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By Ashley Woodiwiss
Slouching Toward November
"Christianity and Democracy: A Theology for a Just World Order"
By John W. de Gruchy
Cambridge University Press
307 pp.; $59.95, hardcover; $17.95, paper
"Self-Rule: A Cultural History of American Democracy"
By Robert H. Wiebe
University of Chicago Press
321 pp.; $25.95
Come November, millions of American citizens will file dutifully into polling places located in schools, churches, and other spaces set apart for performing the civic ritual of voting. The outcomes we suppose will have significant consequences, from the local school board all the way to the White House. We call this democracy, and we celebrate it.
Still, a sense of foreboding hangs heavy in the democratic air. We are daily informed that the American people are frustrated, angry, alienated, cut off from their government. In a sentiment widely shared by political scientists and journalists, Lance Bennett in his text "Governing Crisis" writes of how "most Americans today experience elections as empty rituals that offer little hope for political dialogue, genuine glimpses of candidate character, or the emergence of a binding consensus on where the nation is going and how it ought to get there."
As we approach our appointed task and duty, what is the Christian to make of the state of democracy? If it is gut-check time for the Christian citizen, where can she go for enlightenment? If she takes her cues from the two books here under discussion, I would not be surprised should she express some confusion. While both John de Gruchy (professor of Christian studies at the University of Cape Town, South Africa) and Robert Wiebe (professor of history at Northwestern University) tell the democratic story, their accounts vary widely.
The Theologian situates the American moment in the broader context of the general democratization of the world, most vividly captured in our day by the fall of the wall in Berlin and of apartheid in South Africa. The American Christian trying to sort through her own situation will find scant material ...