(5 minutes reading time - I checked!)
There is a common sentiment floating around that there ought to be a separation between church and state. On the one hand, this could mean the government should not be involved in regulating or mandating a state religion and if that is what is meant by “separation of church and state,” I, for one, would heartily agree. But often this sentiment is meant to suggest that pastors such as myself, churches in general and American Christians in particular, should not say anything at all about political issues. If this is what is meant by “separation of church and state,” I most heartily disagree. Simply because someone leads a faith-based congregation should in no way disqualify anyone from having a voice in politics. This is so because politics is about values-based policy positions and Christianity provides foundational values field tested over centuries. Christian values inform the choices of millions of people and just because those values rest on the teachings of a Jewish Rabbi does not automatically mean those values are invalid in the public square.
Jesus Himself was confronted by political questions. In one case, recorded in the book of Matthew chapter twenty-two, Jesus was challenged concerning the issue of paying taxes. In response, Jesus asked for a Roman coin that was commonly used to pay taxes in that day. He held the coin up and asked whose picture was on the coin…
Matthew 22:21 (NASB)
They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”
Clearly, Jesus had an opinion on a political question in His day. He did not advocate rebellious defiance of paying taxes, nor did He comment on the fairness or lack thereof of the Roman tax system. Instead He made the point that we ought to give to government what is properly due to that government but make certain we give to God what properly belongs to God.
So - how does that apply? Well, in other Scriptures we find the Bible consistently teaching that God’s directives are always to be given a greater priority in our lives than any government; thus, when there is a conflict between what a legitimate government demands and the principles of God’s laws, God’s ways are to take precedence in our decision making.
For example, in the Biblical book of Exodus chapter one, the rightful king of Egypt ruled that all Hebrew boys were to be killed. Now…keep in mind, the king was the legitimate ruler of the country and the government of Egypt had been in authority for at least a thousand years - and this decree, given about 1,440 BC, was made long before international law was invented. But the king’s decree violated God’s principle of “you shall not murder!” There was, in this case, a direct conflict between a politician’s decree and Godly principles. In response…
Exodus 1:17 (NASB)
…the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live. 18 So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and let the boys live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them.” 20 So God was good to the midwives…
There is no hint in Scripture that God disqualified the midwives for having lied or for having defied the king. Instead, the midwives were commended for prioritizing God’s ways over the government. And this has played out repeatedly in world history – many Christians, such as Corrie Ten Boom in Holland during the World War II Nazi occupation, had to use deception and defiance of government authority to protect Jews. If you think this is a simple matter, think again – there were many professing Christians in Europe during World War II who believed they had no choice but to obey the government and turned in hiding Jews who were in turn sent to the death camps. I have personally met and interacted with one of these collaborators who was still trying to justify her actions in the early 90’s. “After all,” she told me, “I had to obey the government.”
Today, in America, we need to listen to what Jesus said about giving what is properly due to government and to God more than ever. In our case, our government is allegedly based on the will of the people; thus, we are obligated to have our say. Just as the Roman coin had the image of Caesar which indicated the coin belonged to Caesar, in the same way, the American government has on its face the inalienable rights of the individual citizen – that is what is due to our government – not unquestioned obedience to edicts issued without legislative laws passed. Instead, the image on our coins says "In God we trust "Liberty" so, our government is properly due the demand of the people to protect the rights of the individual over the power of the state. In fact, our Constitution begins with the phrase “We the people of the United States…” In other words, what is properly due to the government of the United States is the will of the people because here, in America, our government is not supposed to be based on the arbitrary will of a king. It is not intended to be based on the edicts of a hereditary parliament to which the common person can give no voice, nor is our government intended to be a police state as Rome was in the first century when Jesus spoke. No - we are guaranteed in our founding documents certain inalienable rights, rights of the individual given by God that no government should be allowed to violate.
And nowhere in our Constitution is the “will of the people” restricted to non-religious people.
In fact, note that the logic of the Constitution is based on the rights of the individual given by God! That is certainly a religious principle based on a Jewish-Christian ethic that informed the politics of the founding leaders of America. In fact, without this ethic, where would rights come from? If there is no God, then rights or goods go only to the strong at the expense of the weak. Evolutionary biology is filled with notions of “survival of the fittest,” and the “law of the jungle” – notions founded on tooth and claw, not inalienable rights given by a divine Creator. So, without a Jewish-Christian ethic, America would not exist at all and recognizing that means Christians should speak up, Christians should vote, and Christians should not be ashamed of the principles of our faith that SHOULD inform the politics of our day...After all, it is Christian principles that made America possible in the first place – so, “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” and in our case, that IS our voice!
Just something to think about…