To Caesar, Or Not To Caesar?

Some years ago, I experienced the adverse effects of coupling Christian faith with partisan politics. In an effort to recover my faith and my personal integrity, I cut my political ties, and I moved off of the “mothership.” But then twelve years ago something truly interesting happened. I left my native home of So. Cal. and relocated to the Pacific Northwest. For nearly thirteen years, I have been a resident of Portland, Oregon, and during this time I have become a student of the local culture.

Here in Portland, Oregon politics is not merely a sector of society but an everywhere – all the time – rain or shine, way of life (i.e., talking, advertising, public messaging, protesting, petitioning, etc.). So, you can imagine, following my earlier exodus from the world of politicized religion, how surprised I was to discover a place where politics functions with the same fervor and conviction of the “old-time religion.” Needless to say, in light of this discovery, I was forced, once again, to go back to the old drawing board.

My conclusion, thus far, is that while some people’s religion becomes politicized, other people’s politics operate as de facto religion (i.e, dogmatic, confessional concern for the ‘sacred and profane’, and ‘sin and righteousness,’ or ‘correctness’ etc.). So where Marx famously proclaimed, “Religion is the opium of the masses”, I would now add, “Sure Karl, but let’s be clear: all ideology, not just the religious variety, functions as opium for the masses!”

So, if we’re all partaking of the “opium”, then who can we trust to speak with a clear head? I recently came across an article written by Randy Remmington, president of Foursquare Int’l, entitled, “Character, Civility, and Christ.” The following is an excerpt from that article, “Christ at the Center.” Here Remmington is issuing a clarion call to those who are practicing a conflicted allegiance. It is written to those who are struggling (failing?) to “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” For, as Jesus said, “You cannot serve two masters.”  

“Christ at the Center”:

“The politicians of Jesus’ day attempted to co-opt Him. In the story where Jesus was asked about paying taxes, an attempt was made to manipulate Him into declaring His political allegiance. His questioners wanted to know if He favored the anti-tax party of the Pharisees or the pro-tax party of the Herodians. They attempted to co-opt His influence for partisan political purposes.

Unfortunately, the political parties of our day are no different—except that they’ve been successful in getting many of Jesus’ followers to believe that somehow the Lord can be squeezed into one of the two major political parties. Jesus had a simple response to His questioners: Give to God what is God’s. He was saying, “Don’t give your ultimate loyalty—your heart, your passion, the very core of your being—to anything or anyone other than God.” When we fail to heed His command, we become idolaters.

Although it pains me to write this, many Christians in America have unwittingly fashioned their political affiliations into idols. How do you know for sure if you’ve made something an idol? You are devastated, you are destroyed, when it is taken from you. If your house burns down, or you lose your job, you may be sad or overwhelmed, even, and say, “What I’m going through is really hard.” But if your possessions or your job have become an idol, you say: “This is the end. There is no hope. My life is over!”Although it pains me to write this, many Christians in America have unwittingly fashioned their political affiliations into idols. How do you know for sure if you’ve made something an idol? You are furious when it is threatened and devastated when it is taken from you. If your house burns down, or you lose your job, you will certainly experience grief and perhaps anger, but you need not fall into hopelessness or fury. But when you lose an idol, you say: “This is the end. There is no hope!”

According to pastor and author Tim Keller, contemporary politics in America has become an idol for many. In “The Signs of Political Idolatry,” Keller writes: “When either party wins an election, a certain percentage of the losing side talks openly about leaving the country. They become agitated and fearful of the future. They have put the kind of hope in their political leaders and policies that once were reserved for God and for the work of the Gospel. When their political leaders are out of power, they experience a death. They believe that if their policies and people are not in power, everything will fall apart … In our politics [we believe] that opponents are not simply mistaken, they are absolutely evil.”

When will we take to heart Jesus’ command to stop giving to Caesar what is God’s? Jesus gives His followers, regardless of their political affiliation, the ultimate secret to sharing life together in peace. He says: “Make Me the center of your life. Make Me the center of your relationships, and politics will not separate you.” Only when Christ, and not partisan politics, is at the center of our lives and in the center of our relationships can we hope to flee from the idolatry that brings so much division and unrest.

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