Tuesday, 8 April 2008

The Bible And Democracy

I'd like to write a few posts on the question of the Bible, politics and democracy.

Here's an illustration. When I came to Kenya, in some kind of context, I happened to mention that democracy isn't all that it's cracked up to me. The person I was speaking to shrunk back in mock horror. He agreed - but had never ever heard anyone else say so! Anyone who questions the sacred cow of democracy, surely must be a fascist...? Well, no. It's possible to point out that football is not the entire meaning of life, without it implying that you hate it and wish to shoot anyone who plays it.

I fear that many Christians in the UK have done precious little thinking about what the Bible has to say about modern politics. This is probably because of one of three factors. Firstly, it has been taught for a long time that the Bible does not really have anything to say about politics; the Bible is religious and politics is well, political - and never the twain shall meet! I trust that by now we've all spotted that this is bunk. Nobody, apart from some evangelical Christians, appears to believe this. Certainly the secularists who pass laws to enshrine their own beliefs on marriage, human life, abortion, hate speech, homosexuality, etcetera, in law, don't appear to believe that their own creed has nothing to say about national life. Alongside this, it has often been preached
that a Christian could (and it is implied, equally), be found in any political party - without any qualification being added to the statement. Again, this fails the real world test. Could a Christian support the New White Supremacist Party? Secondly, there is a wise reserve which Christians want to keep when talking about politics. Politics often involves many uncertainties; we don't want to confuse our hearers, as if the things we say about Jesus Christ, judgment and salvation are in the same class as our thoughts on the way forward in difficult political situations. Thirdly, I think that for many of us our vision of the gospel and the future is far too small. We think that the idea of the gospel is that we get saved, tell other people how to get saved, and that's about it until the end finally arrives whilst the world collapses around us. Actually, though, the Bible has instructed us to bring every possible thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5) - in other words, to bring God's will and the gospel to bear upon all of human life. When Jesus rose again, there were at that point at least 2000 years remaining before his second return. Christians obviously weren't intended just to huddle together, leaving sin unchallenged in society, believing that their efforts outside of evangelism were worthless because the end was nigh; it wasn't. There were whole civilisations yet to be built. The writers of the letters in the Bible apply the gospel to family, to work and to government - e.g. Romans 12-14.

"Democracy" is a modern Shibboleth. The present US president often speaks as if the bringing of democracy to the world will solve many of the world's problems. I think he's wrong - in some countries I believe democracy has actually made problems worse. How did the militant Islamic Hamas come to government in Palestine, in the place of the more moderate Fatah? Because they were democratically elected. President Musharraf of Pakistan might not be your cup of tea - but would you prefer a democratically-elected Muslim fundamentalist to sit in his place?

Hopefully now I've given the reasons why we should think about this subject, and in that last paragraph given you some food for thought. To be continued...

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