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Christians and democracy day

Whether we knew it or not it was Democracy day yesterday; a day celebrated in grand style by the BBC (see here for their list of feature pieces).

The day has perhaps carried a particular poignancy this year given the relatively recent Arab Spring uprisings, the celebration of free speech in the face of the Paris terrorist attacks and the fact that 2015 marks the 750th anniversary of the first parliament of elected representatives at Westminster.

It is quite right that we celebrate such a model of governance designed to diffuse power amongst the people. The tyranny wrought by non-elected governments on their own people which too often grace our news screens are a stark reminder of where we could be otherwise. Of course it is not perfect, and indeed the Arab Spring uprisings often saw increased persecution towards Christian minorities, but it is largely good. As Churchill is reported to have said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, apart from all the others.”

Charles sent me a video (see here) yesterday which I found thought-provoking which I thought I’d pass on. In it the Harvard Business Professor Clayton Christensen speaks on the value of religion to democracy. Let me quote him at length:

“I had no idea how critical religion is to the functioning of democracy. Democracy works not because the government was designed to oversee what everybody does, but rather democracy works because most people most of the time voluntarily choose to obey the law… in the past Americans followed these rules not just because they believed they were accountable to society, but because they were accountable to God.”

Many debates surrounding religion at present orbit around the ‘freedom of speech.’ At base-level they want to protect the right to belief as long as that right does not encroach on the basic human rights of other citizens. This line of argument is sound and to be encouraged and yet it is hardly overly-positive regarding religious belief, indeed many today remain deeply suspicious of religion often fearing that its (nonsensical) creeds will lead to nonsensical violence.

The striking thing about this video is that it dares to be much more positive about religious belief and most particularly Jewish and Christian belief. He observes that the fear of God is a more powerful driver to law-abiding behaviour than the fear of the state. The silent implication is that civic laws do a good job of containing disorder in society, whereas we need something more to change the heart of citizens so that we actively want to obey.

Of course these observations are not new. In the middle of one of the most oppressive Roman regimes towards the Christian faith Paul exhorts his Roman readers to “submit [themselves] to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established” [Rom 13:1]. Governments of any kind, and especially democratically-elected governments which rely heavily on the good-will of the people, should want to have more Christians under their sway. Christians are the kind of people who are good for society since they know, love and are accountable to the God who rules all. Indeed the Apostle Peter adds that such an attitude towards the authorities will win good-will from non-church going onlookers who will not have a bad word to say about us [1 Pet 2:15].

So… may I wish you a belated happy democracy day, and with it my prayers that it would be more widely recognised that Christian faith aids such a system rather than undermines it?


John Ash


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