Democracy

Brexit, the Bible and democracy: the judgment of God is the voice of the people

 

As the dust settles…

Perhaps that’s a premature denouement.

As the winds of Brexit crack their cheeks throughout Europe, and the refiner’s fire purges the political parties – if not our whole political culture – of its vanity, overbearance, arrogance and pride, there are crafty moves afoot to subvert the will of the British people.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is threatening to “block Brexit”, on the basis that the majority of Scots voted to remain and so to leave would be an offence against democracy. Labour MP David Lammy has demanded that Parliament reject the Referendum result and assert a sovereignty superior to that of the people. Tony Blair has suggested there ought to be a second referendum (after the fashion of those in Denmark, France, Ireland, Greece and the Netherlands  – that is, to secure the ‘correct’ result). And Lord Heseltine has called on MPs to “articulate the case for Britain rethinking the result of the referendum”; that is, artfully obfuscate and bamboozle the people with verbiage until his sense of common sense prevails. Having lost the vote, Remainers are determined that Leavers may yet be thwarted, and that the quest for the UK to extricate itself from the EU must fail.

Democracy isn’t perfect: as Churchill said, it is “the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried from time to time”. But government by the people is what we have, and so the majority rules. If a candidate in a general election wins by one vote, and that MP gives a political party a majority of just one, then that is deemed sufficient (however precarious) to constitute the basis upon which the Queen invites the party leader to form a government. In the case of the EU Referendum, the majority was 1,269,501. The people have spoken quite clearly. You may insist they were lied to, deceived and manipulated by ‘Vote Leave’ lies, but persuasive sophistry and rhetoric are intrinsic to democracy, as is the promise of pleasure or reward. ‘Twas ever thus:

…all those mercenary individuals, whom the many call Sophists and whom they deem to be their adversaries, do, in fact, teach nothing but the opinion of the many, that is to say, the opinions of their assemblies; and this is their wisdom. I might compare them to a man who should study the tempers and desires of a mighty strong beast who is fed by him—he would learn how to approach and handle him, also at what times and from what causes he is dangerous or the reverse, and what is the meaning of his several cries, and by what sounds, when another utters them, he is soothed or infuriated; and you may suppose further, that when, by continually attending upon him, he has become perfect in all this, he calls his knowledge wisdom, and makes of it a system or art, which he proceeds to teach, although he has no real notion of what he means by the principles or passions of which he is speaking, but calls this honourable and that dishonourable, or good or evil, or just or unjust, all in accordance with the tastes and tempers of the great brute. Good he pronounces to be that in which the beast delights and evil to be that which he dislikes; and he can give no other account of them except that the just and noble are the necessary, having never himself seen, and having no power of explaining to others the nature of either, or the difference between them, which is immense. By heaven, would not such an one be a rare educator? (Plato, The Republic, Book VI).

Some say that democracy finds scant support in Scripture. Those who derive a demotic form of governance, law, justice and the administration of civil order invariably point to the notion of individual equality before God. Nations are mentioned as early as the book of Genesis (22:18). The original intention of splitting up the people of the world into language groups, and hence into nations, was to restrain evil by limiting the accumulation of power (11:1-9). This theme is continued into Old Testament law (Deut 17:14-20).

The principles of state power were accepted by both Christ (Mt 22:21) and St Paul (Rom 13:6f). Many principles of social law have their foundations in the New Testament. Jesus was the son of a carpenter, and the apostles who were entrusted with the foundation of the Church were mainly fishermen. Jesus cared for the ordinary man, and readily mixed with groups of people who were considered outcasts. Discrimination on the basis of wealth and power is forbidden (Js 2:1-7; 1Cor 1:26). Christianity made it entirely plain that each man and woman, down to the poorest and most insignificant, is equally the object of God’s love, and everyone counts, because God counts them.

This, in political guise, led to democracy and to the involvement of ordinary citizens in the framing of their laws. A decision is democratically taken if the answer to the question ‘Who takes it?’ is more or less everybody. Those who would subvert the result of this Referendum believe that decisions ought to be taken only by those best qualified to take them, which is meritocracy, or those taken by only one man, which is autocracy. Democracy describes how a decision is reached. A decision is taken democratically if it is reached by discussion, criticism, and compromise. Democracy describes the spirit in which a decision is made, being concerned with the interests of all, instead of only a faction or party.

Intrinsic to democracy, above all other forms of government, is the importance of each individual as created and loved by God. The elderly have not “robbed” the young of their future, as some assert, because the elderly vote is equal to the youth vote. We vote together and we vote equally, and the result is deemed to be fair because the people have exercised their sovereignty. It permits the examining, correcting and rebuking process, which is necessary in man’s fallen and corruptible state, by emphasising that powerful officers of government are accountable to ordinary people. Since to err is human, national governments subject to the will of fallible electorates can, and do, make mistakes, but are also able to rectify those mistakes.

Hitherto in Brussels, once a deal is done, however unwise or harmful it may be or appear to be, it cannot be undone by any electorate: the peoples of Europe cannot exercise their wills over it. The Bible talks much of accountability both to and by authority, and democracy is the only form of government which permits the continual checking of centralising power. Through the ballot box, the Christian has the power to influence power structures and governments towards justice, freedom, truth and compassion, since governments can only rule by the consent of the people as they, in turn, examine the issues and arrive at a consensus.

And if you want an example of God exhorting rulers to heed the will of the people, consider 1 Samuel 8:6f. The context is greedy and corrupt judges who were indifferent to truth and justice and susceptible to bribery (v3). The people demand change. Samuel falls to his knees and asks God what he should do. The answer is clear: ‘And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee..‘ (KJV). This word ‘hearken’ does not simply mean ‘hear’. Consider: ‘And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you..”‘ (NIV). Or, more clearly, ‘”Do everything they say to you,” the LORD replied‘ (New Living Translation); ‘And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you..”‘ (ESV). The Hebrew word translated ‘hearken’ or ‘hear’ is translated elsewhere in the OT as ‘obey’ or ‘hear and obey’.

The people have spoken, and our leaders must hear and obey. They must do so with humility, in a spirit of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. If they do not; if they continue in their rebellion and persist with their hubris and scheming, the current vacuum of leadership in the Conservative Party and total turmoil within Labour will be as nothing to the political havoc, social convulsion and annihilation of authority which the Holy Spirit will wreak upon us all.