Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Majority Tools

L'inégalitéShortly after being elected to the office of Student Body President at my college, my Vice-President and I had a conversation with the Dean of Students about what was ahead for us in the coming academic year. Among other things, he suggested that we needed to guard against the "tyranny of the majority."

I have to confess, it wasn't until several years after I graduated that I really understood what that term meant. While I did have some concept for using my own judgment not to just follow along if it seemed like everyone else was doing something I knew was wrong, I nonetheless generally assumed that the best way to be fair to the most people was to do what the majority wanted.

Evangelical Christians are no doubt aware of a recent judicial ruling that reversed a vote that the majority of California state citizens voted for. This post is not really about that issue, and so even though I have no illusions that people won't know what I'm talking about, I'm not going to mention the issue here. The important point here is that, when Christians made their arguments for why their position should be allowed to stand, one would almost invariably hear something about how "the people voted," decrying the "judicial activism" that would overturn the "people's will."

A recent blog post by Dr. Daniel Kirk weighs in on this ruling. It's actually only a minor part of what the rest of the post is about, but I'm sure he's more than a little aware that he's probably angered a few people when he says the following:
News flash: the majority has never willfully extended civil rights without the courts of this country telling Americans that the Constitution forbids us from carrying out our discriminatory practices.
One thing that the people who might be angered by this statement might not immediately recognize is that this isn't coming from someone who disagrees with them on the "sinfulness" of the types of actions involved in the court decision. Indeed, he's "one of them" on that point. But he does depart from many Evangelicals insofar as many insist that their view of Christian morality be enshrined in law (the First Amendment notwithstanding). For Kirk (and for me as well), Christians need to recognize that, without judges or other governmental officials acting in ways contrary to the "will of the people," our nation would not only still have racially-motivated slavery while women would still be denied the right to vote, but that Christians have been at the forefront of delaying those changes, which now nearly everyone agrees needed to be made. Christians—certainly the majority of citizens in most of our country's history, if arguably less so in its present—found themselves supporting tyranny.

That's not necessarily to say that all issues are equivalent, but I do think that we need to be wiser about how we fight for the issues that we think are important. It's not just that we might find ourselves on the "wrong side of history," as some suggest, but that we may well be engaging in a kind of tyranny against those who we believe are acting against God. Surely, whatever God's position in regard to people who may be outside of the bounds of Christianity, God expects better behavior out of us!

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