Christian Democracy and Constitutional Transformation

by Elias Blum

The social mission of Christianity is to turn wastelands into gracelands, to turn the places of desolation into places of reconciliation, and to ensure that all enjoy not only ‘daily bread’ but the fullness, beauty and joy of ‘life in abundance’.

Works of charity, performed voluntarily by the church, social institutions and individuals in the sphere of civil society, are and always will be necessary to achieve this end, but so too are works of justice performed collectively through law and public policy in the sphere of the state.

This is not to reduce the kingdom of God to a political manifesto, nor to put excessive trust in the power of the state, which is also subject to human corruptions, but it is to recognise that Christianity cannot be political neutral or apathetic. In fulfillment of its transformative vision for the whole of life – all things will be made new, every tear will be wiped away – Christianity calls the state itself, no less than individuals, to repentance and to newness of life.

The profound change of heart associated with repentance is most apparent during constitution building processes. The South African Constitution of 1996, which sought to repent of the sins of slavery, apartheid, racism and economic exclusion, and to seek newness of life in a common, inclusive, racially integrated citizenship, was one instance of such a change. The Constitution of Kenya, which sought to end a legacy of repressive politics and intercommunal violence, was another.

In both these cases of constitutional transition (and in many others that could be mentioned besides, not least the restoration of democracy in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989-92) the churches played a pivotal role. Not only did Christian leaders act as moderators and mediators between competing factions, they also held forth a credible vision of a healed, redeemed, politics – a politics not of cynical power and self-interest but of the common good.