Four Reasons Why We Need to be Careful about Mixing Faith and Politics
Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” — Mark 12:17
This is one of the single best answers to a trap question ever. If you are unfamiliar with the story, the religious leaders thought they finally had the ultimate ‘gotcha’ moment for Jesus. It takes place in Jerusalem, where many of the people are irate with the taxes being imposed on them by Rome. So they start by trying to flatter Jesus. “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity,” they begin (as if he isn’t going to see right through that). “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”
This is a brilliant ploy because it creates a no-win situation. If Jesus says that you should pay the tax, then the crowd — many of whom incorrectly thought that the Messiah was being sent to overthrow the Roman government — is going to be upset. If he says that you shouldn’t pay the tax, then the Romans are going to be upset and would have cause to arrest him for inciting lawlessness. But fortunately Jesus is more brilliant and gives the perfect answer.
There are many interpretations to this story. Some people think Jesus is teaching civil obedience, especially coupled with other Bible verses about God’s sovereignty over rulers. Others think that Jesus is actually teaching the exact opposite, because after all, if everything is God’s then nothing is Caesar’s. I like to think of it differently. I think that Jesus saw the issue as a distraction. I think He was more interested about teaching people how to live their lives to honor God and less concerned about the politics of the day.
If that is true, then it’s a good lesson for our Christian culture today. Far too often we fall into the same trap of getting caught up in divisive political issues that really have no eternal impact, and it could be argued that we have now equated being an American Christian with being of a certain political bent.
I think there are four potential pitfalls associated with how we as Christians treat political issues today. I think these are especially pertinent as we head into an election year:
1. Politics distract us from the things that we should be most passionate about. I used to fall victim to this often myself. I spent more time listening to political talk radio than I did in acts of service. I spent more time paying attention to the fighting in Washington than I did reading my Bible. There is nothing wrong with caring about the political process, just as there is nothing wrong with being passionate about your favorite hobby. However, we often tend to take more passion in the political side. If you want to gauge this in your own life, just pay attention to which topics of conversation everyone is most enthusiastic about the next time you get together with a group of fellow believers. Chances are issues like gun rights or tax cuts will evoke more zeal than serving the Lord or loving others.
2. Our often derogatory fervor alienates non-believers. I consider myself politically conservative (closer to libertarian actually), which means that I believe that less government control is good. It doesn’t in any way define or relate to my faith, just as my being a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers doesn’t define my faith. But whereas fans of the Steelers, Patriots, Bears, and even those godless Ravens fans can still be welcomed into the body of Christ, we often don’t make room for other political views. Imagine inviting a non-Christian or even a new Christian to your Bible study who leans left politically. Now imagine they hear you bashing the “the no-good liberals” or “that idiot Obama”. Jesus loved us so much that He died a horrific death for us. God gives us salvation that we did not earn. It’s a message of love, forgiveness, redemption, and peace. It is not a message of why Democrats are stupid.
3. We rely too much on politics to bring change to the culture. Abortion is a good example of this. No pro-life politician is going to end abortion (if you need proof, just look at the past 43 years). But Christians who come alongside a scared woman in the midst of an unplanned pregnancy or who support life affirming crisis pregnancy centers or who foster/adopt unwanted children can help bring an end to abortion. We still for sure ultimately need the help of elected officials to bring about change but they generally follow the prevailing attitude of the electorate, so we should focus more on changing hearts and the politicians will follow suit. Bottom line: if we think we have done our job influencing the culture solely by voting for a candidate in the latest election, then we are terribly misguided.
4. Our devotion to politics as the key to societal change turns us into suckers. The fact that Christians often think alike politically is not lost on our elected officials, especially the ones which sport the elephant logo. They pander to Christians for votes, often touting their own faith (whether genuine or not). When faith and politics mix, they win. Church bodies inadvertently become recruiters for their political party the same way that labor unions become recruiters for the other party — once you “join”, you are now influenced to put only those people in office, regardless of whether or not they are actually fighting for your beliefs (and when push comes to shove, they won’t fight because they know there is no way you are going to turn around and vote for the other guys).
Everyone should get involved in the political process. It’s important to be educated about who we are electing to run the country. But this should not be our primary passion as Christians. Like Jesus, we should be more concerned with following after God’s will for us, which is to honor Him and love others.