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Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority established except that which God has established. The authorities which exist have been established by God.

So we have a General Election coming!  And we’re not alone: India (at the moment) and the USA (in November) are just some of the countries choosing their leaders this year.

I am glad to live in a democracy.  It has been well argued that it is a form of government which works well with the Biblical account of human nature: it respects our human responsibility by giving us a share in the decision-making process; it also takes account of human sin, by refusing to concentrate all power in the hands of one dictator.  

For the same reason, it is also good when a society has some form of constitution and the rule of law – again, acting as restraints on depraved use of power.

Yet while this trio – elections, constitutions and rule of law – can keep some sin in check, they cannot eliminate its effects.  Indeed, they are themselves vulnerable to sin.  In a fascinating recent article, “Is America dictator-proof?”, The Economist argued that even the checks and balances of the constitution of the United States could be overridden by an authoritarian leader, for there are loopholes to exploit.  We might add that elections can of course be corrupted or overturned by those in leadership, or skewed by fake news campaigns.  At root, even a robust constitutional arrangement can only survive with a set of shared values held by both leaders and led.

Perhaps this is why the Bible doesn’t specifically champion democracy. The extract above, from Paul’s letter to the Romans, isn’t exactly a democrat’s charter.  And Paul wrote this as one aware of democracy, for the Greeks had been practising a limited form of it some centuries earlier.

That’s not to say for a moment that democracy is wrong – I say again that this system sits well with the Bible’s teaching on human nature, and I for one earnestly hope we can maintain ours.  But the fact that the Bible doesn’t campaign for it should make us cautious about seeing democracy as a panacea for all political troubles.  Some of the West’s attempts to export democracy to various countries have fallen very far short of expectations.

The Bible is interested in values which are even more fundamental than democracy: truthfulness, love, justice, faithfulness, respect for human life, hard work, taking responsibility and lives which honour our Creator.

These can only come fully through Jesus Christ.  When they are taught and owned, they can have a profound effect on a whole nation.  In our labours, let us keep on making Him known our top priority.