by Pastor Doug Kings
After his rollercoaster administration, Boris Johnson was forced out by his party and Liz Truss replaced him as British prime minister. After barely a month in office, there are now calls for her to resign, which could make her term the briefest in history. Italy, meanwhile, is on the verge of having its first Fascist premier since Mussolini and far right parties are making gains in other parts of Europe. After a record low voter turnout in France, President Macron’s party coalition lost its majority; the first president to do so in recent memory.
In this country, hearings are nearing an end on last year’s bizarre attack on the Capitol Building to prevent the certification of President Biden’s election. Numerous candidates in this year’s election still deny or question the legitimacy of that election. At the same time, others still insist President Trump’s election in 2016 was the illegitimate result of foreign interference.
These are recent examples of the upheavals occurring in democracies around the world. They occur in conjunction with a growing impression of governments in chaos: inept, unresponsive, corrupt, and paralyzed by conflict and indecision. Extremist candidates are increasingly popular, traditional parties are viewed as all different shades of gray, and politicians are assumed to be bought and paid for by corporate lobbyists.
Winston Churchill famously said that democracy is the worst possible system, except for all the rest. That backhanded compliment nonetheless acknowledges how difficult democratic government can be. And frankly, it doesn’t always work. The global Depression of the 1930s caused a number of democratic governments to fall, and most of the rest were deeply shaken, including our own. American democracy did fail when it came to ending slavery, with only a bloody Civil War keeping the country together.
One of the most difficult challenges democracies struggle with is dealing with unwelcome and/or unpleasant realities. It’s a dilemma we all face as individuals. We see some item we want to have but don’t have the money for. Do we put it on our credit card, wait and save for it, or decide we don’t need it after all? Our doctor tells us to lose weight, start taking some medication, or that we need surgery. We will be tempted to spin out reasons why these aren’t needed or they can be delayed. Or if we anticipate hearing such words, we may avoid seeing the doctor altogether.
Governments are facing a lot of bad news these days—but who wants to tell the patient? Much of that bad news centers on the environment. The overwhelming consensus of those who study such things is that the world is becoming an increasingly inhospitable place to live, and humanity’s collective behavior is the primary cause. In a world grown complicated beyond anyone’s understanding, democracy offers no clear way forward, and in some ways is perhaps making matters worse.
Will we vote for candidates who tells us things we don’t want to hear, even if they’re true? Neither history nor human nature give much reason to think that will happen. This isn’t meant to sound cynical but rather to show that our global crisis (which is what it is) is not going to be solved by any political process. It’s simply too much to ask.
For democratic politics to function, there must be some basic consensus on the common good. This is what the US had lost by the mid-19th century, with the disastrous consequences that followed. The task now is to redefine that consensus, this time for the entire planet.
I think it was in 6th grade (a long time ago) that a teacher told us that, of course, the all the world’s countries couldn’t have the lifestyle we did. Somehow that seemed acceptable; just the way it is. That belief won’t fly anymore.
As the wealth divide grows, it seems more and more people in this country can’t have that previously assumed lifestyle. And the growing consensus of scientists is that the planet cannot support the lifestyle Western culture has told us to expect, almost as a birthright.
What do we want our planet to look like? What does “the good life” mean in the 21st century? And whatever it means, how can we ensure that the greatest number of people possible will enjoy it? A planet where only a lucky or select few are able to have a good life will soon end in disaster, and then no one will have it.
One of the key ideas in the New Testament is represented by the Greek word metanoia. It is usually translated as “repentance”, but its moralizing implication isn’t accurate. It literally means “to go beyond the mind”; to go past your current thinking in a profound way and have a change of heart. Metanoia entails a spiritual transformation, an awakening to a new way of seeing and thinking about yourself, life, and the world in which you live. Paul challenged the Christians in Roman saying,
Do not be conformed to this age but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
The crisis we face will not be resolved by electing one candidate or party over another. We won’t manufacture or technologize our way out of it. We can’t change the world. Instead, we need to change ourselves: our thinking, our attitudes, our beliefs. What we need is not a political revolution but a spiritual one. We need transformation. We need a miracle.
Blessings in your life and ministry.