Christianity against Autocracy
The world is becoming increasingly divided between liberal democracies and autocratic regimes.
You might say that it’s a divide between the USA, India, Australia, and Europe on the one hand and China, Russia, Iran, Bolivia, and Venezuela on the other hand (yes, you could add more to both lists).
The idea that China would become more liberal, free, and open as its economy advanced has been disproved. China is a technocratic surveillance state, with a belief in the racial superiority of Han Chinese, and has two tools in its diplomatic toolbox comprised of bribery and punitive measures.
Of course, the west is not immune to imperialism, whether it is military interventions in the middle east, exploitive relationships with former colonies, or failing to assist developing democracies in their economic growth and food security. Even in liberal democracies, religious nationalism is a problem, in the USA, Israel, Indonesia, and India. Plus, many western democracies can fail to evenly distribute their wealth, they get bogged in intractable debates about clime change and gender fluidity, and reach the point of either political inertia or civil war by digital means.
In such a world, what should a Christian view of politics, power, and public engagement look like? What is a Christian response to an age of democratic delinquency and ascending autocracy?
It is hard to be prescriptive because every context is different, whether we are talking about Christians in China, Syria, South Africa, New Zealand, Russia, Finland, or America.
Sometimes we need to have a Romans 13 attitude and cooperate with the state for the public good. Other times we need to have a Revelation 13 attitude and pray for God to destroy an evil empire root and branch.
To read more, consider taking out a paid subscription, only $7 per month or $75 per year, supports me in my ministry and scholarship, and gets you 3-4 posts per week on biblical studies, Christianity and gender relationships, cultural commentary, previews of my books, and some cool videos.
So here we are, wrestling with Constantinianism, where the church acts as chaplains for the civil government in exchange for privilege and power. Or else, we cower in fear of Erastianism, where the state attempts to subjugate or eliminate religions in the name of its new progressive order!
So here we are, wondering if Romans 13, submission to the state authorities is our calling, or wondering if Revelation 13 should motivate us to engage in subversive activities against forms of systematic or soft tyranny!
I’m of the mind that whatever our cultural context, political climate, or church-state relationships, there is something inherently right about the notion of freedom.
I’m not talking about a radical Christian libertarianism, to the effect, “It’s my God-given right to not wear a helmet, pay taxes, or get immunized.” That is because all freedom carries responsibilities, whether that is participation in a republic’s democratic institutions, acting responsibly towards others, or contributing to the public good. There is no absolute freedom because we are not free from the consequences of each other’s actions.
We should value the freedom to pursue one’s own happiness, to practice one’s own religion, to follow one’s own conscience, and the freedom to be different without fear of reprisal.
As it says in Micah 4:3-5:
He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
4 but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
5 For all the peoples walk,
each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
for ever and ever.
The scene depicts a future state where YHWH presides over the nations, who are assembled together with a renewal Israel, to worship him and to enjoy an abundance of blessings, a time and place where there is no war and no fear.
If there is a Christian version for political activity, it should include making this radical vision of the future as real as it can be ahead of the consummation.
Freedom is neither vice nor license, but the true end of humanity, freedom to know God and to enjoy him forever.
Freedom is its finest and fairest not under a caliphate or under communism, but out of the ruins of a former Christendom that has recovered its ability to love God and neighbor, to balance freedom with responsibility, to stand up for those who are coerced into submission, silence, or slavery, to fight for those who live in fear, to truly be a city on a hill.
By such labours we are not building the kingdom of God, rather, as N.T. Wright puts it, we are building for the kingdom, prefiguring and previewing what it looks like for people of all tongues and tribes to live together in peace and prosperity for all.