What are people of faith to do when others who claim to have the same faith use that faith against democracy?  This is the question I wrestle with more and more as advocates of “Christian nationalism” seem intent on subverting our democracy in the name of God.  

There are examples all across our country of far-right religious movements dominating politics and weakening democracy, but one of the clearest examples comes from Montana.  A Montana Republican state representative recently wrote in an op-ed that democracy has failed as miserably as socialism.  This official is not alone in finding democracy to be a problem, not the solution to governing.     

To understand what is behind such a comment, we have to understand that the Christian Nationalist movement wants to replace our democracy with a “theocracy.”  As the term “democracy” means the government of the people, and “theocracy” means government led by God.   

Theocracy is a seductive idea.  God ruling a society doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.  The problem is that theocracy is nothing more than a form of autocracy or despotism.   God doesn’t rule in theocracies—those who claim to speak for God are the ones who rule. 

If we want to see the dangers of theocracies, we need to look no further than Iran or Saudi Arabia.  Religious leaders, or clerics, dictate to the rest of society what they say is God’s will.  Those who don’t agree with their interpretation of God or God’s will are judged to be both wrong and dangerous.   Theocracies seem to always revert to using violence to enforce conformity.  

A historical example from Western history is the Inquisition.  Everyone who refused to bow down to the superiority of European Christianity, such as Jews, Muslims, and free thinkers, was hunted down, exiled, forced to convert, or executed.  

That’s the reality of theocracies.  Theocracies promise the Garden of Eden, but what they produce is a version of Hell.  

Expect people in the American Christian nationalist movement to support every step to weaken democracy, from restricting voting rights to controlling school curricula to portraying Medicare and Social Security as “socialism,” and denying the validity of science.  And we shouldn’t expect theocrats, such as the right-wing Republicans who recently stymied Kevin McCarty’s election as Speaker of the House, to work with Democrats on meaningful bipartisan legislation.  In the eyes of Christian nationalists, Democrats are the godless.  

The bottom line is that American Christian Nationalists are happy to see our present system of government crumble.  The sooner and more completely Washington fails, the nearer our country will be to entering their dream of a “post-democracy” future.   

No one who pays attention to history would ever say that democracy is easy.  In fact, democracy is the form of government that demands the most of its citizens.  Democracy asks citizens to think, to reason, to debate, and often to compromise.  

Theocracies don’t ask at all; they tell. Theocracies tell people how God wants them to think and how God wants them to vote.  Democracies at their best produce adults willing to deal with the complexities of modern life.  Theocracies keep people as children who can’t be trusted to think for themselves.       

What is America’s future?  Despite contradictions, despite failings, our nation’s story has a noble trajectory.  History has given us a chance that past nations could only dream about, the chance to trust “we, the people” to think for ourselves and govern ourselves.    

Our generation will be remembered as the generation that either threw democracy aside or strengthened it. The choice is ours.