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True democracy?

May 2015 | by Roy Mohon

The BBC’s Today programme celebrated 20 January 2015 as ‘Democracy day’ in commemoration of the first Westminster Parliament in 1265. But some Christians who have lost their jobs or businesses might not think that there is much to celebrate in British democracy today.

Christians are, in principle, law-abiding, which should give food for thought to our leaders and judges concerning a secular ideology that oppresses the consciences of the God-fearing.

I met Peter and Hazelmary Bull at a Christian Institute meeting. I certainly did not feel good about how British democracy has treated them and many others who have suffered injustice. Our democracy must be off the rails somewhere.

It all raises the question, ‘What is democracy?’ For some, democracy is what Britain is and what it stands for. ‘Britishness’ is extolled without being closely defined; it helps us feel good about ourselves. It has become a tool in driving through secularist political agendas.

Real democracy

So let’s phrase the question in a different form: ‘What should democracy be?’ My British Constitution students in the 1970s would have regarded this question as relatively easy. Is it not ‘rule by the people, for the people’? 

At that time, the textbook asserted the sovereignty of parliament as absolute, and affirmed that, with a 51 per cent majority, the government could even decree all boys must be blue-eyed. 

UK Pro-life demonstration

That imaginary scenario raises an important issue though. What if a 51 per cent majority in parliament decreed that only blue-eyed babies were to live? A student would rightly argue that this is not democracy, but tyranny. It is like Pharaoh ordering the male Hebrew babies to be slain (Exodus 1:15-16). Unfettered democratic process can result in tyrannical outcomes. 

A student in the 1970s might add: ‘But that could never happen in Britain!’ Then again, students in the 1970s might have said the same about uncontrolled abortion!

So, again, what is meant in Britain today by ‘democracy’? The secularist answer seems to be that everyone must fall into line once a 51 per cent majority is secured in parliament. With this we cannot agree. 

Democracy should rather be, ‘Rule by the people for the people, within the constraints of the dictates of rightly informed conscience’. 

Paul taught that, in God’s common goodness, conscience ordinarily operates in the administration of justice; ‘rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil’ (Romans 13).The apostle Paul taught the reality of conscience: ‘For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another’ (Romans 2:14-15). 

British democracy

If the first duty of rulers is to promote good and suppress evil irrespective of what people want, what are we to make of British democracy? Must we not affirm that something has gone tragically wrong? 

The most defenceless human beings must be babies in the womb. The brown-eyed baby boy has no capacity to flee from an intruder and no strength to resist. He has no audible voice to plead for mercy when his executioner comes. 

Moses’ parents, in Exodus 1, did what they could and hid their child. Nature and conscience might have failed, but faith did not (Hebrews 11:23). The Christian voice for the sanctity of the life of the unborn child has been a continuing witness to Paul’s principle of God’s law in the conscience — a law above man’s law in the legislature.

Conscience over Iraq invasion still troubles UKMorally speaking, a 51 per cent majority in parliament is not ‘omni-competent’ and, in reality, few think it is. Most secularists acknowledge that it would not be right for parliament to decree horrific executions. That is partly why the Chilcot report into Britain’s role in the Iraq War is eagerly awaited. 

Many feel the actions of our government in going to war need to be tested by such higher authorities as truth and justice. Ultimately, there is no disagreement that the British parliament should be no more absolute than despotism. 

We judge both by the same standard of conscience. The real debate centres on what matters lie beyond the competence of parliament.

Repressive democracy

The secularist agenda grabs more and more ethical territory, in order to enforce its ‘insights’ upon the rest of society, children included. But this agenda will tear our nation to pieces; it is alien to British democracy.

British constitutional principles recognise what we call ‘representative government’. The people are entitled to a voice through their elected representatives, but the elected representatives are not given carte blanche to do anything they want with a 51 per cent majority. 

Terror regimes of the twentieth century impressed upon the Free World that the sanctity of life is of a higher order than human legislation. We may say the same regarding marriage and the family — nature teaches that natural procreation and paternal and maternal nurture are bedrocks of society. 

When we emphasise God’s law above human laws, secularists cry, ‘Foul! You can’t bring God into government’. ‘Britain is not a theocracy’, they say. 

With this, we agree. When the Saudi king died, the Guardian newspaper (24/1/15) referred to Saudi Arabia as an ‘Islamic theocracy’, because, although its king reigns, Muslim clerics control legislation and executive action. Our seventeenth–century forbears were well aware of the pope’s theocratic claims, yet denied that the pope has ‘any power and jurisdiction’ over rulers. They affirmed that, ‘Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs’ (Westminster Confession of Faith, 23.4, 31.5; and Savoy Declaration, 24.4). 

Recognising Christian conscience does not mean a theocracy, and seventeenth century nonconformists understood this.

Conscientious democracy

The secularist cry of ‘theocracy’ is a smokescreen to hide two facts: first, that the moral law of God is above the laws of men; and, second, that the law written in man’s conscience is expounded in the Christian Scriptures. 

Secularists seek to sever this link, because a conscience informed by the Word of God is too sharp for them. ‘The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him’ (1 Corinthians 2:14). God’s moral law cuts across the natural man’s aspirations for sinful freedom.

Are Christians extremists? In one sense, Jesus Christ was an extremist. He was always at the Godward extreme of defining clearly and accurately the difference between good and evil. He rejected whatever was not in accord with truth, righteousness and love. But this is not equivalent to advocating violence to achieve such objectives. 

When the Saviour’s enemies came to take and crucify him, Peter nearly killed Malchus. Christ showed him his error in these words, ‘Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword’ (Matthew 26:52). 

True Christians take seriously the command to love one’s neighbour and it is a trick to impute hatred where there is none. Though Christ told the woman taken in adultery to go and sin no more, there was nothing unloving in his exposure of iniquity or his exhortation to forsake it. 

Christians follow their Master in this, when they make no concession to uncleanness of any kind. God’s standard of sexual purity is either total abstinence or natural physical union within a marriage between one man and one woman.

Dying democracy

Our nation will pay a heavy price for Christians being penalised for standing up for what their conscience commends. The imputation of hatred, bigotry, prejudice or evil discrimination because of such faithfulness will signal the death throes of true democracy. One police chief has warned of the UK developing into a police state with the censorship of free speech. 

The education of the young is being politicised by secular theories of origins and morality. This is not, however, just a ‘Christian values’ versus ‘secular values’ battle. It is rather a battle for true democracy, a reality that most political candidates are behind the curve in understanding. 

Terror will win if our politicians fail to change course. The 2015 election is of crucial significance.

It will not be enough to vote along party lines. As Christians we must be prayerful, but must also make plain to election candidates that we will not vote for anyone unwilling to protect freedom of conscience informed by the Word of God. 

If my experience is anything to go by, this will make a difference. Most candidates will listen; they know they need every vote.

The author is minister of the Presbyterian Reformed Church, Stockton-on-Tees