This from a US citizen who is struggling to reconcile her faith with political systems:
I’m curious what Biblical support there is for democracy as many Christians claim it as the only true biblical model. As far as I can tell, it would probably look more of a monarchy (though not exactly the UK model per say) as Jesus is King, where the last come first (i.e the poor, the broken, oppressed etc.) and first come last. This certainly isn’t always evident in democracy and this ideal of individualism.
Though there are also some elements of socialism with some of the collective efforts. For example, the first mention of Christians in Acts 11 from the Church in Antioch did something quite collectivist after accepting Jesus: They provided help to all of Judea, those hit hardest by a famine, each according their ability. Even the first Jewish believers sold their possessions and goods, and gave to anyone who had need. And they became large in numbers (Acts 2:42-47). Yet, if a Christian for example were to propose a policy of this nature in a democracy it would be consider in many cases socialist or communistic.
I’m just curious, because I think there really is a misunderstanding of what’s God’s system of government really it is. Especially in America. It doesn’t really seem to fit under a label in my opinion, and democracy is not a catch all phrase for the government of God. But just my thoughts…what do do you think?
P.S. Also to help on paradigms just a bit as my nationality is American and you are British — this is what the average far right wing Christian American might say:
“A Socialist system is not a Biblical system,. The UK may enjoy such a system but we Christians in the USA have no use for it.” – A retired American pastor
i.e if you help the poor in government policies it’s socialist and not “biblical”. UK actually has a welfare state, the US does not. So it’s promoting the American form of Democracy with privatisation and no welfare. But historically, the British welfare state began with Queen Elizabeth’s Poor Law in the 1600s with the giving of alms. It was very much founded on a Biblical model to begin with anyway under a Monarchy system of govt. This is just an example, and I think the government of God can be established in any system.
But I guess my question is, what is the scriptural justification for democracy? It is the most widely exported government system across the nations of the earth. But it is it completely Biblical? Especially with structural adjustment programmes that discourage a welfare state?
i.e. The US in promoting “democracy” in its foreign policies places conditions on nations to cut welfare programmes, and encourage privatisation – which is both the American model and seen as “Christian”, and liberating the oppressed. It can be quite the contrary and oppressive to say the least.
Some nations have been completely crippled by the US policies to promote “democracy” allowing for Islam to come and take over- Somalia for example. The political-economic damage was intensified and left the country vulnerable to another government system. Therefore, I don’t believe the “American strategy” for promoting democracy was and is always the biblical model. Besides, isn’t bringing God’s Kingdom into government simply hearing God’s voice (strategy) for a government and acting upon it. Which brings me back to my original question: how is democracy – especially the American model justified by scripture?
THIS sort of subject brings me out in disclaimers – so here is one:
I’m not an expert on democratic systems, or on politics in general. I take an interest, but I’m not qualified to pronounce on what are very complex systems which society uses to govern itself.
Nevertheless, your very full outline of what you are thinking about does provoke some thoughts, and as often happens when writing on this group, I need to set out some basics:
1. The Bible does not actually support ANY political system outright. There have been devout Christians who were communists, some who were fascists and every shade in between.
2. A list of political systems in effect in Bible times shows Patriarchy, Tribalism, Monarchy (Despotic and Benevolent), Subjugation by foreign powers, and National enslavement, but the only system instituted by God was a form of theocracy (see below)
3. Oligarchy, Democracy, Aristarchy, and Dictatorship are not much in evidence.
4. Jesus did not work against the Roman Occupying power. He advised that what was owed in taxes to Rome, should be paid.
5. Paul said we should pray for those in authority, for they would not be there had not God allowed it.
6. The only system of National government which God himself put into place was the system of Judges. They were appointed by God and accepted by the people as authorities over them.
Judg 2 18 Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them. 19 But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshipping them.
These Judges were his representatives, and he regarded himself as the Monarch in this arrangement; see what God says at the end of this reference:
1 Sam 8 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” 6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.
It is interesting to note that a Brit would be very unlikely to have written about the actions of their state in the way that you do about yours. You speak about oppressive policies – and I have no wish to question your opinion on that, you seem to know far more than I, yet you assert that these policies are ‘both the American model and seen as “Christian”’.
By contrast many Brits who disapprove of whatever it is that Britain does would have virtually nobody in their circle who would label the actions as “Christian”. Whatever Britain does it does for political reasons. The reasons may be good, bad or indifferent, but I can’t remember British policies which I could label as “Christian”. The opposite is more usually the case.
And yet I suspect that many of the “democratic” policies you are suspicious of are very similar on both sides of the Atlantic.
You assert that certain policies are labelled “democratic AND Christian” over there, and I assert that very similar policies over here are labelled as “democratic”.
My next question may be uncomfortable, but it is a natural one for a Brit to ask at this stage: “WHO SAYS the democratic policies in the States are also Christian policies”?
Maybe this is where you have to get back to me and let me know how this impression shakes down in the States, but it seems to me that there are certain groups who might make this assertion:
a. Is it the Politicians who “own” the policies? But surely they will say whatever gets them most votes. If a “Christian Spin” helps, they’ll use it. It doesn’t mean the policy is remotely Christian in reality.
b. Is it the media? But they will say anything to make a good story, and the US media is much more openly politicised than the British media, (who try to hide their bias).
c. Is it the politically “Right Wing”? But in the States, you expect to meet right wingers who cannot understand how anybody could possibly have a different opinion from theirs. And they will mix their own Christian beliefs in with their politics, whether or not there is actually a connection in reality.
d. Is it the politically “Left Wing”? But it is a very good smear story for the left wing to use against the right wing- “Just look at their dreadful policies – and they are only doing this because they are “Christian” policies, these people believe they are running our country on behalf of their GOAAAAD!”
e. Is it the church leaders? But you can find church leaders of every shade and opinion. Brits find it astonishing that certain church leaders in the USA openly support certain candidates in an election, even inviting candidates to speak at their churches – something no British church leader would do unless all candidates were invited to give “balance”.
f. Is it the people in the churches? But they are going to be just as mixed a bunch as the general population, some churches will be very right wing, others very left wing, most in-between.
I suppose what I am trying to say is that I find your claim that US Government policies are somehow “Christian” is a peculiarly USA-type claim, and I’m not sure that whoever claims it can be relied upon.
I live in a monarchy, where the monarch is a head of state but with no political power. The country is governed by the largest party among over six hundred people in a parliament, each one elected by the general population. That party appoints one of its number to the policy-making position of Prime Minister.
You come from a country where the Head of State is the policy-maker. He or she is elected separately from other representatives of the people, the majority of whom may or may not agree with his/her own political views. Some of the Head of State’s policies can be put into action without the consent of this group, some need it.
I know of no Biblical criticism of either of these systems.
Equally, I can envisage a total monarchy, as exists on some Pacific Islands, where the monarch is a Godly person and rules benignly and equitably in the name of his Maker. I’m sure that this is a Godly system, though it is not democratic.
Bible principles DO speak against brutal regimes – whatever part of the political spectrum they claim to follow. Regimes which officially demand atheism, regimes which do not allow freedom of religion and regimes which promote one religion while forbidding others are also clearly in breach of Biblical principles.
The groups covered by these considerations would include, for example, most Communist regimes, most dictatorships, and some Islamic regimes.
So, to conclude, I can give you no conclusive Biblical support for democracy being “the Christian way”.
Yet it is a system of Government which, (like some of the other systems), if it is in the hands of Godly people, OUGHT to be capable of governing a nation in a Godly way.