"The theocrats are coming!" shriek some sentinels of the contemporary political battlefield every time a Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Rick Perry, or Bobby Jindal clear their throats.
Paul Revere, having seen the lanterns in Boston's Christ Church bell-tower, shouted out, "The British are coming!" Today's harbingers of theocratic threat get their signals from the towers of secularity, some latticed with ivy, others in the form of broadcasting antennae, and still more in the shape of looming skyscrapers.
As evidence that the theocratists are on the move, the guardians of secular sanctity point to preacher-politician Huckabee's in-your-face book, God, Guns, and Grit. Or they note Ben Carson's penchant for sermonizing. They shiver at Bobby Jindal going to a prayer meeting rather than the Iowa Freedom Summit. And didn't Rick Perry speak a full 13 minutes at the big prayer meeting attended by 30,000 in Houston's Reliant Stadium in August 2011?
More reason to wring one's hands over the gathering theocratic cloud.
Or is it?
I am a conservative pastor in one of those Texas megachurches the left finds so sinister. Worse, I was an aide in the Nixon White House, a one-time congressional candidate, and later district director and acting chief of staff to the U.S. Representative who beat me. All that should make me a theocratic thug, the poster-boy of everything the political left finds ominous.
Yet I oppose the idea of a theocracy with the same vigor I would Fascism, Communism, left-progressivism, or terrorism (to name a few). If even my beloved former Texas governor squeaked a theocratic tone I would denounce him with all my might.
But I suspect that would not be a problem, because Huckabee, Carson, Perry, Jindal, and others who occasionally speak of faith in a political context share my antipathy to the notion of the United States, or any other country, being a theocracy.
We do not need a national cleric as our Supreme Leader. In fact, it would be disastrous.
By the way, political leaders can speak of faith without being theocrats. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was no theocrat when, over nationwide radio, he prayed for American soldiers and their Allies then landing on the Normandy beaches. FDR was not reluctant in a 1940 New York speech to identify the adversary of his era as forces that "hate democracy and Christianity as two phases of the same civilization." The Nazis, he said, "oppose democracy because it is Christian" and "Christianity because it preaches democracy."
Nor was Winston Churchill a theocrat when, in the same age, he defined the Second World War as a battle for the survival of "Christian civilization" (his words). Churchill even declared Jesus' Sermon on the Mount as the heart of ethics. The British leader, in words that would elicit a hardy "Amen!" from any contemporary Bible inerrantist, stated his belief that Moses was an actual person, and rejected the "learned and labored myths" that he was but "a legendary figure." In fact, wrote Churchill, Moses was "the greatest of the prophets."
Neither Churchill nor Roosevelt was a theocrat. Nor am I, and neither are Huckabee, Carson, Perry, Jindal, et al.
Old Testament Israel was a theocratic singularity, and that for only a portion of its history. "Theos" in Greek is "God", and "kratos" means "power". Therefore, a theocracy is a society that sees itself as being ruled over by God, through His chosen leaders. Old Testament Israel at its best was to be an example of the blessings that are inherent in a God-honoring culture. Ancient Israel's high mission as a theocracy in that era was to display the fruits that come to a healthy society when God truly rules, and provide a fractional foreshadowing of the great day when God's Kingdom is established on earth.
Kingdoms and governments exist because the world is fallen. The default always is toward anarchy and chaos – modern times should be ample evidence. Something must restrain the plunge into disorder. Therefore, God permits and institutes governments.
Even in a theocracy God mediates His rulership through humans – Moses, Aaron and the priests, with the prophets thrown in to keep everyone on the theocratic track. But therein lies the problem. God's intent is that every person be his or her own "governor", embracing God's principles at the core of their being. Love and grace will be the restrainers according to God's ideal.
His way of governance is not from the external to the internal, but from the inner core of the human to all his or her relations in the external world. "A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart," says Jesus. (Matthew 12:35)
Edmund Burke was speaking of this ideal when he said that people are qualified for liberty in proportion to their willingness to put chains on their own passions.
Thus when humanity rejects love and grace to restrain the spin into anarchy and chaos, law becomes essential. Governments are instituted to secure the essential rights threatened by tyrants, whether kings, priests, or mobs.
The problem, however, is that all human governments are about law. Many think of a caliphate, for example, primarily as the imposition of sharia-law. The history of the West is scarred by the bloody wars of the Middle Ages, the power-crazed popes and church hierarchies of 15th and 16th century Rome, the Spanish Inquisitions, Calvin's heavy-handed theocratic attempts in Geneva, and Puritan excess in the New England Colonies.
But the secularists have no room for judgmentalism here. We are seeing now the secular forms of legalism in the West in the stern pronouncements of political correctness.
Ironically, PC is often a reaction to "fundamentalist" religious legalism, but then only produces more legalism. People who do not believe in the fall of the human being become the idealists who set out to build a new world, then discover there are miscreants and old grumps who must be corralled by regulations until they see the light. The idealists harden into tyrants who give us "theocracies" with themselves at the top, or some other warped deity made in their own image.
In the end, the only hope is love and grace. There's only one Kingdom based on those dynamics. It's the one, Jesus says, that we are to seek first. No liberation theologian of the left – even the current Pope – or reconstructionist of the right can bring that Kingdom fully into the world, but only Christ Himself.
That Kingdom is not the United States of America, or any other geopolitical entity. That's why I do not support theocracy.