(You may watch video of this sermon here)
Does your religious belief or spiritual orientation compel you to support democracy? Why or Why not?
I pose this question to you now – I’m interested to hear your responses in the comments. I’ve posed this question this past week over our church email lists and social media. And I’ll share with you all people’s responses a little later, very thoughtful all of them. Some people said, “Yes, of course.” And some people said, “No, not necessarily.” It’s the “Why”, especially, that I want us to talk about and wrestle with.
Now, I ask this question deliberately to be provocative, to provoke us to dig deeper and get clearer about what our relationship with God and Jesus as people of faith means or doesn’t mean for us as citizens, most of us, of a country that has been going through a crisis in its democracy.
Really, it’s not me who’s provoked this question.
Many of the people who stormed the capital building to try to violently prevent the official count of the results of a free and fair election did so in the name of Jesus. Many of the people these many months who have trying to use whatever power they have to subvert the electoral process have been doing so in the name of Jesus, in the name of Christianity, in the name of America, and, for some, explicitly, in the name of the white race, and the supposed supremacy of all these things.
Many Christian groups have now made public statements denouncing the attempted insurrection – more than usually make declarations about current events. Our leadership within the United Church of Christ certainly has. But we are way overdue for much more of a reckoning among American Christians about our long and living history of using the name of Jesus to justify violent impunity and racism.
So, what does our Christian faith got to do with democracy?
Now, I’m going to back up and root this in the gospel. Let’s talk about Jesus.
As we heard in our scripture reading today, when John baptized Jesus in the river Jordan, the Holy Spirit came and compelled Jesus to go out into the wilderness. In the wilderness he was put to the test by the one we can call The Slanderer or The Accuser – that’s what “diabolous” and “satan” mean, a personification of the ways that evil forces try to trick us and lead us to stray from God and our sacred purpose.
The first temptation – to turn stones into bread: We can see this as the temptation to let our appetites dominate the choices we make – the ways that greed, gluttony, lust can distract us from the deeper sustenance we get from God alone.
The second temptation – for Jesus to throw himself off the Temple so that God’s angels can catch him: We can see this as the temptation of spiritual pride – the need to make a big display of how holy and righteous and blessed by God we are.
It’s the third temptation that speaks to our question here.
The Slanderer takes Jesus to a very high mountain and show him all the empires of the world and their splendor, and he says to him, “I’ll give you all these, if you will knee down and pay homage to me.”
Finally Jesus says to him, “Get out of here, Satan! Remember, it is written, ‘You are to pay homage to the Lord your God, and you are to revere God alone.’”
This is the temptation to seize and wield power, to conquer, to dominate.
Jesus won’t have any of that. That is not his way. And neither should it be ours.
Some of you who said, “No, my faith doesn’t necessarily compel me to support democracy,” were speaking to this temptation, the temptation of making an idol of political power. You were clear that, yes, you supported democracy, and no, you didn’t support some kind of anti-democratic religious regime. But you were clear that it’s salvation through Jesus is what’s central to your world view. This compels you to guard against the idolatry that any political power structure was somehow ordained by God.
But throughout history, many Christians have made that deal with the devil for the sake of power, and claimed that this or that nation, this or that king, this or that president, has somehow been uniquely ordained by God to rule. This has corrupted the meaning of faith in Jesus. And it’s even just watered it down: in our country we all have to be careful that the faith we live out isn’t just conservative political ideology or liberal political ideology dressed up in religious language.
In other words, separation of church and state is good for Christianity and good for democracy.
As Cornel West, the contemporary Christian thinker, wrote in his book, Democracy Matters, “I speak as a Christian – one whose commitment to democracy is very deep but whose Christian convictions are even deeper. Democracy is not my faith. And American democracy is not my idol” (Democracy Matters, pg. 171).
Throughout history, there have been deeply faithful followers of Jesus within every kind of political and economic regime, who live out a faith that is what Cornel West calls a prophetic witness on behalf of the realm of God against the cynical, nihilistic powers that rule politics. The last shall be first and first shall be last. We don’t look to Caesar, we look to the Christ who is among those that the powers that be crucifies. So, we are feeding those who are hungry, clothing those who are naked, housing those who are homeless, healing those who are wounded, welcoming those who are the stranger, visiting those who are imprisoned, freeing those who are enslaved, forgiving those who are in debt.
What Cornel West argues is that when salvation through Christ frees us to live out this kind of faith, we are living out the kinds of values that promote a culture of democracy – democracy is more than just having elections every few years. “To be a Christian – a follower of Jesus Christ – is to love wisdom, love justice, and love freedom.” This means honoring the equality and dignity and essential unity of all persons. This means humility and toleration, as well as boldness and courage: “To be a Christian is to live dangerously, honestly, freely – to step in the name of love as if you may land on nothing, yet to keep stepping because the something that sustains you no empire can give you and no empire can take away. This is the kind of vision and courage required to enable the renewal of a prophetic, democratic Christian identity in the age of the American empire.” (172)
This is what many of you express in how you responded to my question. The values you follow in living out your faith contribute to your commitment to the values that make for culture of democracy:
So let me share your responses:
Does my faith compel me to support democracy? Yes, because I am a Christian. Of course one doesn’t have to be a Christian to support democracy, and certainly there are Christians who don’t. But as for me, the way of Jesus instructs me to love my neighbor as myself . If I truly follow that commandment, I will support conditions that treat all people as my equal and equally deserving to be respected and represented in a government, as Lincoln said, of the people, by the people and for the people. I believe that is a democracy.
I believe I am a Christian first and a citizen second….how that gets “honored” changes as I grow older and understand at a deeper level….now I have more questions for myself and more desire to serve….
I think this is a good question to pose as we all navigate and watch the country navigate all the current challenges. To look at and maybe focus on our core beliefs in humanity, religion and what draws us together as thinking beings hopefully is comforting as well as invigorating. I hope it pushes us all to do more to assure powerful positive movement to finding our better selves, our better country to create a better world. Religion is getting a bad name – my brother and others think all religious people are religious, political wing nuts, rushing and ransacking the capital etc – non thinkers only promoting white races. Drives me nuts… I wish he could see the bigger picture and caring religious people too.
Democracy, as opposed to politics, is rooted in a concern for the many. At its best, it puts the other person/people first. This is not solely a Christian attribute of democracy but in the United States, Christianity and in particular at the beginning, protestant Christianity informed the development of mainstream democratic thought. Thus one’s faith and one’s belief in democracy, as an American, are closely linked. Sadly, both have been severely sullied by the linking of American Christianity….with this most un-Christian of presidents?
Of course it does. Our government promises liberty and justice for all, I leave those words off when I pledge allegiance because we do a very bad job of it. We don’t even do as well as some other countries but we have ideals. Many of us strive for those ideals. I read the Bible enough to know that religion is not separated from politics there. People have to live together and as a Christian I am guided by both politics and religion.I want my politics to be as expressive of my religious beliefs as possible. Neither is perfect. It’s up to us to do all we can to come as close to being the beloved community as we can.
My short answer is no. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are commanded to seek and work for God’s justice regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. What is God’s justice? It’s not a vague answer, but far too long for here.
The golden rule says to treat others as you want to be treated. I want my voice to be heard, my vote counted. Ergo, democracy. All eligible voters should be allowed to vote as quickly and easily as possible. Nine-hour voting lines are just as obnoxious and destructive as Jim Crow poll
Yes, because I want to be a good citizen. Church and State should stay separate, but keep getting mixed up because of such strong feelings for what is morally right. So I feel I want to walk in the church to learn God’s why of peace and goodwill then democracy will follow as it should.
Well, of course it does! Why were we, The United States of America, even here to begin with? Freedom of, or from, religion…
I am a second generation immigrant. My Mom came over from Germany, snuck out as a small child. At the height of World War II…
But I was told everything evil that happened. How it all went wrong. How lucky I was just to be here. The lessons all stuck to me like glue. But one lesson in particular. And it has to do with religion.
My Mom had a best friend. They played together all the time. One day the best friend and her family were just gone. No one spoke of them. Once some of the family, and Mom, we’re safe in America the rest of the story came out.
The family was Jewish. They were put on the train to a concentration camp. None came out.
Politics and religion make strange bedfellows as evidenced in several countries around the world where their religion, Islam, and politics are inseparable. I’ve been to a number of those countries and while technically politically stable, usually, religion is something that must be done and not an enlightening, enriching and holy personal experience…
I think people believe that we were founded as a Christian nation, we definitely were not as evidenced by the founder’s backgrounds in religion…
In Christ’s time, I see politics and religion as intertwined with the Pharisees and Sadducees as a pseudo arm of the Roman empire…
We get a glimpse into Christ’s take on politics when asked about the poll-tax. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” Mat 22:21. I think he meant to recognize and obey the legal government but to also remember that we are God’s children with responsibilities to God.
So, to answer your question: I support democracy and follow God. Neither compels me to follow the other but are two separate actions…as Christ intended.
From a Unitarian Universalist:
5th Principle of UUs: The Right of Conscience and the Use of the Democratic Process Within Our Congregations and in Society at Large
“In our religious lives, the democratic process requires trust in the development of each individual conscience—a belief that such development is possible for each of us, as well as a commitment to cultivate our own conscience. We could call it a commitment to the value of each person. In the words of Theodore Parker, ‘Democracy means not “I am as good as you are,” but “You are as good as I am.”’ My connection with the sacred is only as precious as my willingness to acknowledge the same connection in others.”
—Rev. Parisa Parsa
From a Jew:
If I understand the Jewish tradition correctly the answer is no, it has many democratic aspects but placing religious faith in any political system is a form of ‘avodah zara’ (idolatry). Of course democracy is preferable to tyranny but it won’t solve our problems in an ultimate sense. Others may disagree
Absolutely. Nobody’s perfect. We all share imperfection, so we must share the right to govern.
I was raised that serving others less fortunate is the most important work of a Christian.
We are compelled to live the gospel doing justice, feeding the hungry, caring for and loving each other. All of this is best supported in a democratic society. It is not easy and we have a great deal of work to do
Song by JR VanSlyke – Au Revoir (the 20% Christian Song)
The cross is burning
I’m going to miss you
I don’t want to
but I nail my letter,
I can’t stay
for they know not
they know not what they’re doing
or what they’ve done
there can’t be love
Without love there can’t be faith
in God above
they would know that you were Christian by your love…au revoir
Religion and faith have always been powerful forces of human identity and impulse. As such, lots of worldly powers seek to capture the flag of -in this case- Christianity. As Christians we need to be aware of this tendency, be able to recognize when it’s happening, and have the courage and independence to call attention to God’s love, love all of our neighbors, and have our radar on alert when these central tasks are under siege.