There are many Christian leaders today that would not see democracy as being important for the gospel. I mean after all, the world in which Christianity was born was anything but democratic. Jesus came in to a culture that was under the military occupation of Rome. As a Jew in Israel, He and his disciples had little to no democratic rights. Caesar ruled the region in a violent, bloody and ruthless manner. Roman crucifixion itself was used as a deterrent; that insubordination in any form would not be tolerated and was punishable by death. Jesus’ trial was a sham and there was was really no ‘earthly’ way He was going to avoid conviction as the powers that be had conspired against Him and were going to make sure that an example would be made of Him. God, brilliantly, just weaved the inevitable into his grand plan. The apostles that carried on His work after Him lived under constant threat of imprisonment or death, and yet, the gospel flourished in the midst of overt persecution. There are dozens of historical examples of how sometimes persecution is actually good for the gospel. China during the Cultural Revolution under Mao Zedong is a good example. The missionaries were expelled, the pastors were imprisoned, the bibles were burned and in those same years the church silently grew from some 50,000 believers to some 50 million. Today it remains the country where Christianity is growing faster than any nation on earth.
There is nothing inherently biblical about democracy. The bible doesn’t teach it, endorse it or really even mention it. When God was in charge, He used a theocracy (Moses). When the people cried out for a monarchy he gave them one but warned that a king would likely abuse them… which they did. One thing is clear, regardless of the political model, God has little patience for tyranny.
Then Jehoahaz prayed for the LORD’s help, and the LORD heard his prayer. The LORD could see how terribly the king of Aram was oppressing Israel. So the LORD raised up a deliverer to rescue the Israelites from the tyranny of the Arameans. Then Israel lived in safety again as they had in former days. 2 Kings 13:4-5 (NLT)
Our challenge today is that we certainly do not live in any kind of theocracy where God is directing the affairs of man and we won’t until Christ returns to set up His Millennial reign. In the meantime democracy still seems to be our best bet for peace, good government and the harmony of life. History has proven time and again that once we lose what little democracy we have, we steer headlong into tyranny. Most of us do not realize how fragile democracy is. In 1941 at the start of the second world war there were only 11 functioning democracies left in the world. (Today that number is 25 full democracies and 51 flawed democracies) Europe had fallen into the grip of tyrants like Hitler of Germany, Mussolini of Italy and Franco of Spain to name only a few. The resulting violence and chaos saw the loss of most civil liberties, immense hardship, destroyed economies and infrastructure and the death of 60 million young men in the space of only 4 years.
The simple definition of democracy is letting the people rule themselves. By far my favourite quote on the subject is from one of history’s great champions of freedom Thomas Jefferson.
I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion.
When the Iron Curtain and Berlin Wall fell in the late 80’s early 90’s it looked like democracy was set to take the world by storm and that a new dawn of peace was going to settle upon the globe. The season was very short lived. There are more tyrants in the world than ever. Russia’s fledgling democracy has already retracted into a one man dictatorship under ‘Czar’ Vladimir Putin. The former KGB head has cracked down on dissidents, jailed political rivals and clearly has his sights set on restoring Russian to the ‘superpower’ it once was as the former USSR.
Earlier this year Crimea held a referendum to secede from the Ukraine and join Russia instead. 96% voted in favour. Commentators argued whether the vote was legitimate or coerced or what. Almost everybody missed the irony of this story. By voting to join Russia, the Crimeans voted away their democracy in what might end up being the last free vote of their generation.
Let’s bring this closer to home. We are losing democratic freedoms everyday in Canada and most of us don’t even notice. In May of this year Justin Trudeau announced that his party would not allow any pro-life candidates to run in the next federal election. Pro-choicers (as they call themselves) lauded the move as a great progressive step forward for the party. My question is, regardless of one’s view of abortion, how can limiting the religious or moral views of a candidate be progressive? Would that not be by definition regressive, or even oppressive? Would not disallowing pro-life candidates be unconstitutional in that it would restrict one’s rights of freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and the democratic right to hold political office? Was it not Justin Trudeau’s father Pierre, when he was Prime Minister of Canada, that entrenched those very rights in his Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Ironic isn’t it?
After the announcement Cardinal Thomas Collins, Toronto’s Roman Catholic archbishop, wrote an open letter to Trudeau urging him to reverse his position. He argued that, “Political authority is not limitless: it does not extend to matters of conscience and religious faith. It does not govern all aspects of life.” He further challenged the Liberal leader, “Political leaders in our day should not exclude such people of integrity, no matter how challenging they find their views,” he wrote. “I urge you to reconsider your position”
Trudeau responded by saying, “I had an extraordinary example in a father who had deeply, deeply held personal views that were informed by the fact that he went to church every Sunday, read the Bible regularly to us, and raised us very, very religious, very Catholic,” said Trudeau. “But at the same time he had no problem legalizing divorce, decriminalizing homosexuality and moving in ways that recognized the basic rights of the people. He held his personal views very, very strongly. But he understood that as leaders, as political figures, as representatives of a larger community, our utmost responsibility is to stand up for peoples’ rights.” What a minute, let me get this straight; he was very, very religious, read his bible every day and went to church every week but did not let any of that in any way influence his policy making? I was trying to think of a definition of hypocrisy but it’s just not coming to me at the moment
There is no question that the Cardinal’s words have fallen on deaf ears, but I still have to give him full marks on a number of levels. What most Canadians do not know is that religious leaders are no longer allowed to publicly oppose the positions of political candidates. Canada Revenue Agency has been slowly rewriting the rules for religious charities to essentially restrict them from participating in the democratic process. Cardinal Collins was taking a considerable risk by addressing Trudeau’s position directly. For the record, that is not something I would ever do. I wouldn’t even bring it up. I would never criticize the young, inexperienced and gaffe prone Trudeau. If he wants to suspend the fundamental democratic freedoms of his potential candidates, that is clearly none of my business and I need to just keep my big mouth shut. If he wants to smoke pot and encourage other Canadians to do so by legalizing it then that his prerogative. I am not allowed to have an opinion. The demise of democracy is upon us, but my biggest fear is that most of us won’t notice, and those of us who do care are not allowed to speak.