Posts Tagged king

How democracy dies: ‘Give us a king’ -Erich Bridges – BaptistNewsGlobal

The fall of ancient Israel began almost before it rose — when the people demanded of Samuel, “Give us a king to lead us.”

You can read the whole, sorry story in 1 Samuel 8. The aging prophet who had guided Israel was heartbroken by the ultimatum. Samuel’s dread was confirmed when the Lord told him, “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.”

Samuel warned the people that a king would take the best of their sons and daughters, their herds and flocks, their fields and vineyards, and even make them slaves again. No matter: “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations.”

Samuel gave them Saul. The hesitant young man never really wanted the job in the first place, but later he held onto it with murderous and increasingly insane ferocity. With a few notable exceptions — David, Solomon, Josiah and Hezekiah among them — Israel’s (and Judah’s) monarchies went downhill from there. Too many kings were harsh, greedy and idolatrous, just as the Lord predicted. As always, God brought good out of bad; God was preparing humanity for a kingdom not of this world. But the cautionary lesson remains.

Old Testament Israel versus modern nation states

It’s almost always unwise to compare modern nation states to Old Testament Israel. Only Israel was chosen by God. All other nations that aspire to such a status are pretenders, and their theocratic arrogance usually leads to disaster.

“The Israelites of Samuel’s time didn’t lose their freedom to outside forces; … they gave it up willingly.”

Still, one parallel between ancient Israel and modern democracies is irresistible. The Israelites of Samuel’s time didn’t lose their freedom to outside forces, despite their constant conflict with invaders, other local tribes and each other. They gave it up willingly, even eagerly. They wanted someone visible to rule over them, to tell them what to think and do, to bring order into the chaos of pagan Canaan. A king would solve everything! Following an invisible God required too much faith.

Keeping a democracy functioning in a complex, ever-changing world also requires faith, albeit of a more secular sort: Faith in representative government. Faith in debate and compromise. Faith in elections. Faith that your fellow citizens will abide by a social contract that includes both liberty and law, rights and responsibilities.

It isn’t easy, particularly when millions of individuals and groups struggle over competing interests and aspirations.

No wonder democracy is rare (and fairly recent) in human history. Most people through the ages have lived under tribal and clan chiefs, kings and queens, emperors, despots, dictators and other practitioners of absolute or semi-absolute rule. Some nations have rule from above forced upon them or never have known anything else.

But others, not unlike the Israelites, embrace a king.

Life is hard. Day-to-day survival consumes most of our energy. Affairs of state are bewildering and frustrating. You can’t trust politicians. Why not let someone else make those decisions in return for security and simplistic answers to tough questions? Especially if your chosen leader can fight for you against “them” — whoever “them” may be in your particular society. The suspicious “other.” Those invading immigrants. That different religion. Those other races you can’t trust.

Analyzing Trumpism

Trumpism is an obvious expression of this phenomenon. The Republican Party has essentially traded its political and moral philosophy for a xenophobic, populist cult of personality that promises to “Make America Great Again.” In reality, the cult offers little, even to its core supporters, beyond a sense of superiority over the various “others” they fear and the mirage of a return to the good old days of simpleminded solutions to complex issues.

Meanwhile, the nation sinks into division, decline and political paralysis as the president charged with faithfully administering our democratic institutions systematically undermines them.

A global perspective

But Trumpism is far from the only instance of the populism-run-amok weakening democracies internationally. Here are a few examples, among many:

Turkey, long the model for secular (if militarized) democracy in the Middle East, has become a hyper-nationalist, increasingly Islamist police state under populist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He has muzzled the press and crushed urban protests as he consolidates his rule. He used a disorganized military coup attempt against his government in 2016 as an opportunity to jail and terrorize thousands of opponents.

Brazil, led by populist President Jair Bolsonaro, has slid into political and economic chaos. Bolsonaro took over in 2019, promising to clean up Brazil after years of misrule under corrupt leftist politicians, but things have gotten worse. He hurls insults at indigenous and non-white ethnic groups in Brazil’s multiethnic society, allows the destruction of the nation’s rainforests and continues to deny the threat of COVID-19, although Bolsonaro himself contracted it in July. Brazil now has the third-most COVID cases in the world, behind only India and the United States.

The Philippines, once a budding Southeast Asian democracy, now staggers under the erratic rule of foul-mouthed President Rodrigo Duterte. He openly cheers death squads that execute alleged criminals without benefit of a trial, as well as the assassinations of “corrupt” journalists. Duterte honed his populist-godfather persona during 22 years as mayor of Davao City in Mindanao. He brags that he personally killed three people during his campaign against crime there. The Philippines, a nation of 110 million, has declined economically during his presidency and stands accused of numerous human rights abuses.

Russia enjoyed an all-too-brief blooming of democracy after the fall of the Soviet Union. Economic chaos and nostalgia for the paternalistic security of communism created a popular demand for the return of a “strong hand,” which ex-KGB officer Vladimir Putin was happy to provide. Putin has been either president or prime minister since 1999 and appears determined to become president for life. The economic growth he rode to popularity has eroded, but he seems assured of perpetual reelection — as long as he controls the election process. He specializes in threatening and undermining neighboring countries, sowing misinformation and mischief in the West, and reportedly approving the poisoning of political opponents.

India, perhaps most chilling of all, is the world’s largest democracy with nearly 1.4 billion people. Indian secular democracy has endured corruption, multiple wars, emergency rule and massive ethnic and religious violence since independence in 1947. Yet it survives. But its days may be numbered as Prime Minister Narendra Modi trumpets extremist Hindu nationalism to expand his power. Modi denies attempting to oppress and marginalize India’s 200 million Muslims (and other religious minorities, including Christians). Reality tells another story, as Hindutva — Hindu nationalist philosophy — threatens the very existence of modern India. Modi’s economic blunders, meanwhile, have led the nation into a fiscal nosedive. Yet he was reelected in a landslide last year.

What’s the common denominator?

And that brings us to what these nations share in common, besides populist-nationalist demagogues in charge: The demagogues were elected (and sometimes reelected) by the voters. That’s democracy, you say. But for how long? Weary of change, fearful of the “other,” uncertain of the future, millions of citizens in more-or-less democratic nations have chosen “the strong hand,” the loudest voice, the easy way out, the leader who promises to clean house and take care of everything.

We recently observed the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, which shook the foundations of the free world — but also became a unifying force. That unity is gone.

“Don’t believe easy (and false) answers, whether they come from politicians or the pulpit.”

“In many ways, 9/11 — and the epochal conflagration that followed — feels distant,” writes Ishaan Tahroor in The Washington Post. “In the West, the past decade opened and closed with traumatic economic shocks and recessions. The prevailing view of globalization as an inexorable, benign force (has) dissolved into a seething cauldron of nationalism and populism” — where hostile tribes fight to the death.

We can’t necessarily change the international mood. But we can refuse to become part of the “seething cauldron of nationalism and populism” sabotaging our own democracy — and our own churches.

Don’t believe easy (and false) answers, whether they come from politicians or the pulpit. Don’t submit to fear and hatred of “them.” Don’t blindly follow the shouters. Love one another. Work together for compassionate solutions to divisive issues.

And learn a lesson from Israel of old: Trust the invisible God, not the visible demagogue.

Eric Bridges, a Baptist journalist for more than 40 years, retired in 2016 as global correspondent for the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board. He lives in Richmond, Va.


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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called me to preach – Rev. Alan Bean

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The Silence of Friends

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” This is a haunting quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that tears at our very nature. How often have I stood silent while a friend was being bullied or made the scapegoat? How often have I remained aloof as a group or an individual was being slandered? How often have I allowed inflammatory remarks to go by because I did not want to cause a scene or have someone think badly of me? Dr. King nailed an all too familiar human failing.

How often have I allowed my passion to be heard, drown out the voices of those with weaker voices or with no voice at all? My friend Bennett Murray once said to me, “Those of us who speak so easily intimidate those who do not.” Our ability to speak is a gift. With it we can contribute to the well being of others or we can use it to diminish others.

In public speaking a properly placed pause often is the most powerful statement. The same thing is true in conversation. Sometimes a well placed pause screams loudest. The silence of our friends can cause us to feel betrayed or abandoned. Great injustices are often permitted when good people remain silent. Our folk language puts it best, silence gives consent.

I have more than a little remorse for words that I have spoken in anger, frustration, jealously or fear, but I have more remorse for the words that I have not spoken. We often sooth ourselves by saying, he knows how I feel or she knows how much I care. How are they to know unless we tell them? Most of us are not very skilled at mind reading.

Last Sunday I sat silently as gays were maligned. I told myself that if I spoke up it would only make the situation worse. Twice this past week well educated friends called the president of these United States either a Muslin or a Muslin sympathizer. On one of those times I spoke up and said that there might be many things to criticize the president about, but to question his religion was out of bounds; however on the second occurrence I remained silent. In both cases of my silence, I was put on trial by the words of Dr. King. I tried to convince myself that I had done the right thing and that nothing I said would change any minds and might possibly cost me some friendships. Deep down I know that I failed my responsibility.

Denise George’s has written a disturbing book, While the World Watched: A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes of Age during the Civil Rights Movement (Tyndale House, 2011). Her book describes in horrifying detail the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963. It recalls a time of great silence by white churches some black churches and the Christian community at large. Many prestigious church leaders encouraged Dr. King to soft peddle his rhetoric and call off or delay the demonstrations. Dr. King courageously decided not to heed their advice.

Speaking up is often very costly, but not speaking up may be even more costly. I recently sat quietly while Christian leaders involved in a laudable mission project talked about the very people they were helping in the most derogatory terms. They are doing the right things, but their attitude contradicts their actions. Why did I remain silent?

Too often I am content to stay on the sidelines and not become involved in the great and small issues of the day. Where is the boldness I demand from others?

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Katie Would Look Great in Suspenders

Katie CouricWhen Larry King leaves CNN later this year, we will lose the best interviewer on television. Larry has the unique ability and trained skill among the current crop of television interviewers to listen to his guest. He never tries to embarrass the guest or upstage him or her. He says, “I leave my ego at home.” His interviews do not become shouting matches.

Over these many years I have watched and listened as he interviewed everyone from Billy Graham to Lady Gaga and I have admired his ability. He never becomes the show. Sometimes he does drool a little too much with some of the more glamorous stars and fawns a little too much over some athlete that no one cares about; however, if he were in one of my courses on communication he would definitely get an A. When the interview is over, I usually know what the guest thinks. Larry is a professing Jew, and he treats Billy Graham with tremendous respect. He is nuts about Nancy Reagan and he treats Hillary Clinton with the same respect. Even with someone like Netanyahu, who is determined not to say anything of the slightest importance, Larry turns in a good performance.

Katie Couric is the most logical successor to Larry. Katie is an excellent interviewer and given the relaxed nature of a show like Larry’s, she would become even better. Like Larry she knows everyone and is respected by everyone except perhaps Sarah Palin. She knows how to listen and how to follow-up. She puts the interviewee at ease and creates a good atmosphere.

CNN is having its troubles and the departure of Larry will make matters worse for them. The top brass at the cable network would help their cause if they worked out a way to get Katie. I realize that the night belongs to the shouters and the constant conspiracy theorists not to mention the barrage of personality assassins, but so far CNN has proved a voice of reason. CNN should allow Katy to choose the guests. She has all the right contacts and knows who and what matters.

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