9737219It’s not difficult to be cynical about democracy. The concept is simple. The people are allowed to decide who should lead them. Hence elections are held on a regular basis. If the government of the day fails the people, they can be voted out and another government voted in.

In practice however, democracy is far from ideal. Often the votes go the candidate with the largest war chest because that person would have the best access to the media. And to the best spin-doctors. If the candidate looks and sounds good, and sounds snappy in sound bites, he or she is practically home free.

Furthermore, the government of the day often has the opportunity to influence the system in their favour. For example, in some countries, when electoral boundary lines are redrawn, they suspiciously seem to favour the party in power.

And what is most discouraging is to see one candidate after another use political office for his or her own selfish ends. During campaign time, political candidates would claim loudly and clearly that they are running for office because of their love for country and people. But once elected, these same politicians use their office for their own personal agendas.

As a result many Christians see politics as dirty and not worthy of their interest. I beg to differ.

First, we remember Churchill’s astute observation about democracy:

“Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No-one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the other forms that have been tried.” (Winston Churchill to the House of Commons on 11th of November 1947)

Do any of us really want to embrace communism? Or return to the golden era of the monarchy? Or submit to tyrants?

No, the democratic process is far from perfect. But the other options are worse.

Secondly, to say that democracy is an imperfect system is really an indictment of the human condition. Democracy is imperfect because human beings are imperfect. To withdraw from a human institution just because it is imperfect would oblige us to withdraw from all spheres of human endeavour.

Indeed the imperfection of all attempts at governing ourselves is a constant reminder that we await a perfect kingdom yet to come. That awaits us in the new heavens and the new earth. When the Lamb that was slain reveals His perfect and loving kingship. The hope of that perfect government yet to come, gives us the strength and stamina to work in the imperfect systems of the meantime.

Then there is Jesus’ command for us to salt and light the world (Matthew 5:13-16). It is also interesting that when soldiers and tax collectors came to ask John the Baptist what they should do to prepare for the coming Kingdom, he did not ask them to withdraw from their imperfect and corrupt systems (Luke 3:7-14). Instead he asks them to begin to exhibit Kingdom values in their situations, to shine as light in the darkness. As John H. Redekop reminds us:

“Throughout history Christians have constituted a major voice in society championing justice, compassion, procedural integrity and freedom.”

Therefore participation in the democratic process is part of God’s call for His people to be involved in the world.

What can we do?

* We can pray. We can pray that the forces of good will prevail. We pray with full assurance that God hears and answers even when we do not see visible results. We can pray for Christian candidates. Time and time again I have heard Christian politicians complain that their churches do not support their work in prayer. There would be many prayers raised on behalf of missionaries. But never for Christians in politics. This is wrong.

*We can participate in public forums on the issues of the day. We should be doing this all the time but values and issues usually receive more attention in times of general elections and presidential elections.

*We can vote. We should vote. Recently I have decided to choose my candidates using three basic criteria. 1. Creed — do I agree with the values of the party that a candidate represents? 2. Character — from what I know is this person a person of integrity? 3. Competence — does this person have the necessary skills and experience to do the job he or she is running for?

What happens if the three criteria clash? No easy answers. I’ll probably still work with the three criteria in the order in which they have been mentioned. If I were totally against the values and manifesto of a given political party, I would find it hard to vote for a candidate from that party. And character comes before competence because I would expect a person of integrity to acquire whatever competencies he or she needs to get the job done.

*We can run for public office. There will be some of us that the Lord will call to be in the public political arena. I doubt that the political game today is more corrupt than it was in the time of Wilberforce. Some of us will be equipped with better capacities to live and work in the grey world of politics. Such people must have no illusions of the work to which they have been called. Yet if indeed the Lord has called them, then they can trust that He will provide the resources.

There is much to discourage us as we look at the world today. We understand that the ultimate solution to humankind’s problems is the gospel of Jesus Christ. No political party and no human leader can be our Messiah. We have only one Messiah and we must continue to live and preach His gospel. Indeed, as we see so much pain and evil in the world, our cry is “Come, Lord Jesus.”

But until He returns, we are to be His servants in this fallen world. And that includes serving Him in the political arena.

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan