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Weekly Blog - 3 March 2024 - Freedom in the World

 

Freedom in the World

Last Thursday 29 February, Freedom House launched the 51st edition of their annual Freedom in the World report.  This annual survey of the state of democracy and human rights around the world is one of the most credible sources of data on the subject, and a key source for the Arise Manifesto, Arise’s big picture, researched, Biblical, holistic and practical vision for a better world.  The latest report shows that the state of democracy and human rights in the world has been declining for the last eighteen years in a row.  In the last year, elections have been manipulated and democracy undermined and weakened in a number of countries like Ecuador, Cambodia, Guatemala, Poland, Turkey and Zimbabwe.  Indeed, Arise’s weekly action this week is on the continued extreme repression of all political opposition in Russia.  Democracy is even increasingly threatened in long established democracies like Brazil and the US and UK.  In other countries like Niger there have been outright coups.  Elsewhere, in countries like Azerbaijan/Armenia, Ukraine, Israel/Palestine, Myanmar, India and Sudan, armed conflict, often driven by aggression from authoritarian regimes, has undermined human rights and democracy.[1]

 

As Christians how should we respond?

The Bible is clear that in the face of autocracy, oppression and injustice, Christians should neither give up and stay silent on the one hand, nor respond with violence and armed revolution on the other.  Instead the way to respond is by speaking truth to power and peacefully protesting for governments to reform and become more socially just and to care for all in society, especially the poorest.  From the very beginning to the very end of the Bible, we see God raising up his people to challenge the powerful and change the world.  We see Joseph and Moses influencing and challenging the pharaohs of Egypt.  Later, the prophets like Isaiah challenged the kings of Israel and Judah, “stop doing wrong.  Learn to do right; seek justice.  Defend the oppressed.  Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” (Isa 1: 16 – 17).  Daniel, Esther, Ezra and Nehemiah influenced Babylonian and Persian kings.  In the New Testament, John the Baptist and Jesus himself spoke out against injustice from Herod, tax collectors, soldiers and Jewish religious authorities (Arise Manifesto, pg 86 – 88).

 

Reform Movements

And it is not just in Biblical times, but in more recent decades too, that when we have seen dramatic improvements in democracy and human rights, they have overwhelmingly been driven by mass peaceful reform movements of ordinary people speaking truth to power and demanding change.  This is a key conclusion of the Arise Manifesto.  In recent decades peaceful reform movements have had dramatic success in Serbia, Madagascar, Georgia, Ukraine, Lebanon, Nepal, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, East Germany, Slovenia, Mali, Bolivia, the Philippines, Zambia, South Korea, Chile, Argentina, Haiti, Brazil, Uruguay, Malawi, Thailand, Bulgaria, Hungary, Nigeria, and many other countries.  In the last eighteen months we have seen powerful protest movements in Iran, China, Qatar, Russia and elsewhere.  Furthermore, taking the longer view, despite the last eighteen years of decline, the trend in democracy and human rights freedoms has been positive.  In 1973, when the first edition of Freedom in the World was released, 44 of 148 countries were rated Free.  Today, 83 of 195 countries are Free.

Such peaceful bottom-up reform movements avoid playing into the hands of regimes by confronting them in the area of physical force, where the regime is strong.  Instead they peacefully refuse to cooperate with the regime, and continually expand the numbers involved, increasingly isolating the regime until it is forced to concede.  Where such reform movements have been successful, they have seized the initiative with a clear strategy and tactics that continually evolve, to keep the regime off balance and reactive.  They have built ever larger coalitions and attracted mass numbers of people who have demonstrated peacefully in visible city centres.  They have also used non-violent direct action like strikes, sit ins and occupying areas.  Where governments have responded with force, they have turned that against them, using the outrage it sparks to gather ever greater support.  Successful reform movements have made good use of inspirational leaders, and used social media and other communications routes well, to get their message out.  They have captured the sympathy of the international community, the media, and more and more sectors of society, increasingly isolating the regime, until the regime is forced to concede and reform (Arise Manifesto, pg 108 – 119). 

Of course such movements also require great courage and perseverance from those involved.  They are not guaranteed to succeed every time.  But overwhelmingly the power of ordinary people peacefully refusing to submit is remarkable, and has continually proved the most successful way to improve democracy, human rights and good governance in nations around the world.  Christians and churches have played a hugely important central role in such reform movements (Arise Manifesto, pg 283 – 303).  They have worked well alongside journalists, academics, activists, students, trade unions and others in the movement.  Supporting such bottom-up Reform Movements (and the Christians that are so often at the heart of them) is one of three key focus campaigns for Arise. 

 

Conclusion

It can be easy to give in to despair when we read the latest news and hear of the decline in human rights and democratic freedoms around the world over the last couple of decades.  But we should be encouraged that the Bible has so many examples of how we are not powerless, but can take meaningful action to reverse this trend.  We should also be encouraged that over the long-term the trend has been positive and so many courageous activists have peacefully and successfully demanded change in the past and continue to do so around the world today.  Let us redouble our efforts to support them.

 

Find out more

Find out more about how God is at work in the world, and the role we all have to play in that work, in the Arise Manifesto.  This report is Arise’s big picture, researched, Biblical, holistic and practical vision for a better world.  It looks at what the Bible says, and what we can learn from the best data and the world’s leading experts on the five major areas of evangelism, discipleship, social justice, development and the environment.  It then draws these lessons together into a practical road map for the changes we need to see in our world, which the Arise movement campaigns to achieve.

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[1] Freedom in the World 2024: The Mounting Damage of Flawed Elections and Armed Conflict, Freedom House, (29 Feb 2024), https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2024/mounting-damage-flawed-elections-and-armed-conflict

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