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FINDING MY WAY: The consent of the governed

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The revolutionary document known today as The Declaration of Independence boldly states that governments “(derive) their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

In other words, a government’s only moral right to exist is found in the support of its citizens. For nations struggling under tyranny, a democratic form of government is a holy grail. But those who live in democracies know that it is a very messy form of holiness.

Recently, voices from the far-right side of the political spectrum are suggesting that democracy itself is no great prize. Instead, a growing number of voters are endorsing the political idea of Christian nationalism, which, at the very least, seeks to change the laws of the nation to more closely reflect their personal views of how Jesus would be running things if He were in charge.

Well, it would be great if America and the world was filled with the love exemplified by the Prince of Peace. But, as always, the devil is in the details.

And this is where the Christian nationalists start to lose me. Back in 2021, former Trump-appointed U.S. National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, in a religious rally held at the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, offered the idea: “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God and one religion under God!”

And that’s where my enthusiasm for Christian nationalism wanes. The idea that America is a “Christian nation” may be an easy sell in its vagueness, but less convincing in execution. Which version of Christianity are we talking about here? Do we mean “Christian” as in Pentacostal, or Presbyterian, or Lutheran, Baptist, Catholic, Latter-day-Saints, or any of the other off-shoots, and off-shoots within off-shoots that bring the number of separate Christian denominations in America to more than 200?

Does Mr. Flynn, for example, accept the ultimate Christian authority of Pope Francis? Russel M. Nelson? Martin Luther? Martin Luther King? Mary Baker Eddy? Jim Baker? Jim Jones? All of them? None of them?

History has not been kind to the long-term legacy of attempted earthly theocracies and state religions. When mortal men are given, or give themselves, the power to act politically under the imprimatur of God, the results are rarely godlike.

But that doesn’t seem to stop men — invariably men — from giving it another go.

So as the Christian Nationalist wing of Christianity starts to link up with the various underground militia movements, and as the talk starts to mutter darkly about the potential need to cleanse America of its non-Christian beliefs— and believers — it is not a stretch to see a time when the protections and freedoms offered by the Founders might be deemed no longer necessary to bring forth this Christian Nationalist vision of a new American manifest destiny.

The Founders, after all, wrote a Bill of Rights that guarantees freedoms we all like in general, but aren’t always happy about when we get down to specifics. Too many religions teaching too many different doctrines, too many books about too many topics, too many guns, too many different ways for different people to engage in “the pursuit of happiness.”

It seems to me that the Christian nationalists think it would be swell to simply impose order from the top down, based on whatever form of Christianity emerges triumphant from the power struggles that would inevitably erupt between denominations, with the Bill of Rights becoming little more than a good kick-start to get things going, but we’ll take it from here, thanks very much.

Democracy is a frustrating way to run a country. So much argument and occasional collateral violence. So why has America lasted this long? Because we, the people, have agreed to be governed by the laws created by those who the majority of us elect. Embedded in our Constitution is a remarkable system of checks and balances to block extremists, tyrants, and the power-hungry in their tracks — or at least to slow them down.

In America, we give our consent to be governed by those we elect, but reserve the right to protest when things don’t go the way we like. It’s messy, but it’s wonderful.

But when too many of us no longer give our consent to be governed by the kaleidoscopic majority, it will also be messy. But it will be terrible.

PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRIS HUSTON

Chris Huston is an author and award-winning columnist living in the Magic Valley. Connect with Chris on Facebook and Instagram at Chris Huston-Finding My Way and at chrishustonauthor.com.

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