The terms “democracy” and “constitutional republic” refer to different forms of government, each with distinct characteristics. While we tend to use these terms interchangeably, they have important differences.
- In a pure or direct democracy, all decisions are made directly by the citizens who participate in the decision-making process. This often involves voting on laws and governing policies. Citizens control the decision-making process through a “majority rule” principle. Democracies have proven to be most practical when they are used to govern small, homogenous communities that can easily gather to make decisions.
- In a constitutional republic, the powers of the government are pre-established and limited by a constitution that clearly outlines both the individual rights of citizens and the specific powers of elected officials. This is our nation’s present system. We elect representatives to make decisions on our behalf. The majority cannot override the rights established in the Constitution in a republic.
There is a general principle that stands behind our republic, which is found in one of our nation’s earliest documents. The “Mayflower Compact,” created on November 11, 1620, was an agreement among those who were to settle in New Plymouth, otherwise known as Plymouth Colony. It was written and signed by 41 men aboard the Mayflower, consisting of Separatist Puritans, adventurers, and tradesmen. The document established how they would govern themselves and specifically stated that they, the people of this new colony, derived their right of self-government directly from God. This idea of personal rights granted by God superseded “majority rule” and changed the role of our government forever. It may be the major principle that separates our nation from all others who claim to be democracies.
(Romans 13:1)1NIV New International Version Translations – “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”
One of the classic criticisms of a pure democracy is the potential for the majority to oppress the rights of minorities. If the majority dictates every decision, there is a risk of overlooking the interests and rights of smaller or less powerful groups. The verse above suggests that governments are established by God and that people should obey and respect the authorities in power. However, God and His authority are also to be honored. Scriptures are clear in this: “Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than human beings!’” (Acts 5:29). Even the democratic process cannot ignore our covenant relationship with God. That relationship is based on rights and rules that cannot be discarded, even by a majority vote.
History shows us that even democracies have been prone to political instability, especially in times of economic downturns or social unrest. Frequent elections and changes in government contribute to uncertainty and affect long-term planning. Many times, leaders claiming to be democratic are tempted to adopt populist policies to appeal to voters in the short term, even if these policies are not in the best interest of their country. This short-term focus can lead to fiscal irresponsibility and inadequate planning. Just look at our national debt if you need convincing. Proverbs 21:1 tells us that “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” This verse suggests that even the decisions and actions of rulers (leaders) are subjugated to God’s judgment. While the Scriptures don’t explicitly command governments to obey God, our Bible implies that the decisions of leaders are held accountable to God.
For a pure democracy to be effective, it takes a high level of political knowledge among voters. If citizens are not well-informed about the issues, they may make decisions based on misinformation or emotion rather than a clear understanding of the consequences. Abortion is just one of those issues. We can also look at the ethics and reliability of our media to understand this risk. The truth in reporting current events, an unbiased portrayal of history, and even God Himself are often missing from our news media networks today. Special interests can influence opinions that sway democratic processes. Add to this a biased educational system, and the rights and freedoms of a purely democratic society can be at risk.
Have we succumbed to the “tyranny of the mob,” leading to impulsive or emotionally charged decision-making rather than careful and reasoned policy choices? Elected and unelected officials most often lack the expertise to make informed decisions on complex issues. There is constant pressure to implement policies that are popular in the short term, even when they have negative long-term economic consequences. Our open borders are just one example. Democracies are also susceptible to manipulation through misinformation, propaganda, or foreign interference, potentially undermining the integrity of the electoral process. When voter turnout is low, an unrepresentative portion of the population determines election outcomes. In 2020, 66.8% of the citizen voting-age population voted in the presidential election, the highest turnout since 1992. Yet, over a third of our population did not bother to participate. It is not getting better. Percentages are much lower for local and off-year elections.
In constitutional republics, locally focused representatives are meant to guard against becoming distant from the concerns of their constituents. Our forefathers not only knew this but had experienced both tyrannical rule and biased populism. Too many times, the electoral process was subject to issues such as gerrymandering, campaign finance concerns, and voter disenfranchisement. Our history shows us that there was always the risk that powerful elites or special interest groups could capture the political process, influencing policy in their favor to the detriment of the broader population. It happened in the 1700s, and it still happens today. While constitutional republics emphasize the protection of individual rights, there is still a potential for the majority to infringe upon the rights of minorities. Of course, the complexity of the constitutional and legal framework in a republic can make it challenging for citizens to fully understand and engage with the political process. Yet a nation’s citizens must remain engaged to sustain both their constitutional rights and freedoms. Freedoms can easily be lost simply by placing the wrong leadership in power.
But what does God want for us? In Christianity, for example, our beliefs are derived from the Bible. We believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God Himself. The Bible emphasizes justice, righteousness, compassion, love for one’s neighbor, and submission to the will of God. In a democracy, decisions are made through majority rule. The risk is that the majority may not necessarily be godly people. This can lead to a situation where the rights of minority groups are disregarded for purely secular beliefs. If the majority consistently enacts laws or policies that discriminate against or infringe upon the rights of a minority, it can be seen as a violation of individual rights. In a democratic system, if there is a concentration of power in any part of the government without adequate checks and balances, it can lead to abuses, including violations of due process, restrictions on free speech, and even unwarranted surveillance.
Our Bible does not explicitly discuss modern forms of government, including democracies or republics, as these political systems developed long after the biblical texts were written. However, some principles found in the Bible can be interpreted or applied in discussions about Godly governance.
Justice and Righteousness: In general, in all forms of government, the populus and government are expected to be fair and honest in their dealings.
- (Micah 6:8) – “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
- (Proverbs 21:3) – “To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”
- (Isaiah 1:17) – “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
Rule of Law: The Bible emphasizes the importance of justice, righteousness, and the rule of law. Concepts such as fairness, impartiality, and the just treatment of all people are consistent with democratic and constitutional principles.
- (Romans 13:1) – “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”
- (Romans 13:7) – “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.“
- (1 Peter 2:13-17) – “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”
Respect for Authority: The Bible often speaks about the importance of respecting authority and leaders. While the Bible may not prescribe a particular form of government, it encourages believers to submit to governing authorities.
- (Romans 13:1-7) – “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
Welfare of the People: The Bible contains many passages that highlight the importance of caring for the vulnerable, seeking justice, and promoting the well-being of society. These values align with the goals of many societies. A constitutional republic, however, adds the elements of individual rights and personal responsibility. These align well with God’s plans for humanity.
- (Proverbs 31:8-9) – “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
- (James 1:27) – “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
- (Galatians 6:5) – “for each one should carry their own load.”
God has given humanity rights, like the right to life, liberty (freedom), and the ability to define their own happiness (free will). While God has also given humanity a set of laws to follow, God has also allowed each to choose where to place their faith. However, within the scope of God’s Laws, humanity does not have the latitude to redefine them or ignore them without suffering the consequences of God’s judgment. In that regard, we are not a democracy. The majority cannot override the Laws of God. We also cannot call ourselves a republic unless we honor the rights God has granted to all humanity equally. It is impossible to create, build, and/or sustain a nation without a firm reliance on God.
(2 Chronicles 7:14) – “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
While the above verse specifically addresses the people of Israel, we can apply it more broadly to the idea that a nation seeking God’s guidance and turning away from sinful behavior will experience blessings and success. “Theophany,” the visible manifestation of God to humankind, can be found in our history. His providence, which is the protective care of God, contains the very footprints of our Creator. To lose history is to lose touch with God Himself.
- Are you concerned by the loss of trust in our educational systems and government agencies?
- Ideas to Explore: The test each must pass is whether they are Godly in their treatment of the populous. Is our nation moving closer or farther away from God?
- When you vote for a candidate that does not honor God, do you think that God gives you a free pass?
- Ideas to Explore: We have here the question of whether God holds us accountable to vote for officials who support and follow God’s Laws. Will you be judged along with those who break God’s Law if you elect those people to run our country?
- How do you respond when a politician or government agency establishes a rule that breaks God’s Laws?
- Ideas to Explore: What is the proper level of activism? Would you sin if your government told you to sin?
- Our subsequent generations are confused. They see very little hope coming from religion. What are you doing to help dispel this sad situation?
- Ideas to Explore: Do you share your faith and faith-filled opinions? What do your children and grandchildren see you do when asked to ignore God’s Truth?
- 1NIV New International Version Translations