Christianity and Democracy: A Fraught History

From “Defending Democracy from its Christian Enemies” by David P. Gushee

The peculiar development of the relationship between religion and politics in Europe and lands colonized by Europeans has added a dimension of Christian antidemocratic critique that in some cases continues today and must still be addressed.

Democracy at its early modern origins reflected an uprising of the bourgeois and eventually lower classes, which challenged, weakened, and/or replaced monarchies and aristocracies that were officially Christian – and that were tied to officially established and culturally dominant Christian churches. Thus, in many lands, the birth of democracy was viewed by some believers as a rebellion against God, God’s appointed rulers, the Church, and God’s law. This concern is often associated with the term “liberal democracy,” and undergirded Christian attacks on democracy for several centuries.

Christian democrats have had to show – repeatedly – why democracy is compatible with belief in a sovereign God and Christ as Lord, why diffusion of power and social equality rather than centralized power and social hierarchy are more compatible with Christian principles. Justifying democracy is made even more difficult by the fact that most modern democracies separate church and state, refuse to source lawmaking in Christian Scripture, and banish talk of God from founding documents and political debate.

In this book, we will consider three primary waves of negative Christian reaction to the theory and practice of democracy. The first came in the century or so after the French Revolution destroyed Catholic dominance in France and after Christianity began to weaken in nineteenth-century Germany. We will discuss what happened in those countries in chapters 5 and 6. The second wave came after the cultural-moral-social revolutions of the 1960s shattered traditional moral values in much of the Western world. The third wave, which may simply be an exacerbation of the 1960s phenomenon under the impact of social media and globalized politics, has occurred in the last ten years or so. We will look at developments in Russia, Poland, Hungary, Brazil, and the United States in chapters 7 through 11 as we consider these second and third waves of negative Christian reaction to recent cultural and political trends.

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