The Governed

District Fellowship News

January, February 2011

In the United States of America, we have been privileged from our beginnings to have a democratic form of government that without revolution turns over power to the next set of elected leaders every election cycle. This is a marvelous luxury compared to many of the countries in the world. Americans are usually quite happy with their form of government and truthfully we export it to as many places as we can. It would only make sense to us that this is the way free men would wish to be governed, by peers of their own choosing, who are chosen from among themselves. However, have you ever wondered why democracy worked so well in the United States but has been a disaster in Haiti? What about in Russia or in many African nations, in Iraq, or Afghanistan? There is a reason why democracy cannot be sustained in many countries. 

 I was intrigued with a commencement address I read by Clayton Christensen (Professor at Harvard Business School) to the graduates of SNHU in 2009.  He related a conversation he had with a Marxist economist from China who had come to Boston to study two topics that were foreign to him: democracy and capitalism. During that conversation he asked him if he had found anything that was surprising or unexpected, and he responded: “I had no idea how critical religion is to the functioning of democracy and capitalism.” This economist went on to say, “In your past, most Americans attended a church or synagogue every week. These were institutions that people respected. When you were there, from your youngest years, you were taught that you should voluntarily obey the law; that you should respect other people’s property; and not steal it. You were taught never to lie, and to respect the life and freedom of others the same as your own. Americans followed these rules because they had come to believe that even if the police didn’t catch them when they broke a law, God would catch them. Democracy works because most people most of the time voluntarily obey your laws.” (The Importance of Asking the Right Questions, Clayton Christiansen, May 16 2009)

 George Washington, in his farewell address, realized some of these things: “Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” John Adams mentioned the importance of morality and religion: "We 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." The common theme is that this system of government depends on the moral values of a religious people for its continued success.

 Throughout the world, when there has been an attempt to democratize a country where bribery and corruption had always held sway, where tribal passions and power were of utmost importance, or where perjury and lying were an expected way of life, the success of that experiment has been mediocre at best and usually disastrous. A belief in overarching truth and morality is essential.  Think of the United Nations, trying to unite the countries of the world in a representative forum.  Should there be any surprise that when the General Secretary of the UN is selected from a nation whose government is full of corruption,  cronyism, and deceit the UN would be subject to the same issues? If you are taught (by example or word) that immoral behavior is acceptable, why would the form of government change your behavior?

 So we as Christians have a responsibility in this society. First, do not accept the argument that your religious values make you an undesirable citizen. The government needs you more than the person whose morality has been corrupted by sin. Second, when you look for someone to represent you whether as mayor, senator, judge, or president; their morality is much more important than their party. God fearing is not a bad description, it should be an important component of that person’s life. Finally, you need to seek truth and live morally. Where are you getting your moral education? We have not been as faithful as we should in indoctrinating ourselves with truth, instead we let the television set, the media, the world educate and inform us, hammering in an immoral mindset. Through God alone could we ever have the wisdom to give not covet, to love not hate, to put others above ourselves, to exist side by side in peace. We are his creation, and whether we admit it or not, we need to follow Him.