If American democracy is in peril, should Christians care?
Joe Biden was in Philadelphia last week kicking off the midterm elections by warning Americans that democracy is in peril because of the presence and actions of MAGA Republicans, whom he previously called “semi-fascist.” These extremists, he claims, were a threat to democracy because of favor of authoritarian government, overturning democratic elections, as well as inciting political violence. Biden assured us that this was not just a matter of political disagreement but posed an existential threat to who we are as a nation.
It’s hard to argue with his point since we’ve already seen an insurrection on the Capitol that was inspired by former president Donald Trump. Trump has not stopped talking about how the election he lost was rigged and continues to fan the flames of political turmoil and violence. People from across the political spectrum have named Trump and his acolytes as threats to democracy. So on its face, Biden’s warning was not unfounded. But the question for Christians is should we care?
Many Christians are very much concerned that democracy is at stake but they the are ones who have made it clear that the U.S. and Christianity have an important relationship. That even if the U.S. isn’t a Christian nation and democracy not a Christian political system, they are moral goods and thus Christians should support their existence.
In my younger years, I would have eschewed such civil religion, but honestly, when I witnessed the insurrection, I was grateful for American democracy, even though I am assured that I will be saved by Jesus. Why should I be grateful for it though, as a Christian? Isn’t Jesus’ lordship enough? Haven’t I argued ad naseum that Jesus is Lord is a political statement, that Jesus’ political office is one that supersedes all others? So why then would I hope for the perseveration of an invariably broken system? Why advocate for a flawed system when Christians place thrrr hope in something else entirely? Or as the Psalmist says, “Some take pride in chariots and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.”
I suppose the question is similar to the one about whether we vote or not. Why do we try to elect the best candidates when we already serve the Lord? For white, able-bodied, cis, heterosexual Christians, it may simply be easier to say “to hell with America, Jesus is Lord,” but for the rest of us, a freer and more democratic nation actually protects our livelihood. Being grateful for democracy doesn’t mean we’re putting our trust in chariots and horses any more than being grateful for a paved road and coherent traffic laws.
As Christians, we need to do our best to advocate for the most vulnerable among us. We need to advocate for politics that creates safety for the most at-risk among us. Right now, in the U.S., there’s a clear movement toward fascism and repressive government. We need to resist that great evil, and democracy may be our best alternative. While far from perfect, and also far from truly democratic, in the U.S. we have some values that are worth protecting because how they protect our most vulnerable. When we are faced with a climate catastrophe, for example, we have a simple choice to make. It is not a question of Democrat or Republican, but rather a society that has the tools and will to confront it, or one that has collapsed because of its own self-interest. When faced with such poles, it is not surprising that we face polarization. It is worth being polarized over those issues.
Christians afraid of polarization though, or ones who see it as a problem to solve by getting the poles to meet and compromise, are themselves opponents of democracy though. Centrist and moderate Christians have been so polluted by the idea that we can’t take a side, that even when the very democracy that has given them that idea is at stake, they can’t manage to make a political commitment.
We already know that Christian Nationalists have taken the side of allowing the planet to go up in flames, or letting our society collapse, of not protecting the rights of the vulnerable. Christians’ having anxiety about politically committing against them for fear of divisiveness and polarization are witnesses to the peril the democracy is in. Their passivity becomes complicity. If you can’t take a side against fascism, you are part of the problem. And for Christians, if democracy is the best option against fascism, then we should care if it is in peril.