What Does the Bible Have to Say About Democracy?

原文:Original Chinese Language Article
Featured on Front Page of 電子報:ICLP Bulletin 062 (Feb. 1, 2012)

What Does the Bible Have to Say About Democracy?
English Translation of Chinese E-Bulletin Article by James Smyth

Christians have actively participated in American politics since colonial times. Unfortunately, Jesus never mentioned the Republican or Democratic Parties, so the question of what political views Christians should have is a thorny one that can even make believers come to blows. Left and right wing advocates each have their own political interpretations of Bible passages like “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common ” and “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” and “Slaves, obey your human masters in everything.”

But very few Americans have discussed the following Bible story.

After the Israelites returned to Canaan from Egypt, they established a nation that was free and independent for 400 years. They had no kings. Besides times of crisis, when a “Judge” would emerge and temporarily lead the country, the twelve tribes were free to govern themselves.

But when Judge Samuel aged (around 1020 B.C.) the Israelites made an unprecedented request from him: that he choose a king to rule them. Samuel strongly opposed them, but God told him to “listen to whatever the people say. You are not the one they are rejecting. They are rejecting me as their king… Now listen to them; but at the same time, give them a solemn warning and inform them of the rights of the king who will rule them.”(1)

The next time Samuel met with the Israelites, he warned them (abridged): “The governance of the king who will rule you will be as follows: He will take your sons and daughters into his service. He will take your best fields, vineyards, and olive groves and give them to his servants. He will take your male and female slaves, as well as your best oxen and donkeys, and use them to do his work. He will also tithe your flocks. As for you, you will become his slaves. On that day you will cry out because of the king whom you have chosen, but the LORD will not answer you.”

But the Israelites persisted: “No! There must be a king over us. We too must be like all the nations, with a king to rule us, lead us in warfare, and fight our battles.”

Israel had three kings over the next hundred years, two of which were outstanding and devoted themselves to the glory of the kingdom. The fourth king, however, was incompetent, and because of that the nation split in two. What’s worse, most of the kings who ruled both the northern and southern states after that were weak and corrupt, causing Israel’s international standing to decline. Two hundred years after the death of Samuel, the northern kingdom was conquered by the Assyrian Empire, and one hundred fifty years later, the southern kingdom was swallowed up by the Babylonian Empire. Israel would not win its independence back until 1949(2).

I think that what this story can communicate to Americans is that sometimes a people voluntarily give up their freedom in exchange for something else like glory or security. The younger President Bush, a Christian, deeply believed that freedom was the desire of every human heart, so he thought that after the U.S. liberated Afghanistan and Iraq, their citizens would happily cooperate with America. Instead, the American military sunk into a quagmire.

What this story says to Christians about democracies as a whole is that sooner or later, their citizens will exchange freedom for national power, safety, welfare, or some other good. The same thing will eventually happen in the United States of America, the Land of the Free. Even though many Americans believe that government’s primary responsibility is to protect the freedom of the governed, and many believe that the U.S. is the freest country in the world, the American government’s grasp on its citizens tightens year after year (its airport security measures are just the most visible example) because the demands the citizens make to the government sometimes necessitate the sacrifice of personal liberty. The history of the Kingdom of Israel is a reminder to American Christians that though they may willingly give up precious liberty in exchange for glory or security, they will not be able to preserve that glory or security forever.

(1) Biblical quotations are from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.
(2) The country declared its Independence in 1948 but had to defeat four invading armies immediately after that.

Explore posts in the same categories: Politics, Published, Religion, USA, 中文

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