Religion and Politics
I have been thinking of that phrase, “Do your duty.” It lies behind Jesus’ words about giving to Caesar that which belongs to him, and to God whatever belongs to God (Matthew 22:15-22). Jesus is saying that we have a duty to pay all of our taxes. There are certain duties that every citizen owes the country they live in. We are fortunate to live in a democracy that is above average. Jesus lived in an empire that was often cruel. Still, he encouraged his people to do their duty and be good citizens. Further, the Roman emperor allowed the Jews to be involved in their local politics. In a democracy, I think religious people should be involved in politics. Every American citizen must do their duty.
“Do the right thing,” “do your duty,” and “give unto Caesar,” are all variations on a more basic ethical truth: “The ends never justify the means.” Lying, cheating (especially at taxes), stealing, and committing adultery, are various means by which we get our selfish ends. We should never condone our religious and political leaders using evil means to “win” or accomplish some personal goal. We expect integrity, no matter whose face is on the coin.
So, now we get to the big question of 2020 (as it was of 2016): “how do we separate religion and politics?” I think Jesus would tell us to do our duty in each sphere. On the religious side of the coin, we worship and study the scriptures so that we might know God’s will for our lives. On the political side of the coin, we vote, become involved in social concerns, and on occasion, join a protest march, so that our government might work for the common good, conserve our natural resources, and provide justice for all. A religious person should never bring politics into the church to serve their selfish ends, or to promote their political party. A politician or judge should never bring a sectarian belief into politics when this particular aspect of their religion is not accepted by other citizens, who have the right to their own religious beliefs.
Further, there is no religious cause or end that should be pursued in the political sphere if its furtherance requires us to lie, cheat, steal, or treat others unfairly. Many Christians have fallen into the trap of believing that certain religious beliefs (such as that life begins at conception) are so sacred that this end justifies electing people who lack integrity. Yes, Christians should go into politics. Being a person of faith never justifies forcing a sectarian doctrine on others. Doing your political or civic duty with honesty and compassion is a full-time job, there isn’t time for meddling in divisive religious affairs.
So, does life begin at conception? If you are asking that as a religious question, I would suggest that scholars are divided. My reading of the scriptures leans me in a direction that you may, or may not, agree with. We can go into the church and discuss it. But, in the political sphere, I ask, “Whose face is on the coin?” Here we must trust our leaders to act in a non-sectarian way and do what is just for all.