Like many around the world, we watched our screens and social feeds with sadness and shock at the disorder and political violence unfolding on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday 6 January when President Trump and other leaders promoted the violation of the nation’s capital over the unsubstantiated claim of a stolen election. This was an attack on a legitimate election result, conducted through a rigorous accountable process, and upheld by over 60 court rulings. It was an attack on democracy, on freedom.
As Congress was eventually able to reconvene and give final approval to the election results (7 January), the US constitution and political system showed its strength and resilience.
The rule of law and democracy, including the peaceful transition of power, are crucial values. They are deeply rooted in our Christian faith which teaches us to respect those in legitimate political authority, to be law abiding and, where we disagree, to protest and influence using peaceful and non-violent means (see Romans 13:1-7, Proverbs 31: 8-9).
Whilst some of those involved in Wednesday's violence carried banners with Christian images, this in no way reflects true discipleship and the role most Christians have played historically and today in supporting democracy and the rule of law around the world.
Early democratic ideas in Britain and America in the 17th century came from non-conformist churches and thinkers. The overthrow of communism in eastern Europe and Russia at the end of the Cold War; the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and the forming of the modern human rights movement after World War II – all are points in history where Christians played a central role.
Peace and provision
Across Africa, Asia and Latin America, many countries where Tearfund works have a weak democracy or none at all. When the rule of law is fragile, it forces many millions of people into extreme poverty.
Tearfund staff and partners are in these places, feeding malnourished people, restoring hope and helping to bring peace. From South Sudan to Nigeria, the Rohingya camps to the refugee camps in Beirut, we’re standing with the most vulnerable and helping them be released from the grip of poverty.
Our advocacy work in many of the world’s most dangerous countries directly supports democracy and the rule of law.
In Nepal our partner United Mission to Nepal (UMN) has helped people feel more empowered in the democratic process. Using the media and by speaking to policy makers, they have raised awareness of a national planning law, which many didn’t know about. It means communities can now be involved in decisions themselves around what’s best for their needs.
Since the year 2000, Jubilee Centre (a Tearfund partner) has been working with church leaders in Mapalo, Zambia to equip the local churches to be vehicles of transformation in their community. It brought together the leaders of churches, youth groups, women’s groups and political groups to discuss the ‘Mapalo that we the community want’ and draft a memorandum of understanding, or social contract, for the politicians to sign. By advocating for the commitment of candidates to meeting the needs of the community, they gained support from those who were elected for the coming years.
The Electoral Commission of Zambia, which is responsible for education before the elections, showed Mapalo’s memorandum of understanding at over thirty community meetings as an example of engaging with politicians.
After the elections, the community of Mapalo had a powerful tool to keep the politicians accountable.
At a more local level, the local church has the ability to raise awareness about rights and to organise communities to speak with a single voice.
For the people of Caroá, Brazil, in the north-east region of the country, much of the community's transformation over the last 15 years is down to effective advocacy.
With the support of Tearfund partner Ação Evangélica (ACEV), a local church set up a community organisation to successfully put pressure on the municipal government to supply electricity to the village. In the years that followed, this small community organisation put pressure on the local government to set up a primary school for the village and to improve the quality of roads and local housing.
People of hope
What we’ve seen in the US this week undermines those crucial efforts and the respect with which democracy is held around the world. They remind us that in every country democracy is fragile. It can be thrown away if it is not protected and upheld by Christians and others who believe in its importance.
As followers of Jesus Christ we are people of hope. We trust in our Lord and know that ultimately he will work out all things for good.
We believe democracy, freedom and the rule of law has a bright future in the US and in other countries around the world. Christians and local churches have always been and will always be at the forefront of the work to establish and maintain it.
We pray for President-elect Joe Biden, that he would follow Christ’s example to protect the vulnerable, give a voice to the voiceless, and put others before himself.
Read a statement from Tearfund USA here.