If Christians are interested in politics, the first and most important political thing they can do is to protect democracy.
They prefer (or should prefer) democracy over other types of government — over any autocracy, over monarchy, over oligarchy, even over a “theocracy.” In some Christian writing, there is a lot of romantic daydreaming about kings and tsars and emperors, but this is all moonshine. At best, “kings” were only temporary necessities (or “helpful symbols,” like in England).
A secular democracy is not easy, but it is better than the alternatives. It’s far, far better than anything else. And I say that not only as an American, but as a Christian.
Christianity is not neutral about the character of the State. Throughout its two thousand year history, the Church has frequently criticized the State to answer for its cruelty and violence. The Bible and Christian tradition have demanded care for those living at the bottom and at the frayed edges of society — “the poor, the widowed, and the orphaned, the aged and the infirm.”
That is, everyone and anyone who have been marginalized throughout history — and there are many of these.
When it comes to government, “care” involves enfranchisement, especially. This is what modern democracy can accomplish, as opposed to other types of government, like monarchies, aristocracies, even the ancient Athenian “democracy.” The vote in ancient Athens was limited to property-owning adult males who had completed their military training. This accounted for only ten percent of the population. This is hardly “democracy” in the American sense of the word.
Universal (adult) suffrage is not only an American ideal, it is more importantly a Christian concern. There can be no Christian rationale for restricting suffrage. The reason for this is simple. The Christian community, in its essence, is no “respecter of persons.” In its New Testament foundation, the Christian community did not require a certain ethnicity or nationality, a certain income or social status, or a minimal level of education. It never imposed literacy tests. It never erected arbitrary, prejudicial difficulties.
For the first time in history, this was a community that was completely voluntary and separated from the state civil religion: it was chiefly because early Christians refused to participate in imperial polytheism (like fawning over the statue of the Emperor) that they were so severely persecuted by the Romans. This new community gave equal infinite value to people, without any regard to gender, race, and socioeconomic status. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female,” St Paul wrote in Galatians 3.28, “for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The idea that “all men are created equal” is inconceivable without the emergence of Christianity in the first century. The whole tradition of “personalism,” of caring deeply for the individual and how society treats the individual, is rooted in the brand new community founded in the second chapter of Acts.
If the Church is necessarily open to all, then how could a Christian restrict political standing in a lesser social structure — the State?
St Paul’s verse alone (and there are many others) proves that Christianity prefers real democracy above all other forms — a democracy based on all adults participating in political power, not just some.
It goes without saying that if an American wants to be “un-democratic,” then he ceases to be American. It is also true that a Christian — speaking as a Christian — cannot wish for a monarchy or an autocracy over a democracy.
The great Christian writer C S Lewis weighed in on this matter in the dark days of England in 1943. Nazi Germany was very much at high tide in its flooding Europe with fascism, anti-semitism, mindless populism, and utter hatred of democracy.
There were more than a few in England who were saying that a “strong hand” was just the thing needed, that democracy was too complicated and messy “for times like these.”
Here is the famous author of the Chronicles of Narnia and the Screwtape Letters on the Christian (not just secular or agnostic) need for democracy:
“I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others. And the higher the pretensions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both to the rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant a robber baron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations. And since Theocracy is the worst, the nearer any government approaches Theocracy the worse it will be. A dogma, held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality, and it gives a seemingly high, super-personal sanction to all the passions by which, like other men, the rulers will frequently be actuated. In a word, it forbids wholesome doubt.”
“Wholesome doubt” is always good practice in democracy. These days, it ought to be practiced a whole lot more than it is.