Is it now provocative to argue in favor of democracy? Is the Christian case for democracy even more peculiar? Luke Bretherton and Deondra Rose, Duke scholars, and Anne Snyder, a Trinity Forum Senior Fellow, in a panel arranged by the Trinity Forum in collaboration with United Methodist-affiliated Duke Divinity School, argued the Christian case for democracy.
In welcoming remarks, moderator Cherie Harder asserted this argument may now be perceived as a “provocative claim for a strange time.” The panelists, however, advanced the claim that the Christian case for democracy is not just compelling — but necessary.
Harder serves as president of the Trinity Forum, a non-profit Christian organization. The October 16 event included a welcome by Duke Divinity School Associate Dean for External Relations, Dan Struble.
Luke Bretherton, professor of Moral and Political Theology and senior fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University, is the author of the book Christ and the Common Life: Political Theology and the Case for Democracy, published in 2019. In the book, Bretherton analyzes and develops a political theology of democracy as a method for Christians to speak and act faithfully in the political arena in the present day. He also emphasizes the importance of pursuing a common life with others who don’t share the same beliefs and practices.
During the panel, Bretherton elaborated on this latter thought. “Politics really is the response to the nature of difference,” stated Bretherton. He stated further that politics is “where we recognize our interdependence with each other.”
In terms of participation in democratic institutions, Bretherton stated, “I can’t understand who I am in relation to God and who God is in relation to me outside of the experience as a citizen.”
The moderator and panelists furthered the idea that democratic politics is a work of love. “The act of labor of love should be invested in the act of politics,” asserted Bretherton.
Another common theme of the discussion was the need to sacrifice for “the common good.” Anne Snyder, editor-in-chief of Comment Magazine and Senior Fellow of The Trinity Forum, emphatically maintained the need to bring this principle back into our politics. Particularly, Snyder highlighted the fact that the tagline of Comment Magazine is “Public Theology for the Common Good.”
Snyder stated that in living for the common good, “we can’t get away from the fact that God created and loves each person.” In terms of the Christian case for the common good, Snyder stated that she “really fears that the affirmative answer to the question [of the Christian case for the common good] has been lost along the way.”
Deondra Rose, assistant professor at the Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy, emphasized that moving forward for the common good “will require redistribution of certain things.” Sanford stated, “we have this history where previous political battles have left us feeling so divided,” and that these divisions make it hard to move forward.
Regarding moving forward from our present polarized times, Anne Snyder and Deondra Rose spoke on the importance that listening will play in this process. Snyder professed that deep listening, if done in true authenticity, can often be deeply disturbing and uncomfortable, but it is necessary in order to move on from our current crisis. Rose elaborated on the need for active listening, and stated that “properly listening is instrumental in our capacity to act.” Both emphasized that proper, active listening is crucial in the Christian desire to promote human dignity.
“We’re not listening to understand, we’re listening to see if this person conforms,” added Bretherton, regarding listening in our polarized times.
In a vibrant panel discussion, Bretherton, Snyder, and Rose made the Christian case — and necessity — for furthering democracy, supporting the position that democracy is the best governing system for upholding the human dignity of all of God’s people. In order to preserve and advance it, we must listen intently, live for the common good, and reinvest love in our politics.