18 Sep, 2023 “Democracy” – understanding the CONTEXT of the challenges we face
The past few years I gave myself to developing a better understanding on what my effort has confirmed are the the distinctly CHRISTIAN foundations of the democratic Government we enjoy.
As a part of that process, I spoke twice on the topic – once as a sermon and once as a seminar – to force myself to collate and summarise my thoughts. With intent, those messages were able to be broken into about 15 short ‘Q&A videos’ – to equip God’s people with an understanding of some political vocabulary, to understand just how important the Christian dynamic is to good Government – which is the precursor to our freedoms and wellbeing.
For the Shining Lights Trust’s ‘democracy videos’ see this webpage – https://AllTogether.co.nz/democracy
For a range of videos (including 10 created with us) see Shine TV’s 2023 election page here
IN SUMMARY OF SOME IDEAS
…as found in the 10 x 2min long videos created with Shine TV.
The separation of church and state
Jesus spoke to the idea of the ‘limitation of powers’ and also the ‘separation of powers’ (meaning the separation of religious and governmental powers) when he said ‘give to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is Gods’ (Matthew 22:21).
Regarding the separation of church and state powers – this is significantly misunderstood in our culture, and I suggest is being wrongly used to silence the Christian faith.
Many are unaware that political powers have almost ALWAYS been married to religion in history. Political power has always sought to manipulate religion for its own benefit. Political leaders are spiritual leaders. This view has been as true of the great empires of history as it is of primitive tribal societies. This is the context. This was ‘normal’ – until Christianity!
Jesus said ‘give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is Gods’ (Matthew 20:21). This idea evolved into our ‘separation of powers’ / ‘separation of church and state’ (though it didn’t need much evolving – because the point was clear). For the context, Caesar was often considered a god – as were the leaders of many empires in history. Jesus drew a clear distinction – establishing a clear idea that we have held to as Christians ever since. The idea of the ‘separation of powers’ is therefore a Christian idea – and it’s purpose is to protect the purity of the Christian faith from the Government, not the other way around!
In case the point is missed, our society talks about the separation of powers as if the goal were to ‘keep religion out of politics’. E.g. The moment a Christian speaks, we’re told that ‘religion and politics should be kept separate’ – pointing to ‘the separation of powers’. This misses the point, because the opposite was the goal and purpose! (…namely, to stop politics seeking to control religion for its own benefit, while silencing its actual voice which brings accountability to Government).
To consider other related changes across the past century, the word ‘secular’ used to mean ‘the absence of debate about which Christian denomination we were connected with – not the absence (removal) of Christian comments, Bible references and Christian prayers. In fact, in the time of the early Monks the word ‘secular’ referred to the Monks – who had separated themselves from the State Church to love and serve others. The meaning of the word ‘secular’ has therefore changed – or conveniently been changed, noting people are engaged all throughout history who are intelligent and informed. The brief video created with Shine TV on the first sitting of the first NZ Parliament is highly relevant here – to understand the way our understanding of a ‘secular Government’ has been ‘hijacked’/misused to remove discussion of important and foundational Christian religion and ideas from that space. (At that time it means to be of no particular denomination. We were to be a ‘Christian’ nation – just without direct affiliation to one denomination like it was in England – because of the corruption of religious power this led to by those in power, to manipulate / control the public).
We are I have therefore long-suggested, without a doubt, a ‘Christian’ nation if measured by our values! To note the comparisons, we are most definitely not Atheistic, Buddhist or Islamic in our values!!! A small bit of reading quickly affirms this as a categorical truth. The writings of British historian Tom Holland are particularly interesting – revealing his 20 or more year journey to this discovery. (Loving history he discovered he had nothing in common with his cultural ancestors. So what was he as a European? He could only conclude that he was was ‘Christian’ by culture – even if not at that time a Christian by personal faith).
The limitation of powers
This idea is particular important, because it defines the role and place of Government.
As an idea – the ‘limitation of powers’ is about a Government having only as much power as is needed to ensure and sustain the freedoms of the people. It sat within Jesus statement ‘Give to Caesar…’, by nature of the implication that Caesar didn’t therefore have all power! What power did he then have – noting that he too sat under God? What were the limits on his power? How could that be determined? The above understanding of the ‘limitation of powers’ is the logical result.
As an idea – every time the Government gets bigger, the people get smaller. But we concurrently want our Government involved in some things. It is therefore a balance.
The problem is that it is within our nature as humans to accumulate power. Add that the tragic reality that, without Christ, very few in history have shown themselves capable of limiting their own power – when they could otherwise grow it. Quotes found within the videos made with Shine TV – like from C.S Lewis, illustrate this poetically.
Christianity alone in history has managed to motivate a sustained and broad-reaching (even self-replicating) selfless system of Government, that limited its own powers. Much of the world is incalculably better as a result. To explain – it is because of our faith this ‘limited Government’ also became a significantly moral Government. Our laws and systems of law and justice have been based on the 10 Commandments and Jesus instruction to ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. From the videos I briefly reference King Alfred the Great – who is the one to have established this common law over not only the people, but also over himself. The King no longer created the laws – but was also subject to them. This created an environment conducive to the freedoms and greater well-being of the people. This is why King Alfred is the only King of England ever to have been called ‘the Great’!
This combination of ‘limited power’ and ‘moral code’ created a CONTEXT out of which other Christian ideals could be pursued. This is the context and process by which our national values were BROADLY established – across a 1000 year period – enabling values like equality, capitalistic freedoms (not greed) that enabled a culture-wide growth in prosperity, personal freedom, charity and care. We have all benefited immensely!
Here is the danger: A selfish (and uninformed / unintelligent / apathetic and distracted) people will unwisely feed their own demise – by their enabling of the GROWTH of Government powers rather than the LIMITATION of them!
Regarding how the people understand the role of their Government, Reagan’s comment (in one of the videos) on the unavoidable failure of both the Left and Right of our politics if not for a regard for the value of the individual (which is based on a belief in a God who created humans special) is relevant here. A selfish and ‘immoral’ people vote in a Government in who will fix their problems rather than taking personal responsibility for their problems themselves. It is, of course, easier to give a Government power to help you and give you a handout than it is to take responsibility for fixing your own problems. As this type of lazy thinking and behaving becomes the norm, a pattern is set in which power is transferred to the Government… …until it is discovered that personal freedoms are in-fact now gone.
In history the process has been observed many times in nations in which Christianity had previously risen to a place of influence, affecting Governmental systems for the better. While there are numerous factors in play concurrently in these ‘macro (big picture) transitions’, 55 nations ‘fell’ through socialism to communism last Century as one example. To analyse this by nature of the values represented, at the core of this there was (1) a rejection of Christian religion, concurrent with (2) an embracing of the idea that human beings are intrinsically good – in contrast to the Christian view that we’re intrinsically selfish. This led them to believe that the Government alone could fix the problem, because only through the use of power could the ENVIRONMENT THAT SHAPES HUMAN BEHAVIOUR be crated, to make humans ‘good’. Because these assumptions are objectively untrue (which I won’t expand on here – but I refer to booklet #6 in the ‘Why Christians believe Christianity to be true’ series, free online at WhyChristiansBelieve.nz), human wellbeing therefore declined in all cases as human tyranny replaced the freedoms, prosperity, charity and care that existed prior. The blessings that existed because of the progressive influence of the Christian faith and its moral code were now being removed – to the absolute detriment of the people.
We therefore learn various things – including…
- A nation’s RELIGIOUS beliefs matter greatly to their future freedoms and wellbeing.
- The separation of powers isn’t about the silence of religion – but the fact that the Government needs to stay well away from limiting religious freedom. The Christian voice is needed to call Government to account for wrongdoing and to point out the better (sacrificial, serving, loving) way. This separation – protecting the Church’s voice – is both the soil from which our freedoms grew, and also the future protection of our people (because values are what counts)!
- Silence regarding this perspective is to our detriment, because this leaves unhealthy patterns of thinking unchallenged – and the path wide open for the transfer of power from the people back to the Government / ruling elite (where it always was prior).
- Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
- This understanding of our system is what motivated me to learn and to find articulation on these matters. If God’s people are ignorant and these ideas become lost to history, our freedoms and the wellbeing of the people will be lost with them. In my limited reading (as compared to a full time academic), I have discovered history to illustrate the above principles repeatedly. Additionally, it is important that we understand that freedoms like those we have enjoyed are very, very rare in history! No one has ever had it as good as us!
- How are we to reestablish our freedoms? The people must be moral, informed/intelligent and involved!
Please view some of the videos at https://AllTogether.co.nz/democracy and freely share them.
Please view a follow up article about ‘What are we to do now the election is over?’ at https://AllTogether.co.nz/future. It is a highly strategic article.
DAVE MANN. Dave is a networker and creative communicator with a vision to see an understanding of the Christian faith continuing and also being valued in the public square in Aotearoa-New Zealand. He has innovated numerous conversational resources for churches, and has coordinated various national nationwide multimedia Easter efforts purposed to open up conversations between church and non-church people about the Christian faith and its significance to our nation’s history and values. Dave is the Producer of the ‘Chronicles of Paki’ illustrated NZ history series created for educational purposes, and the author of various other books and booklets including “Because we care”, “That Leaders might last” and “The Elephant in the Room”. Married to Heather, they have four boys and reside in Tauranga, New Zealand.