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Reform Magazine | October 22, 2019

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The roots of democracy

The roots of democracy

Donald Norwood finds the origins of democracy in the Reformed tradition

The September issue of Reform should dispel any idea that ‘religion has nothing to do with politics’. There was ‘A liberal helping’ of Tim Farron MP, another three pages on ‘Is democracy broken?’ plus ‘News in brief’ on tax justice, anti-nuclear protest, creation and peace – an agenda that would do credit to the House of Commons or a meeting of one of the United Reformed Church’s synods. Reading all this, I felt profoundly grateful to be a minister and member of the URC. All that was missing was a detailed exposition of the roots of modern democracy in our Reformed tradition. The best, world-renowned Reformed theologians – Calvin (pictured), Forsyth, Barth, Micklem, Niebuhr, Moltmann and John de Gruchy – spent their lives nurturing these precious roots. Reform readers owe them a hearing.

It is a sad fact that those British politicians who have been most explicit in confessing their Christian faith have often been an embarrassment to fellow Christians who consider their judgments plain wrong. Farron’s views on same-sex partnerships could have been helpfully challenged in any Church Meeting if he was prepared to listen and learn. Tony Blair, once Anglican, is now Roman Catholic, and must know that the Pope joined with other Christian leaders in opposition to the Iraq War. They warned that it would solve nothing and might make matters worse in the whole of the Middle East. At least Blair met with Church leaders to hear their views about the war, unlike that other Christian, George W Bush. As for Theresa May, the papers informed us that she went faithfully to the 8am Communion in her local parish church; there, against the advice of John Calvin, she would rarely hear an exposition, however brief, of the Gospel lesson, which might have helped her rethink her policy of making the environment as hostile as possible for immigrants and refugees, and might possibly have changed her mind a second time on Brexit…

Donald Norwood is engaged in ecumenical research in Oxford and is author of Democracy and the Christian Churches (IB Tauris, 2018)

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This is an extract from an article that was published in the October 2019 edition of Reform

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