The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Democracy Good and Bad

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“You shall not follow the masses in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice” (Ex. 23:2).

As I mentioned in a previous article, The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) claims that American Vision believes that the “U.S. was founded as a ‘Christian nation’ and that its democracy should be replaced with a theocratic government based on Old Testament law.” This is hardly accurate. American Vision believes that America was founded on fundamental Christian (biblical) principles, a view easily supported by a look at the historical record. Those values come from both the Old and New Testaments. Again, the historical record supports this view. There are lots of laws in the OT that no longer apply, either in the Church or the civil sphere, and many more that still do, many of which are still on our statute books. There are also circumstantial considerations to take into account when considering the application of biblical law, as the NT points out on a regular basis. The people at the SPLC imply that Christians who believe in God’s law don’t believe in the democratic process.

In both the civil and ecclesiastical spheres, democratic principles are in operation. We see democracy in the election of Israel’s kings (Deuteronomy 17:14-20), and we also see it at work in the choice of church leaders (Acts 6:1–3; 1 Tim. 3:1–13). But in both cases, these ministers (Rom. 13:4) were not to consider themselves autonomous, that is, a law unto themselves. The same is true of the people who made their choice of rulers (Judges 17:6; 21:25). There were moral standards for leadership. Even leftists like those at the SPLC would agree, but the question is, what is the source of those standards?

In the same article, the SPLC chastises American Vision because we believe “the long-term goal of Islam is the abolition of our constitutional freedoms.” Given the premise of democracy as the will of the majority, it’s conceivable that Islam could subvert our nation’s constitutional protections through the democratic process. People in the Netherlands are worried. Holland used to be a Christian nation. Over a period of time, the government adopted a form of religious pluralism, giving equal standing, first, to all Christian denominations, then to religion in general, and finally to every worldview imaginable.

The Netherlands has lost its worldview base. It has become a haven for drugs, prostitution, and euthanasia—all legal! Its liberal immigration policies are beginning to worry people, especially after the murder of Dutch filmmaker and outspoken critic of Islamic extremism Theo van Gogh. Tens of thousands of have moved elsewhere, mostly to New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. This has led to a higher concentration of Muslims.

Muslims make up ten percent of the population in the Netherlands. If population trends continue, Muslims could become a viable political force and remake Holland into a Muslim nation in the lifetime of our grandchildren. Holland’s religious pluralism coupled with democratic procedures could result in its downfall.

Peoples’ revolts in the past have given us the French and Bolshevik Revolutions. France got Robespierre, an execution device called the Guillotine, and later, Napoleon. Russia got Lenin, Stalin, and the Gulag. “Democracy has evolved through intensive social struggles and is frequently sacrificed in such struggles.” [1]

Democracy without a moral anchor results in worldview drift. Democracy is bandied about as an incantation. When “the people” express themselves in opposition to egregiously oppressive political regimes, this is claimed to be “democracy in action,” as if public expression is somehow a magical spell that will make forty or fifty years of socialistic and communistic oppression and acceptance “by the people” go away, saying nothing of man’s sinful nature.

Before we go on any further, because I am critical of undefined democracy (the prevailing religion of those who cannot bring themselves to admit that only the Bible has the answer to proper social theory) do not assume that I favor a dictatorship or an ecclesiocracy (something quite different from a theocracy). Democracy is a good thing (as I hope to demonstrate below) depending on one’s definition.

As Christians, do we really want to believe in a nebulous social theory that is accepted as normative by humanists from around the world when we consider how our Christian forefathers reacted to the concept? John Winthrop declared democracy to be “the meanest and worst of all forms of government.” [2] John Cotton wrote in 1636: “Democracy, I do not conceive that ever God did ordain as a fit government either for church or commonwealth. If the people be governors, who shall be governed?” [3] In the Federalist Papers (No. 10), Madison writes that democracies are “spectacles of turbulence and contention.” Pure democracies are “incompatible with personal security or the rights of property. . . . In general [they] have been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” [4] Francis Schaeffer described law by majority opinion, certainly a popular definition of democracy, as “the dictatorship of the 51%, with no controls and nothing with which to challenge the majority.” [5]  Schaeffer deduces a simple implication of this definition of democracy: “It means that if Hitler was able to get a 51% vote of the Germans, he had a right to kill the Jews.” [6]

What should we think of this? Did these men oppose the democratic process? Winthrop certainly did not. Although voting was restricted at Charlestown compared to our nation’s universal suffrage, assistants were chosen “by the general vote of the people” through the raising of hands. [7] Certainly Madison cannot be accused of rebuffing the democratic process.

These men feared that the whims of the majority cut off from an ethical base would prevail if direct democracy were ever accepted as a legitimate form of civil government. On the other hand, these men knew that only “the people” could keep a government in check. There was no divine right of kings (or a divine right of representatives or judges), and there must be no divine right of the people. A checking and balancing of civil government was the ideal our founders worked for. But if at any time the character of the people changed, the effort would have been for nothing. This is why John Adams (1735-1826) could write:

[W]e have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. [8]

William Bennet, editor of the highly popular Book of Virtues, believes that the drug war can be won by a return to what he describes as “democratic values.” [9] John Dewey wrote, “The keynote of democracy as a way of life may be expressed as the necessity for the participation of every mature human being in formation of the values that regulate the living of men together.” [10] Bennet and Dewey, seemingly on opposite ends of the political spectrum, talk about values and their regulation of life, but where do these values originate? Which ones are legitimate? Only those validated by the majority? The words of John Adams are to the point: “If the majority is 51 and the minority 49, . . . is it certainly the voice of God? If tomorrow one should change to 50 vs. 50, where is the voice of God? If two and the minority should become the majority, is the voice of God changed?” [11]

Democracy when defined as the rule of God in the lives of individuals and the nation, coupled with a decentralized civil government where leaders are elected based on abilities and character and both church and State are obligated to follow the law of God in their governmentally delegated spheres, is biblically legitimate. In fact, modern Western democracy which culminated in the drafting of the U.S. Constitution in 1787 is simply a humanistic refection of the biblical doctrine of the priesthood of believers. C. Gregg Singer writes:

The coming of democracy, some fifty years later, began a process of secularization of American political thought, and that equality implied in the Reformed doctrine of the priesthood of the believers was transformed into the democratic concept of equalitarianism which came to America as a result of the French Revolution. It is pertinent to note that this secularized version of Presbyterianism must logically lead to a democratic despotism because its doctrine of “the priesthood of the voter” is devoid of any Biblical foundation and denies that man is a sinner by nature. [12]

Singer goes on to write that “Modern political theory has replaced the doctrine of the sovereignty of God with that of the sovereignty of man. . . .” [13]

So then, the SPLC is throwing the word “democracy” around to muddy the ethical and political waters. It has no better conception of what democracy than Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794), France's  "voice of virtue," who was consumed by his own appeals to the democratic spirit.

  1. David Held, Models of Democracy (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1987), 1.[]
  2. Quoted in A. Marvyn Davies, Foundation of American Freedom: Calvinism in the Development of Democratic Thought and Action (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1955), 11.[]
  3. Letter to Lord Say and Seal, quoted by Perry Miller and Thomas H. Johnson, eds., The Puritans: A Sourcebook of Their Writings, 2 vols. (New York: Harper and Row, [1938) 1963), 1:209-10.[]
  4. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, The Federalist, Jacob E. Cooke, ed. (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1961), 61.[]
  5. Francis A. Schaeffer, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1970), 33–34.[]
  6. Schaeffer, The Church at the End of the 20th Century, 34.[]
  7. Edmund S. Morgan, The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop (Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1958), 90.[]
  8. Letter to the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts (11 October 1798).[]
  9. Clyde Wilson, “Cultural Revolutions,” Chronicles (November 1989), 6.[]
  10. John Dewey, “Democracy and Educational Administration,” School and Society (April 3, 1937). Quoted in Thomas R. Dye and L. Harmon Zeigler, The Irony of Democracy: An Uncommon Introduction to American Politics, 4th ed. (North Scituate, MA: Duxbury Press, 1978), 7.[]
  11. Quoted in Forrest Church, So Help Me God: The Founding Fathers and the First Great Battle Over Church and State (Orlando: Harcourt Books, 2007), 147.[]
  12. C. Gregg Singer, John Calvin: His Roots and Fruits (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1977), 43.[]
  13. Singer, John Calvin, 43.[]

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