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Does Democracy Depend on Biblical Values?

(Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers) 

Can democracy flourish just as well in any society, no matter what the religious and cultural values, or does democracy depend on Biblical values to flourish and prosper?

Daniel Webster said, “Whatever makes men good Christians, makes them good citizens.”

Psalm 33:12 (HCSB) says, “Happy is the nation whose God is Yahweh—the people He has chosen to be His own possession!”

We sing “God Bless America,” but then we tell people to choose your god: Buddha, Allah, Ahura Mazda, Krishna, Yahweh, take your pick.

That simply will not work! Look at the verse again. Notice that it says in the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), “Happy is the nation whose God is Yahweh.” Most Bible translations say “the LORD.” Whenever you see “LORD” in all capital letters, it means that the Hebrew word used is the actual name of God given to Moses at the burning bush: “I am,” which in Hebrew is Yahweh.

A nation whose God is not Yahweh, a nation that rejects the God of the Bible and Biblical values, rarely has a stable democracy. There are a few exceptions, such as Turkey, India, Japan, and Indonesia. But all over the world, we have seen that nation after nation that has put the Lord out of government is having a hard time putting democracy in. All across Asia, the Middle East, and northern Africa, which have been dominated by communism and non-Christian world religions, we see most governments are dominated by dictators instead of democracy. In Iraq and Afghanistan, sectarian conflict is threatening democracy. In the Middle East, the “Arab Spring” of new democracies appears to be turning into a “Muslim Winter.”

Just as a life without Jesus will always fail, a government without Yahweh is often frail.  But a nation that has the God of the Bible as its foundation has put into place the value system needed to support a successful democracy.

The Declaration of Independence contains four references to God: as Lawmaker (“the laws of nature and nature’s God”); as Creator (“endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”); as Supreme Judge (“the Supreme Judge of the world for our intentions”); and as Protector (“the protection of Divine Providence”).

In 1787, the Constitutional Congress was arguing over the writing of the Constitution of the United States, and they were getting nowhere. Finally, Ben Franklin rose and said,

“In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for divine protection. Our prayers were heard, and they were graciously answered . . . Have we now forgotten this powerful friend? Or do we no longer need his assistance?

I have lived a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: that God governs the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?”

When George Washington took the oath of office as our first president in 1789, he asked that the Bible be opened, and he placed his hand on it to took the oath. Then he added to the oath the words, “So help me God,” and bent forward and kissed the Bible before him.

John Adams, our second president, said, “Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Thomas Jefferson, our third president, said, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?” These words are engraved in the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.

History has shown that democracies have done well in nations founded on Biblical values. Democracy flourishes in Europe, which has a Christian heritage, in Israel, where the values of the Old Testament are the basis of their government, and in North America, most of Latin America, Australia, and most of central and southern Africa that are dominated by Christianity. In South Africa, where the white minority gave up rule to the black majority, Bishop Desmond Tutu led them through a peaceful transition of power. Miraculously, bloodshed was avoided, unlike the conflict we see today in Iraq, a struggling democracy that does not have worship of the God of the Bible as its foundation. The key was that as Christians, South Africans were able to forgive.

Why is it that democracies tend to flourish where the culture is dominated by Biblical values?

Philippians 3:20 says that “our citizenship is in heaven.” Yet it is interesting that citizens of the heavenly kingdom make better citizens of earthly kingdoms.

Christians know they have a responsibility to contribute to their government. Jesus said, “Therefore give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21).

“And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s public servants… Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.” (Romans 13:6-7)

Christians know that they have a responsibility to make a positive difference in their world.

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world… In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16)

Christians know that they are to pray for their nation’s leaders. Paul says 1 Timothy 2:1-2 to pray for kings and all those in authority, and in Paul’s day, a pagan Roman was the emperor.

But because our highest citizenship is in heaven and not on earth, Christians also know that times may come when they have to stand up to godless and corrupt earthly rulers for the greater good of the nation.

Moses stood before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and demanded that Pharaoh give up his Hebrew slaves.

The prophet Nathan confronted King David to his face when he murdered Uriah and committed adultery with Bathsheba.

The prophet Elijah confronted King Ahab and condemned Queen Jezebel for worshipping false gods.

John the Baptist told the ruler, Herod Antipas, that he was wrong to divorce his wife, and for his boldness, John the Baptist lost his head.

It may not always be easy, but it is always best for a democracy if that nation is founded on faith in Yahweh, the God of the Bible, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. If we wander away from that faith, we put in peril our earthly livelihood and our eternal home.

As John F. Kennedy said, “This country cannot afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor.”

No wonder Daniel Webster said, “Whatever makes good Christians makes them good citizens.”

As Psalm 33:12 says, “Happy is the nation whose God is Yahweh.”

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About Bob Rogers

Hospital chaplain in Mississippi. Formerly a pastor for 33 years in Mississippi and Georgia. Historian and avid cyclist.

Posted on July 3, 2012, in Books and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. No doubt Christians make good citizens, but democracy does work in non Christian settings such as India, Japan, Indonesia, Israel, etc. But of course maybe citizens of those places are influenced by “common grace” values similar to those of Christians.

  2. I mentioned Israel as a nation with Old Testament Biblical values, but otherwise the countries you listed are good examples of exceptions to the rule, and I could add some more nations, like Turkey. But on the other hand, It is interesting that democracy is struggling in Russia after years of godless atheism, having changed from a police state to a virtual dictator gangster state, and the “Arab spring” is turning into the “Muslim winter” in much of the Middle East. We find very few democracies in North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, the very same area where we find the fewest Christians.

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