From Pentecost to Democracy? Or Not!

PENTECOSTLast Thursday evening I was teaching my Church and Culture class at Northern Seminary, focusing on “Democracy, Capitalism, and the State.” I began the class by reading the Pentecost text and ask how this text relates to the politics of democracy.  The discussion was lively.

Some thought that Pentecost, with the outpouring of the Spirit on all people, initiated a radical equality, an equality that Paul later understands as abolishing all divisions between class, race, and gender (Gal. 3:28). Is not the “priesthood of all believers” the beginning of Democracy?  Indeed, Walter Rauschenbusch, the father of the social gospel, positively linked the ancient practices of Israel, Pentecost, and Democracy as a progression leading toward liberation and equality.

Others thought that Pentecost does not lead to our contemporary practice of Democracy because this Democracy leads to a minimal uniformity of “one person = one vote”, overlooking true diversity within a process of simultaneously affirming personal interests through anonymity (which literally means “namelessness”).  All true diversity is gradually reduced to voting interests and all cultural and communal identity is suspended within the black box of the voting booth.

I’m sympathetic to this second reading. It seems that Democracy (and the entire philosophical system of Liberalism, of which both conservatives and liberal are part) is a way of mitigating the “diversity that leads to division” (see previous post) and therefore promotes a false or thin unity as uniformity, rather than a true unity through diversity (see also Christena Cleveland’s thoughts on diversity and Chris Lenshyn on the loss of imagination).

In addition to this, Pentecost leads toward a very non-Democratic, intolerant statement.  Pentecost, and all those filled with the Spirit of Christ, declare that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21).  For those committed to the spirit of the age, this exclusionary claim of salvation coming only from the Lord, not the State, not Democracy, not Capitalism, not Socialism is both provocative and dangerous (see this from those who would declare that Jesus is the “Lord of Peace” and not nuclear weapon).

What do you think? Beyond promoting diversity, what kind of politics is Pentecost promoting?