The Christian response to a crisis in democracy

michael kellahan
The Christian response to a crisis in democracy image

The dismantling of long-held shared beliefs is the biggest change in the post-Christian 21stt century world. The centuries-long Enlightenment project of European humanism has crowned the individual alone as the king. Independent of any law above him or legacy before him the citizen is autonomous. Life together will no longer be done according to agreed belief in what is good or sacred. There is no common belief that binds us. Free of the authority of churches and dogma we can decide for ourselves how we are to do life together.

Interestingly, we have not seen a wholesale abandonment of the truths of the past. Even the most progressive politicians claim a central belief in the dignity of human beings as the basis for human rights.  

This claim to maintain human rights while simultaneously jettisoning so many Christian beliefs about what it means to be human will likely be the cause of much future conflict. The marriage debate is but one example of that – marriage was reformed in the name of freedom, equality and individual choice. Political conflict over gender identity, euthanasia and abortion are symptomatic of this deeper conflict about what it means to be human and have human rights.

Read more about the crisis of democracy in Australia here. 

What, then, is the Christian response to a crisis in democracy?

Prayer for rulers. The Prayer Book picks up the repeated scriptural commands to pray for rulers. Pray, pray and pray some more. Prayer like this will kill cynicism and despair.

Go back to the Scriptures – they are a powerful, sufficient, saving word that speaks wisdom this confused world needs to hear. Preaching for 2019 needs to equip God’s people for works of service in 2019. One of these significant challenges is the idea of democracy being broken. More ministers need to equip God’s people to think coherently, applying the great truths of the unchanging gospel to a confusing and fast-changing world.

Faith, hope and love

These great Christian virtues speak to the distinctively Christian way to engage in politics. Exercising these virtues in the political sphere is not some strange addition to the gospel – it is a grounded application of what it means for Christ to be Lord of all. Have faith in God’s good purposes and sovereign hand. Have hope in him bringing all things under the rule of Christ. Love all because he has first loved us – even those who would exclude Christians from the public square (then keep working in a similar way through other virtues).

Engage

Don’t think that politics is the unique calling of the Christian politician or Canberra lobbyist. If the crisis in democracy is the crisis of the hour, then pastors need to help equip God’s people to think and act and speak in Christian ways to respond to it. It should be normal and encouraged for there to be at least one person in every church who makes that connection with the local politician.

"Love all because he has first loved us" 

The local MP or councillor is your representative, so pray for her. Contact her and ask for a meeting. Don’t wait until the night before a conscience vote and tell her this is what she must do on a controversial issue. Get to know what the issues are in your community and be committed to taking part. For some, this will mean membership of a political party or organisation. At a time when people are abandoning faith and trust in politics, this might be a time for some to step up and serve.

Speak a better story 

We need to have a better story than that offered by those wanting to strip the past and create brave new worlds. We need to know the Christian story better and see how it speaks to the brokenness of this world. We also need to listen empathetically to what those seeking a secular salvation want. People want dignity, justice, identity and equality – these are good desires – and we need a compelling story of where these hopes can be truly satisfied.

We also need to be able to critique the false gospel of this “sexular” age, and we won’t be able to do that unless we first understand it, and its appeal. It is easy to dismiss and parody beliefs we don’t hold rather than engage and genuinely listen. But we need to move beyond respectful listening to confident and humble speaking of God’s word, which will make sense of our world and offer a better way forward.

Perhaps these will be times God uses to bring revival to his church

Read some history

Reject the non-reading, goldfish online culture – history is our friend. God’s people have responded to crumbling political certainties many times in the past. God’s providential hand is at work in even the darkest of days. What is happening around us is far bigger and more interesting than the last 5 minutes on Twitter.

It seems we will get to live in exciting times. Democracy may be broken and with it the vestiges of nominal Christianity. Perhaps these will be times God uses to bring revival to his church. Perhaps they signal darker days. Time will tell. But in these troubled and confusing times we have a hope far more solid to cling to than Western civilisation and democracy.

The Rev Michael Kellahan is executive director of Freedom for Faith.