To modern western people, and the world at large today, a democratic rule is almost a no-brainer. Collective wisdom seems to suggest that when we put too much power into the hands of one individual, it’s corrupting.
One of the major themes of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing in The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy is the inherent flaws of political power. In them, you see a parade of characters who are committed to war for personal gain, who once they get their hands on great power (i.e. One Ring), they become addicted to it. This power exposes the ugliness of pride and the weakness of their character, so the ring must be destroyed. The world has also come to agree with this theme – one of the reasons the books remain classics.
In the 20th century, this inherent flaw/temptation of political power became “common sense” and democracy became the solution, the Savior. Democracy removes the potential for one individual to become corrupted by power – or, more accurately – to allow the inherent corruption of any one individual to curse the masses. The majority serves as a check and balance.
But…what would happen if the majority loses track of its cultural North Star?
Well, before anyone suggests that the majority will be guarded by the inherent moral code from God (Rom. 2:14-15) and guided by the alarm (called a conscience) that fires off whenever that code is violated, remember that this conscience can become misguided, even useless (1 Tim. 4:1-2). We saw this thing happen to almost the entire human race at the time of Noah (Gen. 6:5). We saw this happen in the South in the 19th century when it came to slavery. We saw this happen to much of Germany in the mid-20th century when it came to the Jewish population. The majority opinion is, by no means, a moral authority.
Signs of Regression
What would be the signs of a civilization in which the majority was almost entirely incapable of discerning right from wrong anymore? It’s simple. When authority is no longer authority, you cannot have society. According to the Bible, the God-invented authorities for mankind are parents (for children) and church and state (for adults).
So let’s check the vitals and see how we’re doing?
Several years ago the NY Times referred to childbirth outside of marriage as “the new norm,” a particularly frequent trend amongst millennials (among those who are actually having children). I’m not, by the way, trying to point this out for the purpose of shaming a generation – I’m merely mentioning that it’s non-arguably the new statistical norm and encouraging people to think why. The very premise of the TV show Modern Family, which won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series its first 5 years on air, is the idea that whether you’re a married man and woman, a divorced older man with a new trophy wife, a homosexual couple, a single parent, or whatever other possible combination, it doesn’t matter, all options are equally legitimate and beautiful. Two generations ago, some of these relationships used to literally be defined as “illegitimate” in our country. No longer. The God-designed family unit as authoritative “norm” is gone in America.
Americans also don’t trust politicians…at all. This is to such a degree that, ironically, as Republicans were seeking a nominee for the upcoming presidential election, NOT being a career politician was considered a distinct advantage for Trump or Carson in a quest to become … a career politician.
Further interesting (and sad) is the running narrative that, by and large, Americans don’t like EITHER of our front-running potential candidates for president. How does this happen in a democracy?! It seems almost impossible in a “popular” election. But this is part of the issue plaguing a 2 party system – anyone who desires to become their party’s representative almost invariably has to sell their soul and compromise core beliefs. Candidates then invariably appear untrustworthy/compromising, and thus unlikable, under the nation’s scrutinizing eye. As a result, every debate is spent checking what candidates said against what they previously said and losing yet more trust. Governing leaders, despite being elected, are no longer perceived as an authoritative “norm.”
Our nation clearly is struggling to respect local law enforcement at this time as well. There is a palpable tension over the perception of the mistreatment of African-Americans. This has erupted in recent years as the disgruntled in major cities have each taken turns expressing their angst – from rioting in Ferguson, Baltimore, St. Paul, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Milwaukee, Charlotte, etc., with no realistic end in sight. The other day while teaching a Catechism class in a central-city Milwaukee classroom, I received push back on something I thought was simply universal morality. I was contextualizing the story of the Good Samaritan. I told it in terms of kids playing a pickup game of basketball, where a fight broke out and one was beating on the other. I explained how the “innocent bystanders” who stood by and did nothing were guilty of something called the “sin of omission” – not doing the right thing by intervening and helping out the party being unjustly treated. I teach three sections of these Word of God classes, and in every section, several students commented on how they wouldn’t want to intervene to help out the child in trouble, because “what if the police came and accused me of doing something I didn’t do.” I went on to explain how this illustration is really just Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan, and the “innocent bystanders” who were more concerned about themselves than the hurting party were the Levite and the Priest. Eventually, each classroom turned to recognizing that the Samaritan did the “right” thing. More importantly, every classroom eventually understood that spiritually speaking, we all are really the guy who was left for dead alongside the road and Jesus was the Good Samaritan who came and sacrificed everything to help us, getting beaten in our place. So the lesson was eventually received, but there nonetheless remains an obvious and undeniable skepticism towards traditional authoritative law enforcement “norms” as well.
This breakdown of trust in civil servants is clearly causing some societal unraveling. Within the past week, a Chicago man, high on PCP nearly beat to death a female officer, a 17-year veteran of the Chicago police department. The woman had her gun drawn, but admitted she was afraid to fire out of fear the negative media attention would bring to her unit and her family. Yes. Of course. That is the picture of societal breakdown. A supposed public authority, hired to protect and serve, is not allowed to bring justice to a drugged criminal, acting like a crazed animal.
And of course there is the traditional spiritual authority of “clergy.” Outside of politician, I’m not sure the American public is more cynical of any profession. Just ask yourself – when was the last time you saw clergy portrayed well on TV, in a movie, in the media, etc (I’m not counting those produced by Pure Flix)? If you’re an actor and auditioning for the role of clergy, I can nearly guarantee it’s as a suspect on Law and Order SVU. That’s the new norm we’ve been conditioned to.
What to Do
So is there anything wrong with democracy? No, not in theory. But there is something wrong with American Christians looking to it (or any other earthly “authority”) as the Savior.
There’s a reason why popular American pastor Andy Stanley’s recent video encouraging people over 45 to “stop scaring kids” has been so wildly popular. He’s tapped into the fact that somewhere along the line, Christians in America (as a generalization) stopped trusting God as Lord and started trusting politics and the economy as Lord, despite continuing to confess the Creed on Sundays. Really, he’s essentially saying what Jesus said to his panicked disciples when the storms of life crept up, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” (Matt. 8:26) When the circumstances of life seem to be crashing around you, and you panic, this is evidence of lack of faith in God, trusting worldly circumstances ahead of God’s promises.
Repeatedly throughout Scripture God demonstrates the fact that he accomplishes his purposes despite, and even through, godless governments. Prime Minister Daniel, whose wisdom was studied by all in the Ancient Near East seemed to think so (Dan. 2:21). God calls Babylon his servant (Jer.25:9; 27:6). He says the same thing about Assyria (Isa. 10:5-6). God made possible the release of his people from exile by working through the military prowess of a pagan king, Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1, 13). God made possible the rebuilding of Jerusalem by working through the actions of a pagan king, Artaxerxes (Neh. 2:1-10). In the midst of political discussion, Jesus seems to speak about the impending destruction to the Jewish community that rejected him, referring to the Roman soldiers as “his army” – “He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” (Matt. 22:7) And the last of these, the Apostle Paul, says the same thing about “God’s servants” (Rom. 13:4, 6). He’s referring to the same government that killed his Savior.
God’s providence is not constrained to getting the right candidates in office. And the spiritually clarifying moment is this: Democracy (and its elected politicians) aren’t your Savior. Also, heightened intelligence isn’t your Savior. Tech advancement isn’t your Savior. Your beauty isn’t your Savior. The suburbs aren’t your Savior. Guns aren’t your Savior. New medicine isn’t your Savior. There is no Savior but THE Savior.
Christians expressing faith in something ahead of the Savior, as much as anything, is creating the foreign outsourcing of Christianity from this nation.
The Savior is your Savior. Period.
We daily forget this. We daily want to repent of this. And we daily receive the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of the Savior we forgot. If the political circus we now encounter compels us to despair and turn to Jesus, then so be it, and glory be to God.
“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17)