Democracy In America Is On Suicide Watch


This past memorial weekend felt different for me. I was taking my dog for a walk on a beautiful sunny day and was noticing the sights and sounds of Memorial Day weekend. The community pool was open for the first time this year, and you could hear kids having fun. You could smell the grill as neighbors were grilling, and what stood out the most to me were the several houses flying the stars and stripes. Yet the irony, for me, was that while this looked and seemed like just another Memorial Day weekend where we remember the sacrifices that secured our freedoms and enjoyed the unofficial start to summer, this isn’t like any other Memorial Day weekend in our lifetime.

We are well underway in a presidential election year, but 2024 isn’t just another election year. American democracy as we know it is on a collision course that could bring about a full constitutional crisis the likes of which we have never seen in modern American history. It could well unravel our republic and it could fundamentally reshape our system of government and the role the United States has in the world. Some even fear we could be headed for some kind of civil unrest or civil war. And yet most of us are either in denial or disconnected from seeing where this seems to be heading.

Years ago, my family and I had the privilege of visiting Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence, and it was surreal for a history lover such as myself to be in the room where America’s founding fathers debated and dialogued to declare freedom and independence as a nation. What stuck with me the most from the visit, though, was what our tour guide said before we left. She talked about the Constitutional Convention and what Benjamin Franklin is purported to have said when asked whether America will now be a monarchy or a republic. He said, “A republic, if you can keep it.” The tour guide reminded all of us of the challenge that is set forth to each generation to ensure that our republic continues, and that democracy prevails. The problem is that, as John Adams is also quoted to have said, “There never has been a democracy yet that hasn’t committed suicide.” And if one has been paying attention, America seems to be headed that way unless something changes.

Maybe that sounds like a drastic statement to make. But let’s look at the signs and symptoms we can see. We’ve gone from political gridlock to political polarization. Both the far left and far right view each other and those who vote according to their political ideology as a greater existential threat to America than outside geopolitical threats like Russia or China. Our elections have increasingly been distrusted, with some on the left objecting to the election results of 2004 and 2016, with most Republican voters on the right to this day rejecting the results of the 2020 election.

Both the far left and far right have elements which seem to want to impose a form of government that is closer to authoritarianism on those who have views that diverge from the majority. And even though most Americans don’t want a rematch to the 2020 election, it appears a sequel is at hand this fall. If we do not respect those who have different views than we do, if we are not willing to dialogue with those who belong to the “other side,” and if we don’t have mutual commitment to the rule of law, the results of our elections and the peaceful transfer of power, Houston we have a problem.

As our country seems to be sleepwalking toward some kind of reckoning, where does this leave the church? What role should Christians play? Which “side” should we be on? Where does our identity lie?

First and foremost, we must remember that we are Christians first, Americans second and we are Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives third. If one is true to the Bible, we cannot fit entirely within any political or ideological tribe. While we should certainly do all we can to vote according to our conscience, we should never lose sight of a simple yet important truth: neither Donald Trump nor Joe Biden can save America.

Neither party having more power is going to save America. There is no political savior or messiah who can deliver the church from an increasingly hostile culture. And even though Jesus himself dealt with this, that hasn’t stopped us from looking for one. What America needs is true revival, to sweep through our broken and dying land, to win over hearts and minds to Jesus Christ, and we should do our part to welcome revival beginning within us, our marriages, our homes, our churches.

The Bible never prescribes a form of government. Governments and empires and superpowers, we are told in the book of Daniel, come and go, permitted under the sovereignty of God to exist for a time until the end of time when Jesus Christ will return and reign in glory. And yet, while we wait and hope for that culmination at the end of history, I would put forward that we as Christians should cherish and pray for the continuation of democracy in America. Why? Because whether it’s from the far left or far right, authoritarianism will prove to bring more distress for our cause and for the church.

Even now around the world, there are authoritarian governments in power that are hostile to Christianity and to the church, shutting churches down, arresting pastors and even bringing death for practicing Christians in some countries. What of an authoritarian government that is friendly to evangelical Christianity? Would that be so bad? Every instance of that in history has led to the church compromising its witness and worse, being complicit in abhorrent acts that go against what we profess to value and believe. Gaining political power is not our mission. Betraying the gospel to get it leads to short-term gains but big-picture tragedy with what matters most.

At this time of year, we often say, “Freedom isn’t free.” It isn’t. Maybe this year we should add, “Freedom is worth keeping.”

“Aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”- 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

Stephen Mitchell is the senior pastor of Trinity Bible Church in Severna Park. He also is the host of a regular podcast, “Real Christian Talk with Pastor Steve,” available on all podcast platforms.


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