Imagine the scene in the oval office:
The President said, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.’
I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence.”
Later in the conversation, Trump tried again, telling Comey: “I need loyalty.”
Comey replied: “You will always get honesty from me.”
Trump then said: “That’s what I want, honest loyalty.”
I do not envy James Comey, the former FBI director having to stand up to someone as over-bearing and powerful as Donald Trump. But I deeply admire his integrity.
I heard a story a few years ago that may be apocryphal, that the British government had commissioned a futurologist to investigate what he felt would be the greatest potential threat to the UK. They expected the answer to come back as “terrorism”, “climate change” or “disease”. The answer was totally unexpected. The greatest potential threat to the UK was predicted to be a loss of integrity.
Integrity is after all one of the pillars upon which a successful democracy is supported. If I had to pick the other pillars I would say freedom, humility and belief in the value of every individual.
These four pillars are the four legs on which the great table of Modern Civilization rests. Remove one and the whole system is in danger of crashing to the ground.
And right now, as never before, I believe we are in very real and present danger of undermining not one, but all four of these pillars. As we embrace pluralism, relativism, and the “if it feels right then it must be right” culture, we are metaphorically lying under the table in a merry stupor, sawing through the legs of the great marble table above us.
It is just a matter of time before we get crushed.
Jesus is not often associated with having anything to say about democracy. He did not live in a democracy, nor did he explicitly call for its creation – in fact, He explicitly denied that He was interested in setting up a secular political system. He did however teach about these four values of freedom, integrity, humility and the value of each individual. These teachings have not only brought about democracy but are the under-pinning values of our democratic civilisation.
Think about Jesus teaching on how we should treat one another. Think about how He treated women (Luke 8:1-3), the sick (Matt 9:20-22), children (Matt 18:1-3), the disabled (Matt 9:27-34), poor outcasts such as lepers (Luke 5: 12-13), wealthy outcasts such as Zacchaeus. (Luke 19:1-10). Those who everyone else believed were morally corrupt and socially isolated: the Samaritan woman in John 4:4-26 the woman caught in adultery, John 8:3-11 the “sinful woman” with the Alabaster jar of perfume, Luke 7: 36-48 even enemies (Matt 5:44).
Jesus saw the infinite value of each individual “made in the image of God” and the infinite potential in each human soul. This was radical teaching in the Greco-Judean culture…it was this teaching that bought about a revolution that within a short space of time had swept through the Roman Empire and beyond.
Even the Communist Chinese academy of Social Sciences now recognise that “Christianity really lies at the heart of the rise of Western Civilisation.”
So what is to be done?
Well, as I write this blog, the headline in the paper is “Theresa May’s closest advisers quit No 10 after Senior Tories demand they be sacked” So let’s pray for wise counsel for Theresa May.
Maybe Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill have been made scape-goats. But as advisers to Mrs May it is felt appropriate that they should bear some responsibility for this election that has brought disappointment to all parties. After all the Conservatives lost their majority. Labour suffered its third defeat in a row. The Liberal Democrats have barely moved, the SNP’s independence bandwagon has stalled, and UKIP seems to have evaporated. The only winners are perhaps the DUP.
So what sort of counsel does a First Minister need? The bible makes it perfectly clear:
James 3:13–18 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
We need Godly wisdom and Godly and courageous leaders.
And for a democracy – we need a Godly electorate.
In 1830 the French Philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville visited America to assess their democratic system and asked a valid question:
“What is going to keep the American democracy from pursuing its own individual self interests?”
He believed that people were self-interested, but for democracy to work, we could see that people had to get beyond their own self interests, get to know each other, and work together with their neighbours to make a good community. Tocqueville’s conclusion after his visit to America was that Christianity was the only faith that could bring this about.
This is a nutshell is what concerns me about our culture. As we become increasingly secularised, increasingly ashamed of our Christian roots and heritage we are vandalising a democracy, until it becomes nothing more than a shabby vehicle for corporate selfishness.
Paul’s teaching in Philippians 2:4 hits the nail on the head: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
In other words “Let each of you look not only to
- your own financial affairs
- your own property
- your own family
- your own health
- your own reputation
- your own education
- your own success
- your own happiness
— but look to the financial affairs and property and family and health, and reputation, and education, and success, and happiness of others.
In other words, in the words of Jesus, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
But isn’t this asking for the impossible? How could this possibly come about? How can a leopard change his spots? How can an electorate suddenly become unselfish and altruistic?
Even the bible is clear. It cannot. Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
As Oswald J Smith – the American author and Pastor – so succinctly put it : “The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.”
The reason Christians have any virtue at all, is primarily because they have recognized their heart condition and have asked God to forgive them and give them a heart, a new nature…. A “heart of flesh” as Ezekiel 36:26 puts it. Quite simply, they have been “born again”.
Christians are people who are guided by the indwelling Spirit of God. They are inspired by Christ’s example, they are stirred by deep gratitude for the unselfish love and grace shown to us by Christ. They are determined to obey the commands of Christ (John 14:15 whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me”) Last and possibly least, they are encouraged by the prospect of reward (Matt 23:12 “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted”)
Only Christianity is radical enough to bring about this change of heart and behaviour.
So what is my conclusion?
It is a warning. As we stray away from our Christian heritage and roots, we are simultaneously ripping up the very roots at the heart of our democracy.
Eric Metaxas the American author, speaker, and radio host puts it like this:
“In the West we have got so used to the idea of freedom and democracy and economic prosperity, we take it for granted. We have no idea that if it’s a cut flower, it will continue to look beautiful for a season, but ultimately it’s lost the connection to the source of life”
James Muir 10.06.17