St. Basil the great said, “It is right to submit to higher authority whenever a command of God would not be violated.” I often hear that the Church should stay out of politics…but as we begin today I want to remind you that “the Church” is not a building, but a people, and we are those people: 1. Christian 2. Citizens–both–one and the same, advancing God’s kingdom, ensuring that “His kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It’s no wonder St. Thomas would say, “Human government is derived from the divine government and should imitate it.”
As ballots pour in, as signs go up, and parades roll out, our Church invites us to consider Jesus’ approach to politics. Jesus tells the Pharisees and the Herodians, “Render to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what it Gods.” With respect, many Christians and non-Christians alike, might wrongfully conclude that what Jesus is arguing for here is a separation of Church and State. Of course, there was no such thing in Jesus’ day, and it would not exist for centuries.
The invocation of the separation of Church and state has as its goal the removal of God from politics entirely. The removal of God from public life entirely. The removal of God from our schools, our public squares, and our places of business. There are those who would like to see God and religion reduced to the shadows. But what then is left? Only practical atheism in our schools, in the marketplace of ideas, and in our businesses. God is truth. God is love. God is justice. God is mercy!
How convenient–a country with no room for God! A country with no truth, no love, no justice, and no mercy! Where only those who have no religious conviction are allowed to share their opinion. Where only those whose view has no God as it’s source can speak. Where lawmakers have to somehow check their religious views and values at the door. Where leaders are supposed to make decisions that are not informed by virtue, and holiness, goodness, and eternal truths. This is madness, and it’s wrong.
This IS NOT a country that I want to live in. It is NOT the country that I fought for, and it is not the country that our forefathers founded. Our country declared its independence with the words, “that all men are created equal, that are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” We declared independence because the rights that God gives his children were being trampled upon! That’s God and politics right there!
The First Commandment is to love the Lord your God. The First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution is that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” There are two clauses there – congress will not establish a religion, and congress will protect our right to freely exercise our religion…as a citizen! We are not expected to check your faith at the door in this country. Our founders didn’t and didn’t expect us to either!
This is what Jesus means when he says to render to both caesar and God. We, body and soul, live out our Christian life in this world. All authority, in heaven and on earth comes from God. And to the degree that earthly government is aligned with that of heaven, as St. Basil says, we must be obedient, because our obedience is to the good, wherever it is found.
Jesus said pay the tax, for crying out loud! The coin, the denarius, paid the census tax. It was a day’s wage for every man, woman, and slave age 12-65. That tax paid for the privilege of enjoying the benefits and security of living in one of the greatest empires the world had ever known. A small price to be sure. Hey, pay the tax already!
And make sure that the government who spends that tax spends it in a way that honors and glorifies God – with a concern for the rights and dignity of the human person from conception to natural death. That recognizes the needs of families and their right to participate in community life. For an awareness that people have basic rights and that governments have a responsibility to respect them. That in policies, we must be mindful of the poorest among us, the dignity of work, and the rights of workers. We need government that believes in one human family and seeks unity among people on the streets, in the nation, and among nations, and that embraces the truth that we are stewards of God’s creation and have a responsibility to protect it, sustain it, and ensure clear air, clean water, and a healthy climate for future generations.
I want to cringe every time I hear, “Well, I wouldn’t do that, but I can’t impose my view on others.” or “I think that’s wrong, but I don’t think it’s right to tell other people what to do.” Yes we can impose our view! We can tell other people they’re wrong! And should! Every law that has ever been passed is because something was wrong and people don’t want other people to do it! Traffic laws, criminal law, social law–all of it is passed because someone thought it was wrong and that no one should do it. “I mean, I wouldn’t drink and drive, but I can’t say that others shouldn’t do it.” “I wouldn’t kill someone, but who am I to impose my religious view on others.” We can. We should. We must. Make no mistake, someone’s views and values will be imposed. Laws will be passed. Either by God’s people or by those who claim no God.
The role of the Church is not to tell us what to do, it’s to remind us of who we are. What we believe. And that we must courageously act on that belief in every part of our life – to Caesar and to God.