Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him- Mark 12:17 NIV
Most of Americans were taught two rules regarding politics and religion growing up. First, we were taught politics and religion are both subjects that inevitably produce disagreement, tension and discord. Therefore, it is in poor taste to discuss either subject in social situations. We were also taught politics and religion are two entirely separate subjects that have no connection whatsoever. Consequently, only ignoramuses combine discussion of the two subjects.
The ship has more or less sailed on the first rule.
For better or worse, there are precious few topics off-limits for discussion in our goat rodeo of a society. Only weirdos and squares care about tension and discord anymore. Truth-be-told, there are actually people who get paid good money to produce and promote all sorts of tension and discord.
The second rule is still very much in force.
This due in part to a near unanimous misunderstanding of the phrase “separation of church and state”. Most believe it is found in the Constitution or some other critical founding document. It’s not. The only place it was ever used was in a personal letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to a group of Baptists known as the Danbury Baptists. This group feared there was about to be a state sponsored church in America (as was common in England and other European countries). They feared becoming an unrecognized group. In his letter Mr. Jefferson assured them there is “wall of separation between church and state”. He promised that the American government would never intrude on there’s or anyone’s religious beliefs or activities. Clearly, Mr. Jefferson didn’t own a crystal ball, but, that’s another blogpost for another day. The passing of the Johnson Amendment in 1954 also contributed to the belief that politics and religion should be kept in separate corners. That law allows the government to strip Churches of their tax-exempt status if they endorse or oppose political candidates.
All that being said.
A stupid law and widespread ignorance of our founding documents are not the only reasons we don’t talk about politics and religion.
Many Christians sincerely believe politics are dirty and religion is clean. They think that by merging political conversations with faith conversations, we dirty up our religion and run the risk of muddling the message of the gospel. Christians who believe this way tend to think Jesus was discouraging political involvement when he said “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s”. Most non-Christians and some progressive Christians sincerely believe any mixing of religion and politics will cause our republic to morph into a creepy theocracy reminiscent of The Handmaids Tale.
In spite of almost everyone’s desire to keep politics and religion in separate corners, the two have had some ugly run-in’s in recent years. Culture is shifting rapidly and battle lines are being drawn between right wrong. Once a upon a time issues like pedophilia, relaxing or eliminating drug laws, the elimination of restrictions on hardcore pornography, lowering the age of sexual consent, sanctioning late term abortion, legalizing prostitution and allowing infanticide were considered icky fringe issues that no normal people had any interest in whatsoever. Our society has become less Christian and more accepting of just about everything and some have felt emboldened to push these and other issues through the courts in recent years (Psalm 52:3, Isaiah 5:20). Religious people (mostly Christians) have become weary of the societal decline that has resulted from an increase in progressive legislation.
Okay, so, a couple of things:
It is true Christians sometimes send the message that in order to be a Christian one must hold to a certain set of political views. It is also true that if a person is a Christian the Bible will inform their thinking on all issues, including political issues. However, the notion that one has to do anything but believe in Jesus and repent of their sin to become a Christian is tragically wrong. Additionally, patriotism is not godliness. Love of country is a good thing but it must never be confused with fidelity to Jesus.
One of the key reasons Christianity has flourished in America is because our founders wisely avoided forming a theocracy. If America’s founders had instituted a state sponsored Christian church, it is a given that the state would have killed the dynamic and powerful nature of Christianity by insisting that all Christians think and worship exactly the same way.
Trust me. No one wants a theocracy in America.
That being said. Christians must work hard as believers to keep Jesus the main thing in all we do. We are not called to change the world through political legislation or even social reform. We are called to change the world by bringing people to Jesus and then teaching them to think and act like Jesus (Matthew 28:19). At the same time, we must embrace the reality that all of life belongs to God and there is no sphere Christians are not called to influence and redeem for Jesus (Psalm 24:1). Therefore, Christians must never lose their moral outrage when politicians attempt to legalize behavior that robs human beings of their God-given dignity. We must never be okay with normalizing and/or legalizing evil. Christians must also learn to graciously explain to our unbelieving world that every political choice has a spiritual and personal consequence. Christians should also vote like Jesus is in the booth with us.
Because He is.