From James Bratt
A number of you sent appreciative notes on my last post, “The Geography of Faith,” which took a shot at the big picture of American religious history and its implications for where we are now. So here’s another offering along that line, this time taking up a particular tradition, Calvinism, and the time-honored question of how it relates topolitics. Consider this post is a teaser for a longer essay of mine which treats the topic in more depth: “The Prism of Calvin's Political Legacy in the United States” (Perspectives, June/July 2009).
“Calvinism and politics” triggers contradictory answers. To some, the faith was a natural fit for pluralistic democracy; for others it was not, and theologically could not be, any such thing. Still others claim that Calvinism happened to make a good fit for democracy in America; naysayers put Methodism in that role instead, with its Arminian mantra of free people, free markets, and free will.
In sorting through this mess, it’s important to define terms carefully. If we narrow Calvinism to Reformed theology as encoded in the propositions of the Westminster standards literally applied, an affinity between Calvinism and democracy connection might indeed seem implausible. But if we trace the actual trajectory of Reformed people over time and attend to the resonances of their words and actions, then the lines of connection get more complicated—and more interesting.