Theological Foundations For Democracy


The Rev Herbert Moyo

University of KwaZulu-Natal – School of Religion and Theology


Politics affects and defines the life conditions of all citizens in a given State. Since the church takes care of the life of people also questions of politics belong to the responsibility of the church. Individual Christians have to relate to politics, and they raise the questions to the church on how they should relate to the state authorities and contribute to the political sphere and the church should give orientation and guidelines. There is also the issue of political casualties, which the church is taking care of such as victims of political violence, victims of poor delivery of services, corruption and tribalism. The church should not only take care of the casualties it should be proactive to avoid the casualties. For example in the story of the good Samaritan, if people continued to be robbed and beaten on the Road to Jericho, it will be wise to set up a hospital along the road for victims but it will even be wiser to stop the robbers from victimising travellers. For the church to be meaningfully involved there is need for the church to give sound theological and biblical foundations for her actions. (Luther’s theology is not systematic theology, it is generally biblical exegesis and as a good Lutheran what I call theology might be to some mere biblical exegesis)

Churches, cannot remain indifferent in Southern Africa where there is growing abuse of human rights, corruption, non-delivery of services, use of state institutions for personal gains, tribalism, pseudo democracies, growing unemployment and retrenchments and life presidency are threatening constitutional democracy. Good examples are Zimbabwe and Kenya. Despite the above misdemeanours many African governments base their legitimacy to govern on the liberation struggle for colonial independence. The liberation struggle is over and now the former liberators are the rulers and that creates new problems. This is especially important when governments coming out of liberation struggle, change and become autocratic but are still claiming authority by appealing to their contribution to the liberation of the people. The church in many African so called independent states is saw the oppressor in terms of skin colour and now they are not able to fight oppressors of their on skin colour. Some churches such as the Lutheran church claim neutrality, which is a fallacy because neutrality supports the status quo.

In instances where the churches raise political questions the State appeals to the Two Kingdoms Doctrine and Romans 13:1-7.

Bishop Ambrose Moyo in a foreword to the book by Ross: Gospel Ferment in Malawi: Theological Essays says: “…the church in Africa may be the only sign of hope in the
midst of all the suffering, extreme violations of human rights, and genocides…What contribution can the Christian churches make towards social justice and participatory democracy?” (1995:3-4).

What is the theological basis for the church’s support for a constitutional democracy? How should the church relate to the state in a constitutional democracy especially where temporal authority becomes a villain that consumes the very people it is supposed to protect? To answer this there is need to answer the following sub-questions:

What are the connections between Christian theology and constitutional democracy? How does Christian theology justify its choice of democracy over other forms of governance?

The major problem is the gap between democracy and theology:

The bible (the basis for my theology) is an ancient document[1]

  • From 2000 BCE to 200CE
  • Period of Emperors and kings
  • God is seen to bless those in power

Democracy is a modern concept

  • Roots are in Greco-Roman period
  • Emerges with the French and American revolutions
  • Belief in God is not necessary to make it work

Can we relate theology and democracy?


.Political parties .Parliament .Presidents .Elections .Human rights

.God .Jesus

.Holy Spirit .The Church

.Faith .Bible

The word ‘democracy’ does not appear in the bible

  • The concept of democracy did not receive much attention from theologians for 1500years
  • The practice of democracy is not found in many churches

How do we get from theology to democracy?

We need something in between theology and democracy to help us to create a relationship. We have find Values, Middle Axioms and principles that can create a relationship between theology and the inner logics of a constitutional democracy.

  1. If the following Christian values/principles:
    • Responsible government
    • Human value
    • Dialogue
    • Sin
    • Justice
    • Freedom
    • Peace
    • Truth

are critically analysed alongside the inner logics of democracy they can be used as a bridge or middle axioms between theology and democracy.

  • Responsible government

Government is given by God. Responsible government should be accountable to God and God’s people. It holds us together to protect the weak and restrain the strong as well as provision of s common vision and effort. We are also commanded to pray for and respect political authority. This where governments despite abuses of human rights appeal to Romans 13:1-7. Romans 13:1-7 instructs Christians to obey temporal authority because it is instituted by God, when should I obey even if I do not agree and when should I disobey? If temporal authority becomes a villain that consumes the very people it is supposed to protect, for how long should the church continue to obey as suggested in Romans 13:1-7? Who is authority in a constitutional democracy?(The president, the people, the judiciary, the executive or the constitution.)

Human value

Human beings are created in the image of God, and filled with God’s breath with gifts and talents. Jesus died for each and every human being, God knows each person’s name and the heirs on their head. It is only in a constitutional democracy where government is obliged to respect the value of each person and create conditions in which they flourish as equals with others.


God communicates with humans and human beings communicate with one another. We have opinions, creative ideas and emotions. We find fulfilment in using our gifts and talents in society, we want to participate in the direction of our society by having our say. According to Steve de Gruchy: “A key way in which Freire describes dehumanisation is the experience of being an object in the history of the oppressor. The goal of humanisation is the task of becoming a subject in our own story. This affirmation of people as subjects is rooted in the Biblical understanding of people being made in the
image of God.”[2] Through dialogue in the political discourse we become subjects of our own destine. This can be achieved through a constitutional democracy. Dialogue therefore means that the form of government must listen to what people are saying, and provide opportunities fro them to have their opinion taken seriously.


For all the good things about us we still struggle with sin. Everyone struggles with sin-the rich and the poor, strong and weak, educated and non-educated. Corruption, manipulation and delusion are well known forms of sin in society especially among the rich and powerful. The effects of the sins of the powerful are much greater on society. Sin therefore means that the form of government must recognise that no group of people is perfect, and therefore ensure that the rulers are held accountable. Constitutional democracy demands accountability at all levels of society.


God is a God of justice. God desires justice to be done to the poor and the weak. Justice involves respect for each community and each person. Justice is blind to race, sex, religion, age, political opinions etc. Government must be just to all its citizens and protect all of them from injustice.


God desires and works for the freedom of all who are not free. Human beings need freedom in which they can use their gifts and talents. In God we are free from, but also free for participating in God’s work. Constitutional democracy can provide for freedom in which human life and livelihood can flourish.


God is a God of truth. God deals truthfully with us and desires that we deal truthfully with one another. Untruth, or lying, is the basis of much suffering and injustice. Ideology is when untruth is believed as the truth.


Gunter Krusche in Lutheran Identity and responsibility in and for the world argues that the church has an earthly responsibility for a peaceful world order because it is the symbol of the peace of God.

Concluding remarks

The bible does not teach us directly about democracy but the above values tell us what the best form of government should be. This points to the direction of democracy as system of government that takes the above values and principles seriously.

Theologically we need to promote the key values on which democracy depends. Hold our leaders accountable on these values, teach the values to others and possibly practice these values and principles in our churches.

We looked at 8 core Christian values that contribute to our understanding of governance.

  • Responsible government
  • Human value
  • Dialogue
  • Sin
  • Justice
  • Freedom
  • Peace
    • Truth Responsible government should
      • Be accountable to God and God’s people
      • Respect the value of each person, and create conditions in which they can flourish
      • Listen to what people are saying, and provide opportunities for them to have their opinion taken seriously
      • Recognise that no group of people is perfect, and therefore ensure that rulers are held accountable
      • Itself be just towards all its citizens, and should protect all against injustice
      • Enhance the ability for people to discover, share and hear the truth
    • Provide for freedom in which human life and livelihood can flourish.

When we affirm democracy in this way, we remind ourselves that this does not mean only one model of democracy can be supported by Christians, such as American democracy, European democracy etc. All forms of democracy are accountable to the 8 key values.

In this way we can contribute to building a democratic society.

Grace and peace Rev H Moyo

[1] Adopted from a presentation by Prof Steve de Gruchy in 2004 in a Theology and Democracy workshop at Epworth school in Pietermaritzburg.

[2] De Gruchy, S. 2001. Critically analyse, from a Christian perspective, Freire’s understanding of the process of humanisation. Accessed on 02/03/04.