Can’t get no, can’t get no… satisfaction … no, no, no. [part 1]
I never imagined saying this, but our problem today does not stem from a lack of taking on political issues from the pulpit. No. Wait; hold the tomatoes! It’s just that when they do mention anything related to politics, it is mostly a sanitized politically correct view. I know that is not every church or pulpit. Some pastors treat social issues equally serious.
But many pastors and clergy who will not talk about something in any way related to politics often do find their voice, but on other political matters. One could make a list: social justice, peace, being thy brother’s keeper, not judging others, not using certain outdated labels that may sound offensive, tolerance, and so on. So it is just so-called hot button issues they will not talk about – i.e. abortion, gay marriage, etc. Is that what we are called to do, effectively “screen” our speech? And to do it for political correctness?
(Note: keep in mind that I had written this a while ago, over a year, as the elections were still heating up)
I recently got schooled from the pulpit about vocal support and candidate endorsements. The sermon was basically we should “be very cautious about endorsing” in politics. (one notable Texas pastor’s endorsement of Perry was Exhibit A) You can read into that, ‘you ought to refrain from publicly endorsing politics or candidates’. You would be reading my mind too. The basis was probably meant as endorsing from the pulpit but there it was in broad daylight, an anti-activism type message to Christians.
It is far deeper than just candidate endorsements of clergy from the pulpit, the same principle is then applied to all politics and all of us. Message: stay clear of politics. You also might correctly assume the basis for all this was ‘render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s’. The actual passage and I’ll give various scriptures:
But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”
25 “Yes, he does,” he replied.
When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes — from their own sons or from others?”
26 “From others,” Peter answered.
“Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27 “But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”
This is usually the reference used
17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
Of course, many use that latter exchange to broadly lecture us to “Give to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Thus, since this politics stuff is rendered Caesar’s turf now, it all therefore belongs to him. “Go back to your prayer closet, Christians.” The truth is our life and rights come from God. With that we have some responsibility. We are accountable to God. And we are responsible for our leadership, and choices.
Something similar may unfold in the Middle East, in countries where people are crawling out from under brutal dictators. We might sympathize with them but they could be headed down a tough road – do they know it? That is, if as they say claims are true that they strive for democracy. Whether that is really the case or not, let us accept that premise for now. They might discover the ideal is not as simple as it sounds. They will share some responsibility for their democracy at some point. Then, they cannot just blame a tyrant and authorities for the results. They will have to accept some blame for problems and consequences, or reap credit when things go well. So they might have a few surprises ahead, such as accountability. It will not be easy for those who have not experienced “freedom” before. Providing they get that far … and that is their goal.
We have the example of Jesus crucifixion. Remember Pilate washed his hands of the deed, or tried to, in as much as the event was already in process. He wanted to escape responsibility for Jesus’ death. Though we still associate Pilate with Jesus’ crucifixion. In Acts, the apostles made it known to political elites that they had a shared responsibility for His death. That was not a convenient message they wanted to hear, and it did not tickle their ears. In fact, they wanted to shut down the apostles for that reason. It made them look bad. Some people suggest “…but we must keep clear of politics.” But we can see in Christ’s time the air was thick with politics.
The Sadducees didn’t care much for the resurrection message; and the apostles didn’t care to be silenced by political pressure. The point is the apostles did not stop preaching, even as it was seen as a form of political speech and dissent with powers that be. On the contrary, they prayed and with the help of the Holy Spirit grew bolder in speaking out. (even to those who sent Jesus to his death)
I don’t read those events as an example to stifle or tone down one’s message to suit elite politicos, and cede one’s virtue to authorities or powers that be. Likewise, those cautious clergy today never suggest taking a silent approach on, say, the “social justice” agenda. They endorse that. The social justice advocates will demand taking a bold approach to preferred “social issues” – just not certain others – while likening their stand to bold traditional Christian activism.
So my instinctive reaction about ceding certain aspects, political issues or turf to powers that be – under the guise of giving to Caesar what is his – is to remember Pilate. Are we to reject our own responsibility for the circumstances we are in and our God-given rights, remaining silent, then try to wash our hands of the blame for the results in view of the consequences? That would be slightly hypocritical, wouldn’t it? Should we render to Caesar the all-encompassing political turf, stifling our conscience or virtue, and cede all “controversial” social matters to his authority? Politics have usurped cultural matters
Our first allegiance is still to God. If I silence my voice, or cede to status quo those matters over to political authorities or others, I cannot escape accountability. I still bear some responsibility for the outcome. So what then about what we owe God?
The double standards are amplified when the pulpits do talk about their pet issues, social justice and peace. They want to do that “loudly and proudly”. Seriously, are the rest of us demanding injustice, or are we actively opposing peace just for the sake of it? It’s been a while since I attended a good anti-peace march, or a rally against justice. Sorry, I never did and don’t know anyone who has. But I somehow am vehemently against peace and justice according to them, if you follow their accusation to its logical conclusion. That is, to follow their entire “social justice” agenda – as they define it. In fact, they actually posit in their rhetoric that, unless we jump aboard their political agenda, we must be anti-peace or anti-social justice. Many Christians resent that insinuation but it does exist. Many Christians have signed on to that. (one only has to look at the [message of churches])
It’s like that with “99-percenters”, Wall Street Occupiers. They point to everyone outside that 1 percentile of wealth as part of the 99% they speak for. Thus, we must be part of that 1%, then, if we don’t agree with their agenda. I think there are more than 1% of us who look past this fallacy and their unreasonable approach. Some Christians are disgusted by these political tactics. But many buy into them.
When I hear preachers and leftists claim their staunch support for social justice, I wonder who is opposed to justice? It must need a whole lot of defending. Of course, their subjective, ever-evolving definition of “social justice” holds the real key to them.(and we are beholden to their definition) But in simple and clear terms, supporting true justice or peace is a no-brainer. Who could really disagree? We can support justice. It’s a fallacy that we do not.
However, many of these passionate advocates are reluctant to take on matters of abortion, gay marriage, or state-sponsored euthanasia from the pulpits. (all presently ensconced in politics) Their ‘passion pond’ dries up quickly. Statistics are reserved for issues like war or hunger. No, those “political” issues are too controversial. “Better to wash our hands of those. We don’t want the stains that come with those.” In doing so, they advise the flock to leave those “cultural” matters alone. But if their advocacy were not so lopsided and full of double standards, it probably would look much different.
We may better ask if we are really cheating God and not rendering to God what is His? And are we giving Caesar more power authority and control than he should have? Those questions do not seem to come up.
Today, rendering to Caesar not just what is his but what he wants is far more popular and convenient than giving to God what is God’s.
The message is clear: “everything will be fine if you just leave those divisive, controversial, cultural matters alone.” Leave that all to Caesar. Otherwise, full steam ahead. Some see all this as “a culture war”, but I think it’s more like ‘cultural survival of the best fit’, to compliant Christians.
So some clergy can keep right on making blanket disclaimers about not endorsing any specific political candidates or Party politics. But they will likely keep right on endorsing specific “preferred” political issues .
Part 2 to follow
(continued- Part 2 )