Faith, Democracy and Political Choice

I received this email from a colleague of mine at national parliament, Cheryllyn Dudley.MP. It’s the text of a speech she delivered to the National Assembly very recently. It’s her honest, introspective view on the subject: “Faith, Democracy and political choice.”

I post it here while I consider my own views and experience on this subject.


“It has been said that: The only societies that are more violent than societies with ‘Religion’ are those that claim there is no God! It is perhaps no wonder then, that people are sceptical about people of ‘faith’ organising themselves politically.  It is my understanding however that it is the Laws of Moses that:

  • lead to the understanding that the people being governed have the right and  responsibility to choose how, over what and by whom they will be governed
  • lead to the greatest appreciation for all life and the rights and responsibilities of every human being/family/tribe/nation
  • bring the highest quality of life that has ever existed in nations
  • will not stop the violence but will make the world progressively less tolerant of it and turn the attention of governments to how we stop the violence in and outside of our borders.

Just some of the reasons, I could conceive of a need for people of faith to organise and influence laws and policy in line with a biblical worldview.   It helps of course that I see the law from the perspective of what God said in the first place…what the Israelites did and…what God had to say about what they did?

Political parties committed to a secular worldview simply do not see things from a biblical perspective and are often strongly opposed to it.  In more recent times however, these same parties, in recognition of a large body of Christian voters have made a distinct effort to hear voter concerns and to create an impression that these concerns will be accommodated.  Because of this there is no real concern amongst Christians in general that the ‘Christian Voice’ is under threat and I believe this is just one of the reasons a party like the ACDP has not grown and has even lost support.

I have been at Parliament as a member in the National Assembly since 1999 and have served on many different committees including Health, Education, Social Development and International Relations.

As our democracy developed, the value of multi-party democracy became evident in International Relations and some of the most interesting parliamentary international relations visits I have participated in were to Islamic countries like Iran, Algeria and Sudan.  Interesting for many reasons but especially because I was there in part as an example of how democracy accommodates even those with ‘radical’ views like the Imam and myself. People free to express their opposing views and free to participate in processes which inform decision making. People able to represent their communities honestly and passionately, yet growing in their ability to listen and appreciate what is important to other communities.

Whilst I am committed to Democracy and have developed a growing respect for its potential I am reminded of the comment about democracy being the worst form of government, except of course for all the rest! Which I think sums up the situation perfectly.

The bottom line for me is choice…and it is the people who get to choose.  This I think, is where we in the ACDP have inadvertently created an impression that a vote for the ACDP is a vote for someone’s interpretation of the bible regardless of what people want.  Unless people are convinced that doing the ‘right’ thing is the ‘best’ thing for them, their families, their communities, they will not do it.   There is an important role for persuasion…but this does not extend to control or manipulation (and preachers have a reputation for being master manipulators, even when it is with the best intentions).   I am convinced that people in general and especially Christians who have known any form of ‘control and manipulation’ within or outside of the church, are instinctively averse to anything that remotely resembles it.  Our early success in the ACDP was because people were inspired by the concept of government based on biblical principles, with god-fearing leaders committed to these principles.  The majority of Christians remained skeptical and genuine attempts to hold up a standard of righteousness have been read as arrogance and finger-pointing.  Of course much has been accomplished but only where we have purposely not taken the credit for the achievements, valuing the gains more highly than the publicity.  A catch 22 situation in Politics, as a ‘bragging Christian’ is an offense and those that do not ‘take the credit’ are seen as of little relevance.

To get back to my point about perceptions around being representatives of the people as opposed to representatives of God, it seems we should be doing no less and no more than:  comitting  to the cause of the people and then to achieving the highest justice &freedom they will allow.  Civil law representing the People, will never be more moral than the majority of the people it represents…the more moral the people the more they will seek higher levels of civil law.  This is the work of the church and should not be the primary focus of politicians.

The goal of a Christian politician would therefore be to move towards God’s values and rightful authority rather than demanding an all-or-nothing standard, unless of course, this is what the people are demanding.   It is more likely to be a process of restoring His thinking in and through our lives, families, vocations and communities and can never, be imposed.

I like the way Landa Cope puts it.  We are called into civil governance for the Glory of God and the good of the people.  We are there, not to perfect the world or nation, but to offer God’s perspective…a better way… and allow society a choice. 

We live in an imperfect world and it occurs to me, there may be no perfect solutions…Just solutions that bring the greatest good in a given set of circumstances at a specific time for a specific people.   In our naiveté, most ACDP members have till now thought in terms of perfect solutions and right or wrong answers.  Not MP’s of course!

My experience at parliament has convinced me that very few issues we deal with are simply ‘right or wrong’.  Most often they are about what in the specific circumstances will bring the greatest good to the greatest number and do the least harm.  Some decisions may be preferable at one time and completely irrelevant or inappropriate at another.  It becomes necessary to first ask…What, in the circumstances, if anything, is the right thing to do?  THEN…Who is the right person to make the decision? (Gvt/people collectively/parents/individual).  E.g. conjoined twins/woman on life support

Biblical law establishes four institutions and all have purpose, authority &   boundaries…the individual, the family, Civil Government, the institutional Church.   God has given authority to all spheres and limits allspheres.  None have all rights and all responsibilities at all times, in all places and over all things.  So who do we trust to recognise and apply this thinking?   For me it is important to remember that: No matter where we place power there can be abuse of power…we cannot, as politicians, eliminate sin… only seek to limit its tyrannical abuses. 

I always understood that a political party, even one choosing to operate on the basis of a biblical world-view, would not have angels as members and leaders …just human beings.  As it turns out, the lack of angels is not the only problem.  The tendency for people determined to live righteous lives to present as people who think they are better than others prevents people relating to or identifying with them.

In the Old Testament the emphasis is on nations and how to live together as a community.  The New Testament emphasis is on the individual and reaching the lost.  Both are important.  One without the other leads to problems.   New Testament only, looks like “mysticism” and Old Testament only, looks like “legalism”.

I have chosen to vote for and work within a party that brings an appreciation of both aspects, in the expectation that we will see people prosper…a worthy goal in my thinking but an exceedingly difficult work.  While I do believe that a time is coming when the ‘Christian voice’ will be under threat I am convinced that the building of a party not based on right or left politics but on what is ‘right’ and what is ‘just’ will be of great value in our democracy in the days to come.   Especially as we see leaders in the ANC pushing left and the people in the DA pushing right.

The quality of the “justice” we offer to the least in society is how God measures the quality of our “justice”

  • more than 103 passages of Scripture deal with mistreatment of widows, and orphans
  • 102 segments condemn oppression & mistreatment of the “alien”, immigrant, refugee, or foreigner living in the country
  • nearly twice that many passages are dedicated to the just treatment of the poor
  • The Law of Moses, the history of Israel and the Prophets focus on the destitute in measuring the quality of  legal justice & economic development
  • God’s definition of a “just” system of governance means treating the  poor & rich with equal dignity

Law is set by God…  A society can make it legal or illegal … but they cannot make it moral…there are always consequences… apartheid being a larger than life example. 

As the topic of Malema is on many people’s minds I will repeat a comment I made recently…just for the record! “While Malema’s determined efforts to create disunity are unfortunate, his antics should not be feared but seen as a test of our democracy.  Attempts to silence him would signal the deterioration of our commitment to tolerance and freedom of speech”.

Now for those who are tempted to despair of government altogether, I leave you with this final thought: The only governance more deadly than ‘bad governance’ is ‘no governance’! – When anarchy reigns there are no limits on violence.

Except to say…

The values I have found most useful in keeping me grounded and focused are:

  • Life is sacred – all life, not just the unborn baby
  • Words have power- we are accountable for them
  • The material world is real/good/essential – not the enemy of spiritual things
  • Everything needs redemption & is redeemable –  Nothing is impossible/no giving up

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