By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
After the Manchester suicide bombing in May, President Trump condemned the terrorist bomber as an evil loser. That reflected Trump’s oft stated belief that winning is the ultimate good and losing is bad—even evil. Such objectivist normative standards may be expected on Wall Street, but not from the White House. All winners are not good and all losers are not evil.
Unfortunately it’s not only Trump’s norm, but one shared by Christian evangelicals who elected him president. The irony is that Jesus taught just the opposite. He condemned pride and greed and reversed the world’s order of merit when he blessed losers and condemned winners and taught that the last will be first and the first will be last. (see Luke 6:20-26 and Matthew 20:16) It is a Christian conundrum that puts mercy over winning, even if it requires losing.
The truth is that Jesus was a loser by the world’s standards—that is, until God made him a winner with the resurrection. But it was a short-lived victory. In the 4th century the church yielded to temptation and became complicit with Constantine in seeking worldly power. To that end the church, like Trump, subordinated showing mercy for losers to winning worldly power.
The Christian religion has evolved through a Reformation and the fragmentation of the Protestant church into countless denominations, and the prosperity gospel has emerged as the distorted progeny of Christian evangelicalism. Led by fundamentalists like Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., and Paula White, Christian evangelicals embraced Donald Trump as their political savior and demonstrated their power at the polls by electing him President.
By making Trump their political icon, Christian evangelicals have subverted the altruistic teachings of Jesus to nativist America First standards of legitimacy that ignore the moral imperative of the greatest commandment to love God and love our neighbors—including those of other races and religions—as we love ourselves. It is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, and one sorely needed in a world of increased religious diversity.
But just as Trump has subordinated U.S. support for NATO and the Paris Accords for America First, Christians have subordinated the teachings of Jesus to a distorted vision of American exceptionalism. It is rank hypocrisy for Christians to ignore the mandates of mercy and put their faith in competition and winning all the conflicts in life when Jesus taught that loving others—including the losers in life’s lottery—is a moral imperative of discipleship.
Christianity and Islam are both at a crossroads. Their future will be decided by whether progressives or fundamentalists win the battle for God within their religion. Fundamentalists in both religions believe that their holy books are the inerrant, infallible and immutable word of God, and reject any advances in knowledge or reason that challenge that sacred truth; and they consider their religion the one true faith, with unbelievers condemned to eternal damnation.
In contrast to fundamentalists, progressive believers accept advances in knowledge and reason in interpreting the truth of their Scripture and respect those of other religions as children of God. While there will always be differences in both faith and politics among progressive believers, they can disagree agreeably without condemning others for their beliefs.
There is one important difference between Christian and Islamist fundamentalists. All Christians in libertarian democracies—fundamentalists and progressives alike—revere the freedoms of religion and speech; but in Islamic cultures, fundamentalists use Islamic law, or Shari’a, to deny those freedoms with apostasy and blasphemy laws.
The primary purpose of politics is to provide equal justice under law, and that requires balancing individual rights with providing for the common good. Religions are obstacles to justice when they condemn those of other races and religions, but they can promote justice and mercy when they advocate a common word of faith to love God and all their neighbors.
Few can be expected to follow all of the teachings of Jesus in our materialistic world, but if progressives and fundamentalists love their neighbors of other races and religions as they love themselves they can all be winners in the battle for God. Loving both losers and winners in an often unfair world promotes justice with mercy, and the world would be a better place for that.
Notes and commentary on related topics:
A group of Christian fundamentalist pastors in North Carolina (for their mission, values, cornerstones and vision, see https://ncpastors.net/about/) have sponsored a billboard supporting Trump’s immigration that proclaims that 19 Muslim immigrants killed 2,977 Americans on September 11, 2001. See http://www.wsoctv.com/news/local/billboard-causes-controversy-over-religion/526157287. Apparently those pastors overlooked the fact that the 9/11 terrorists were from Saudi Arabia and that Trump’s travel ban does not apply to Saudis.
On the evangelical roots of our post truth society, see https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/13/opinion/sunday/the-evangelical-roots-of-our-post-truth-society.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share&_r=0.
One explanation for why (Christian) religion breeds both compassion and hatred is that the social bonding of fundamentalist Christians trumps those principles in the teachings of Jesus. See https://psmag.com/news/why-religion-breeds-both-compassion-and-hatred.
On the eight points of progressive Christianity, see https://progressivechristianity.org/the-8-points/.
President Trump began his recent inter-religious diplomatic tour with King Saul in Saudi Arabia, then met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel and then Pope Francis in Rome. It was evident that “What divides Pope Francis from Trump politically does not divide Trump from King Saul or Prime Minister Netanyahu,” and that “The religion of Trumpism is the presidential bending to the politics of white evangelicalism, whose theological substance in America today is in danger of being reduced to the prosperity gospel.” It was obvious that “Trump’s own political interests and moral legitimacy are very different from the pope’s….” See http://religionnews.com/2017/05/28/trump-and-francis-detente-not-armistice/.
Matthew Sitman of Bloomberg has noted that “Pope Francis’ has made ‘mercy’ the theme of his papacy—he has called it the very foundation of the church’s life.” And, “If there is one element that holds together the dominant Republican worldview, perhaps it is a rejection of mercy.” See https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-05-23/a-vatican-meeting-and-a-clash-of-moral-visions.
After Greg Gianforte, the GOP congressional candidate from Montana, body-slammed a reporter from The Guardian who had the audacity to ask Gianforte a question about health care, Kathleen Parker said, Don’t be surprised about the body slam. Trump planted those seeds long ago. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/dont-be-so-surprised-about-the-body-slam-trump-planted-those-seeds-long-ago/2017/05/26/9e24cc7e-4258-11e7-8c25-44d09ff5a4a8_story.html?wpisrc=nl_opinionsA&wpmm=1.
Karen Armstrong’s The Battle for God (Random House, 2000) is a history of fundamentalism.
On interpreting scripture based on tradition, experience and reason, see Our Theological Task in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church , pages 78-91, at https://www.cokesbury.com/forms/DynamicContent.aspx?id=87&pageid=920.
On the greatest commandment as a common word of faith, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/01/the-greatest-commandment-common-word-of.html.
On religion as good or evil, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/02/is-religion-good-or-evil.html.
On different perspectives of Jesus, see Jesus: A prophet, God’s only Son or the Logos? at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/04/jesus-prophet-god-only-son-or-logos.html.
On a fundamental problem with religion, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/05/a-fundamental-problem-with-religion.html.
On moral restraints on the freedom of speech, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/05/moral-restraints-on-freedom-of-speech.html.
On fear and fundamentalism, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/07/fear-and-fundamentalism.html.
On freedom and fundamentalism, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/08/freedom-and-fundamentalism.html.
On balancing individual rights with providing for the common good, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/08/balancing-individual-rights-with.html.
On how religious fundamentalism and secularism shape politics and human rights, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/08/how-religious-fundamentalism-and.html.
On what is truth? see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/08/what-is-truth.html.
On the politics of loving our neighbors as ourselves, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/01/the-politics-of-loving-our-neighbors-as.html.
On the relevance of religion to politics, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/04/the-relevance-of-religion-to-politics.html.
On religion and a politics of reconciliation, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/05/religion-and-politics-of-reconciliation.html.
On religion and a politics of reconciliation based on shared values, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/11/religion-and-politics-of-reconciliation_19.html.
On saving America from the church, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/01/saving-america-from-church.html.
On the need for a revolution in religion and politics, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/02/the-need-for-revolution-in-religion-and.html.
On moral ambiguity in religion and politics, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/03/moral-ambiguity-in-religion-and-politics.html.
On how Easter and the Christian paradox have distorted the role of Jesus and the church in politics, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/04/easter-and-christian-paradox.html.
On the relevance of Jesus and the irrelevance of the church in today’s world, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/04/the-relevance-of-jesus-and-irrelevance.html
On the freedoms of religion and speech: where human rights begin, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/05/the-freedoms-of-religion-and-speech.html.