our place and work from this day forward.
Hymn: O Young and Fearless Prophet of Ancient Galilee UMH 444
Your Covenant with God:
The Bible reports several covenants with God, beginning with God rewarding Abraham for his willingness to sacrifice his son to God with a promise to bless Abraham and all of his descendants. (Gen 22:15-18) Then we have the more elaborate covenant with Moses, with God giving Moses a detailed set of religious rules and rituals to obey, promising blessings for obedience and punishment for disobedience. (Ex 34:8-28)
Later the prophet Jeremiah announced the coming of a new covenant that would replace the old Mosaic rules and rituals. It would be a covenant of love written in peoples’ hearts. This prophecy of Jeremiah was cited in the Book of Hebrews as Biblical authority for early Christians to reject the old covenant of Moses for the new covenant with Jesus as God's Word. (He 8:7-13)
Jesus taught that the rule of God’s love superseded the rule of law. Paul echoed Jesus when he wrote to the Romans and Galatians that the entire law was summed up in one command: Love your neighbor as yourself. (Rm 13:9,10; Ga 5:14) In saying this, Paul was reaffirming the primacy of the greatest commandment: We love God by loving others, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves. (Luke 10, 25-37)
The first day of the New Year will be the first day of the rest of our lives. It’s a good time to make resolutions for the future, and first among them should be our resolution to serve God.
How do we serve God? Jesus made that very clear in the greatest commandment and the new command: We show our love for God by loving all of His creations. It is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. Worship is meaningless if not combined with loving service to others, especially the least, the last and the lost—even our enemies.
In the Biblical tradition, commitments of the faithful were made in covenants. Therefore, as the people of God, it is only right and proper that we make a commitment and covenant with God here at the beginning of a New Year.
This covenant is unlike any other agreement you will ever enter into. It cannot be enforced against either party. You are free to disobey it, but there will be consequences if you do—they are the wages of sin and death. On the other hand if you obey it, there are great benefits to be received. That is because when it comes to God’s gift of love, you can expect to receive the measure that you give to others--and even more--just as Jesus promised you.
Wesley’s Covenant Prayer:
Lord, make me what you will.
I put myself fully into your hands:
Put me to suffering,
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and with a willing heart
give it all to your pleasure and disposal.
O Mighty God, You have now become my covenant friend.
And I, through your infinite mercy and grace, have become your covenant servant.
So be it. And now let the covenant I have made on earth be ratified in heaven and in my heart.