Good Governance: A biblical perspective 

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Akilah Holder is an author and social commentator who resides in Trinidad and Tobago. She is a former journalist and a former adjunct lecturer of political science. She also has a blog which can be read at akilahholder.blogspot.com

By Akilah Holder

What does God have to say on good governance, and why does it matter? Well, look around you. Has man’s idea of it been working? The Bible usually isn’t factored into matters of political governance, and that goes back to the Machiavellian belief that morality has no place in politics – a belief that guides many politicians around the globe. Even former prime minister Basdeo Panday commented that politics has a morality of its own, a reference to the aforementioned Machiavellian idea. But I would like to submit that if the Bible were factored into politics, societies globally would enjoy peace, justice and equality.

However, before looking at the Bible’s idea of good governance, let’s establish a definition of governance. According to the website of the World Bank: “Conceptually, governance … can be defined as the rule of the rulers, typically within a given set of rules. One might conclude that governance is the process – by which authority is conferred on rulers, by which they make the rules, and by which those rules are enforced and modified. Thus, understanding governance requires the identification of both the rulers and the rules, as well as the various processes by which they are selected, defined, and linked together and with the society generally.”

Therefore, governance, according to the aforementioned definition, is how a government rules its state, the political process by which that government is elected and that governs how it operates. It also includes, according to that same definition, how these rules are decided upon, related and affected in society.

According to a paper by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), What is good governance, governance also includes “civil society,” which it defines as informal actors such as ” influential landlords, association of peasant farmers, cooperatives, NGOs, research institutes, religious leaders, finance institutions, political parties” in rural areas. In urban areas, according to the same paper, “civil society” may comprise of “daily wage earners; the media; crime syndicates; middle-level government officers; national and local education providers and experts private sector employees …” It continues, “At the national level, “informal decision-making structures, such as ‘kitchen cabinets’ or informal advisors may exist.” At heart, therefore, governance has to do with a government and how it runs its state.

Now that a definition of governance has been established, let us now look at what good governance is. According to the United Nations Human Rights Council, “… good governance relates to the political and institutional processes and outcomes that are necessary to achieve the goals of development. The true test of ‘good’ governance is the degree to which it delivers on the promise of human rights: civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.

The key question is: Are the institutions of governance effectively guaranteeing the right to health, adequate housing, sufficient food, quality education, fair justice and personal security?” Its website also lists what it believes are “the key attributes of good governance: transparency, responsibility, accountability, participation and responsiveness (to the needs of the people).”

This definition comes close to what good governance is. But a couple of things are of concern:

1)The quotation marks around good suggest that good governance is viewed here as subjective, not something that can be defined by any one organization or person as good; but from a godly perspective, there is a standard of good by which all humans must abide and 2) The concept of “fair justice,” which was new to me when I read the website.

I found it confusing, for I had always thought that justice was justice, so I wondered where did this idea of “fair justice” come from. Turns out, it is, in fact, a new idea. “Fair justice” is justice that is meted out free of human interests, views, biases.  But justice is justice. In fact, we would not have to worry about whether justice is fair or not, I submit, if we held to the godly standard of what justice is.

Thus, while the above definition comes close to what good governance is, it falters by failing to confirm a definition of good and affirm the correct definition of justice. There are some rogue nations that do not even entertain the UN definition of good governance and are in turmoil as a result, and there are those who abide by the definition and can’t even attain peace, justice and equality in their own societies. So whether you are interested in what the Bible has to say or not, you have to admit that the UN definition has not been cutting it.

So what does the Bible say?

Good governance, from God‘s perspective, can be found in several Bible verses, one of which is Psalm 72:1 – 2; 4, 12-14. “Give your love of justice to the king, O God, and righteousness to the king’s son. Help him judge your people in the right way; let the poor always be treated fairly; Help him to defend the poor; to rescue the children of the needy, and to crush their oppressors. He will rescue the poor when they cry to him; he will help the oppressed, who have no one to defend them. He feels pity for the weak and the needy, and he will rescue them. He will redeem them from oppression and violence, for their lives are precious to him.”

In other words, good governance includes a love for justice. It involves ensuring that people are judged correctly, according to the Biblical standards of what is right and wrong; treating the poor fairly; defending the poor, helping the children of the poor and punishing their oppressors.

Another relevant scripture is Romans 13:4, 6. “They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong…” When the first verses cited along with this one are taken together, God’s view of good governance involves upholding justice according to his word, which involves meting out appropriate punishment and helping the poor and oppressed. In sum, according to the Bible, good political governance involves upholding moral standards as laid out by God.

So if we were to come up with a new definition of good governance, it would look something like this, “… good governance relates to the political and institutional processes and outcomes that are necessary to ” maintain order, uphold divine justice and protect God-given human rights. The true test of good governance is the degree to which it delivers on the promise to uphold the above.

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