Civis 005/2016

According to Peter Berger and Richard John Neuhaus (1996), mediating structures are integral to democracy. Mediating structures are institutions that bridge between individuals and their personal lives with bigger public institutions (Figure 1). Modernisation creates a chasm between personal/private lives and public lives. Public lives are governed by big institutions that are often  irrelevant or detached to the individuals in them.
The Church as a Mediating Structure
“Reformation coupled with ample opportunity to be involved in politics result in prospects for a more just and democratic national life. There are plenty of Christians — members of the congregation and pastors — who involve themselves in politics, whether through joining existing political parties or establishing new Christian political parties.

In the past few years, arguments for and against pastors getting involved in “practical politics” have surfaced. However, they do not address the heart of the matter: what is the church’s calling in politics? What is the purpose of Christians being involved in politics? How ought the church participate in politics?”

In this discussion, one of the examples of these big institutions is the state. If the individual members no longer find personal meaning in their country, then there will emerge a political crisis because their country will feel foreign, or even hostile, to them. Therefore, there is a need for a mediating structure that gives place for individuals to find meaning in their personal lives as well as to express the values they desire their country uphold. Mediation structures create and preserve community values. Without them, the state takes over this role and marches on to totalitarianism.

Institutions that support mediation purposes are needed for a healthy growth of democracy. The loss of mediation will prove fatal against democracy. Berger and Neuhaus (1996) state:

“Without institutions that are capable of hosting mediating processes, political procedures will be detached from personal values and reality. The loss of this moral foundation will result in the loss of political procedures’ legitimacy. If this ensues, political order would have to be protected through coercion and not through consent. When this happens, democracy is lost.”

The church plays a role in the mediation structure. The church conveys the moral and spiritual values in society. The church also faces the daily reality of people’s lives. In the context of a state founded in Pancasila, other religious institutions also play parts in this mediating structure. Without their participation, the state would be able to singularly set and enforce societal values. Therefore, the church must preserve its independence from the state and other political institution in order to play an effective role in the mediating structure.

Berger and Neuhaus’ analysis shows the church’s position and role in strengthening democracy. In this framework, the operational implementation widely varies. In order to think about the  operational approach, let us consider first the external and internal environment of the church. (To be continued).

(Delivered in The Church and Post-New Order Politics seminar held at Oase Intim Foundation in Makassar, February 13, 2012).

(Photo caption: Participants of Training of Trainers (TOT) of the 66th Citizenship Education are studying 1945 Constitution )

The Writer

Matius Ho, M.S. Executive Director of Leimena Institute; Vice Secretary of Leimena Academic Foundation (2000-2005); Graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison (USA) in 1997; and London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (UK).