As we stand encouraged by the bravery demonstrated by the Iranian citizens as they protest injustice and dictatorship in their country, we should be reminded that theocracy is always a bad idea.
When those who hold secular power believe that they have a God-given right to hold that power and that when they enforce their beliefs, prejudices, and preferences they are acting for God, then the result is bound to be autocracy, and autocracy can never be just.
When people use government to privilege one religion over all others, to insist that everyone live by their religious convictions, they are in fact using religion to control, exclude, or punish people who are different from them. That isn’t democracy. That isn’t justice. That isn’t spiritual integrity.
We see the problems with theocracy when it is a “different” religion in “another” country. But I hope we remember how dangerous and distasteful theocracy really is when people in THIS country want “our” religion (whether Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, or Islam) to call all the shots! When people use religion to argue for discrimination against gays, for mistrust of various other religious movements, for government control of women’s bodies, they are in fact wanting the government to uphold their understanding of God and God’s will. To see how well that works out, we need only look to Iran; and to see how satisfying that is to a people, we need only look to the Iranian public whose vote and voice have been limited by the decree of a religious leader who is the “supreme leader” of the republic. The problem isn’t that the religion in question in Iran is Islam; the problem is that religion is personal and should not married to government. We need never fool ourselves into believing that Christian theocracy would be any less oppressive or any more satisfactory.
Religious people can be motivated by their faith and religious people have the right to express their opinions. But they do not have the right to use religion as the excuse to limit the rights of others.
Theocracy is always a bad idea. Separation of religion and state remains the better way!
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins