TheÂ other day I was discussing President Obama online. Although I live in Canada, I spent almost half my life in the States, and my husband is American. Many of our assets are therefore still in the South, and we have to jump through hoops to coordinate and insure them. Even though we're married (legally, socially and before God), the U.S. does not recognize our union, and we are therefore independent entities (essentially friends) before American laws. If one of us dies up here, we want to make sure the other will not be surprised with what happens. Political events down south are important for most Canadians because Americans are such a big trading partner; for me it's more personal.
While we were having this discussion, one of those arguing against me (an AmericanÂ citizen and a right-wing crazy) said: â€œHe's not my president.â€Â This shouldn't have surprised me; I was aware of her antagonism toward Mr. Obama, but she was always spouting so much about the American constitution, it never occurred to me that she was so blind to what makes a democracy a functional form of government. Comments such as these, however, are translated into action and illustrate why the U.S. scores only midway on the global democracy barometer. She may have tried to twist terms on me (â€œAmerica is a Republicâ€) but there is no difference with regard to my argument. She misunderstood my point (or chose to ignore it) so I thought I'd try to explain in a bit more detail.
A democracy (and a Republic, and a Commonwealth) is a system that is built fundamentally on agreement. We go into an election with the base underlying knowledge that we will agree to the decision that is decided by the masses... whether or not it agrees with our own. We enjoy the privileges of living in a country like Canada, Belgium or the U.S. because we take seriously not only the responsibility to vote: but the responsibility to abide by the outcome of those votes. I did a paper once in Bible College on the subject of power, authority and submission. All of us have to submit to authorities, no matter how â€œfreeâ€ we think we are. â€œFreedomâ€, as we know it, is not about being released from those obligations and authorities. It is about having a voice in those obligations and possibly being able to change them: and finally in agreeing to respect the outcome no matter how it comes out.
I've dealt with this very personally through my life. When I first moved to the States, as a permanent resident (I was never a citizen) I had to register for the draft, in case it was ever called. Yes, me: the pacifist. I really had to think about this. Now the draft was not called, but I knew that if it had happened, I would not have just run back to Canada as a draft dodger. Part of my agreement with the authorities in the States was that in order to live there and enjoy working there (and being with my ex-wife), I would take the draft seriously. I would have (and did, since it was never called) serve the time required of me by that agreement.
Similarly, while I when I moved to Arkansas, our governor was Mike Huckabee and the president was George W. Bush. These two men represent the antithesis of how I see Christianity and government working: but I could not, and did not, deny them the titles and respect they deserved through the democratic process. I may have pointed out every error that I thought they made while in office, and tried to convince people to vote against them in the next election, but I had to acknowledge (and respect) what I had agreed to. Now because I could not vote (rather than did not vote) and was not a citizen, I'm one of the few people I know who could legitimately claim that George W. Bush was not my president. I rarely did, though: because he was your president and I had agreed to live in your country. â€œEvery person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.â€ (Romans 13:1) â€œObey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account....â€ (Heb 13:17a) This was, in fact, one of the reasons I eventually left the U.S. The state where I lived made a democratic decision to build discrimination into the state constitution and never respect same-sex marriage, which denied my basic rights. This was not something I could agree to. So I came back to Canada, where our rights are assured.
Even now, my mayor and Prime Minister are men whom I cannot respect as individuals, but I must respect as leaders. Again, many of my posts stand against their policies, but I must accept that it is their right to lead. I may not often say that they are my leaders: but I will not deny it. Even in the case of Mr. Ford, who has been charged with conflict of interest and ordered to step down: he is appealing this week. But until he is removed from office (no matter how much I hope that will happen), he is still our elected mayor and leader.
I'd rather have even him than a dictatorship. Even if a dictator agrees with you, it's still a dictatorship. And if a person is not willing to accept leaders who are not their choice, that's what they're asking for.