Conservative Christianity as a threat to democracy – Baptist News Global


Christians must support democracy. It shouldn’t be a shocking statement. It shouldn’t even need to be said. The American Baptists, at least, were pretty clear about it.

But today it is becoming increasingly clear as we look around the world and into our own nation that Christians must make a new cause for liberal democracy. This is because some of the most ardent representatives of ideological movements undermining democracy are conservative Christians.

I remember the exact day I first found out that some conservative Christians weren’t so pro-democracy.

David gushee

It was 20 years ago. My oldest daughter was in third grade at a Christian school in western Tennessee. She came home to ask for help with her social studies homework. When I sat down with her to watch it, I found that Holly was learning a Neo-Puritan civic education program, in which God’s purpose for human government is led by pious Christian men applying the scriptures under the sovereignty of God.

Basically, the political view of this curriculum was similar to that which dominates the Calvinist churches – the rule by ancient men responsible before God rather than the people. The power of God flowed to the elders who then exercised it in the community for the welfare of the people but without their control. It was fundamentally undemocratic.

These days we are seeing a growing conservative Christian flirtation with authoritarianism. We see its protests in countries as diverse as Brazil, Hungary and Russia. Some of the 20th century’s most atrocious regimes were built on the support of conservative Christians for authoritarian, anti-democratic, or falsely democratic governments – think Franco’s Spain, Mussolini’s Italy, Pétain’s France , to Hitler’s Germany.

There seems to be a hold attraction to authoritarianism on the part of many types of conservative Christians – Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants. Democracy is a mess. Its results do not always conform to Christian preferences. God’s law (as many Christians understand it) does not necessarily define the parameters of human law. People get a vote that some Christians would rather not count as equal votes in the national community. A free press constantly challenges authority.

“There seems to be a continuing attraction to authoritarianism on the part of many types of conservative Christians. “

The old adage (attributed to Saint John of Kronstadt) that “In hell there is democracy, in heaven there is a kingdom”, seems to resonate with some. I saw it online in this country. Some Christians aspire to a policy that looks more like a kingdom than a democracy.

Taking a step back, we must recognize that it is not easy to move from Scripture to democracy. There is little or no democracy in the Bible. Most of the policies we see there are imperial, theocratic, tyrannical. Jesus himself spoke in the monarchical image of the kingdom of God.

It took many centuries for Rome and Christendom, state churches, crusades and religious wars, for the West to produce the flawed versions of liberal democracy that emerged from the 18th century. These democracies can be criticized for their blatant undemocratic injustices, a common theme on the left. But it is easy to forget, at least on the left, that another critical stream of democracy has long survived on the right. It has a special flavor on the Christian right, much of which still desires an American Christian kingdom.

“We have come to a point where the foundations of American democracy must once again be defended. “

This right-wing Christian authoritarianism has been reactivated by Donald Trump, and not just in his corrosive attack on American democracy after losing the 2020 election and screaming fraud. He was violating democratic standards (and many laws) long before that, while seducing Christians with promises of their kind from Christian America. He is still there, still tugging at the unraveling threads of our democracy and retaining the support of tens of millions of conservative Christians.

It seems we have reached a time when the foundations of American democracy must once again be defended, in Christian terms. This forces us to see that what originated in Philadelphia in 1776 (as amended in 1789) was a Western – Christian – Enlightenment goulash. It’s messy. But it’s better than the alternatives.

No one ever guaranteed that our constitutional democracy would survive in perpetuity. Our generation is only the last to decide, once again, whether we are going to continue the imperfect but extraordinary experiment of self-government that began in 1776.

David P. Gushee is a leading Christian ethicist. He is Professor Emeritus of Christian Ethics at Mercer University and Past President of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Christian Ethics. He is the author of Kingdom ethics, After evangelization, and Changing Your Mind: The Historic Call to Inclusion of LGBTQ Christians. He and his wife, Jeanie, live in Atlanta. Learn more: Where Facebook.

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