“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men. . . . “
“Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary” (Reinhold Niebuhr).
I’ve summarized the 12 points below from Christianity and Democracy: The First Political Task of the Church (First Things)
1. Because our hope is eternal and transcendent, Christians can participate in society without despair or delusion.
2. God has given us no one pattern for the ordering of societies or of the world. For almost two millennia Christians have pursued their mission within a variety of social, political, and economic systems.
3. Because the Church is pledged to the Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus, it must maintain a critical distance from all the kingdoms of the world, whether actual or proposed. Christians betray their Lord if, in theory or practice, they equate the Kingdom of God with any political, social, or economic order of this passing time.
4. The Church is to be a zone of truth-telling in a world of dishonesty. In the century of Hitler and Stalin and their lesser imitators the most urgent truth to be told about secular politics was the threat of totalitarianism. The religious term for political totalitarianism is idolatry. The party-state declares itself to be absolute, and therefore not accountable to any transcendent judgment. Regimes that subscribe to this dogma assert that they themselves embody the final meaning of history and are therefore not answerable to any higher authority or morality. To the extent the intent has been actualized, millions have died, millions more have been imprisoned and cruelly repressed.
5. It is both politically and theologically imperative to assert that totalitarianism promulgates a doctrine that is incompatible with a Christian understanding of humanity and historical destiny.
6. Democratic government is limited government. It is limited in the claims it makes and in the power it seeks to exercise. Democratic government understands itself to be accountable to values and to truths which transcend any regime or party.
7. Limited government means that a clear distinction is made between the state and the society. The state is not the whole of the society, but is one important actor in the society. Other institutions—notably the family, the church, educational, economic, and cultural enterprises—are at least equally important actors in the society.
8. To mistake any existing or proposed social order for the Kingdom of God is a great crime against humanity.
9. Everything short of the consummation of the rule of Christ is unsatisfactory.
10. Democratic governance is based upon a morality of respect and fairness for all. It is responsive to the diverse moral judgments and meanings affirmed by individuals and institutions within society. It not only tolerates but rigorously protects those spheres within which people find meaning for their lives and share that meaning with others. Most importantly, democratic government does not seek to control or restrict the sphere of religion in which people affirm, exercise, and share their ultimate beliefs about the world and their place in it.
11. Human rights are not established by the state. The state is bound to acknowledge and respect those rights which have their source in the transcendent dignity of the human person created by God.
12. Those of us who are blessed to live under relatively democratic governments are stewards of a possibility that is to be preserved for the whole world. Democracy is not an achievement secured but an experiment to be advanced. It is both gift and task. In helping to sustain the democratic experiment, the churches act not only in their own interest but in the interest of humankind.