I am a Catholic (also a Calvinist). Not religiously, but politically. I suppose that deserves some explanation.
I’m a Christian democrat.
So what on Earth does that even mean?
Well, I’m not going to bore/shock you with specific details of my political beliefs. I will try, however, to outline what Christian democracy means to me, a task that can be difficult here in the Anglosphere where it never caught on.
Christian democracy first emerged in the late 19th century as the political wing of Catholic social teaching. Catholic social teaching, which formally started with Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum novarum, was a response to both the excesses of capitalism and a dissatisfaction with the alternative provided by socialism.
So Christian democracy is present in most of the predominantly Catholic countries of Europe and Latin America. It’s also present in The Netherlands largely due to a man by the name of Abraham Kuyper.
Kuyper was a Dutch theologian and politician. His thoughts on Calvinism as a political philosophy and overall life system are outlined in his six Stone Lectures (1898) which I most definitely have not read. They’re very dry. But I have read this excellent blog post summarizing Kuyper’s thought.
Now Kuyper was an arch‐conservative and a religious separatist with some wacky ideas but that concept to treat Christianity as more than your religion but your entire worldview is one that resonates with me.
For me, politics and religion are inseparable.
Furthermore, I don’t see how a religious person finds it possible to compartmentalize themselves in such a way that politics and religion are separate spheres. The question naturally pops up, “well what about separation of church and state?” Well,Xr theoretical person I just made up, you seem to be fundamentally misunderstanding that concept.
The church and the state are both man‐made institutions and yes, they ought to be separate. Politics and religion on the other hand, are more abstract concepts.
And to those who say religion is somehow uniquely irrational and unfit to influence politics, I counter that Christianity is no less rational than, say, communism. It’s just the difference between following a bearded man named Jesus and a bearded man named Karl. Also, Christianity has a far better track record.
Beyond politics, Christ influences every decision I make. Sometimes the influence is a conscious one, but usually it’s not. My God is a personal god, meaning both that I interact with him personally but also I personally belong to him. To illustrate my relationship to the wider church, I’ll relay a brief anecdote.
Once, after I had just described myself as a Mennonite, I was asked what denomination I was. I confusedly repeated, “Mennonite” in response to which she repeated her question. I then named my church to which she replied “I think that’s general conference.” I responded in the affirmative. At the time I felt foolish because I knew my church was a member of Mennonite World Conference.
Later, however, I reflected back and thought, “No, that is not my denomination.” I was baptized by my home congregation and them alone.
Any larger organization is merely an experiment in ecumenism. Furthermore, although I do consider my baptism to be the formal start of my life as a follower of Christ, I don’t think it was even strictly necessary. My relationship with God is mine and mine alone.
I may congregate or share with others in this relationship but ultimately there are no intermediaries between me and my God. This is why I reject ideologies like socialism or nationalism because they regard the rights of the individual as being secondary to the rights of the group.
This is not to say community isn’t important to me. Solidarity and subsidiarity are key components of Catholic social teaching. Solidarity is the idea that we are all in this together.
We are a community based on shared principles and we must help each other survive. Subsidiarity is the idea that help should be provided to people for the purpose of them regaining their independence and dignity.
I may not agree with the Calvinist view of predestination but I do think a person who works hard and does good deeds is, perhaps, destined for something. What exactly, I don’t know yet. I may not agree with the Catholic view of, well, a lot of things, but solidarity and subsidiarity are ideals I try to live by.
So that, I guess, is what it means (to me) to be a Christian democrat. One day, perhaps, I will get around to tackling Kuyper’s Stone Lectures, but until then I’ll have to be content with this quote that I’ll leave you with. It’s frequently cited probably because it provides a convenient “John 3:16” summation of Kuyper’s work: “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” (source)
Benjamin Weber is a perpetual student, Christian democrat, Slavophile, music connoisseur and aspiring poet. He attends Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church in Kitchener where he teaches youth Sunday school.