The people of Israel, and the religious zealots in particular, despised their Roman occupiers. They resented having a Roman governor over them. They were disgusted by the compromise and corruption in their political system. They despised seeing Roman soldiers stationed throughout their land with their pagan symbols and lifestyles. They absolutely begrudged paying taxes to Rome. They could only imagine with horror the manner of ungodly programs and practices that their tax dollars subsidized. None of the Caesars had the Ten Commandments posted anywhere in Rome, and they certainly did not live by them.
I think that much of the rhetoric from the religious right in America today evokes the spirit of the first century Judeans. Just to listen to their interviews on Fox news or read their Facebook posts, one would think America has been overtaken by a pagan Caesar who will not rest until every church is closed and every Christian is covered with wax, impaled on a stake and used to light up the White House lawn at night, ala Nero. Okay, maybe that is a bit hyperbolic, but there is a tremendous amount of Obama hating and democrat bashing going on coaxed in religious rhetoric. Despite President Obama releasing his birth certificate and confessing numerous times his personal faith in Jesus Christ, the far right remains convinced that he is a foreign born Muslim. Furthermore, everything the left does is construed to be an attack on religious freedom. From supporting gay rights to supporting women’s reproductive health—it is all an attack, a threat to precious religious liberty.
The rhetoric is certainly battlefield worthy. The name calling and mudslinging have never been greater. Like I said, it reminds me of what we read about the socio-political conditions of first-century Judea, when the founder of Christianity was born. And it begs the question, what did the founder of Christianity think of these things? When Christians so vehemently protest and bash President Obama and other democrats today, are they following the example set by their founder in the first century? Let’s consider just one example from the Gospels as evidence.
In light of the fact that the taxes the Romans collected funded programs and policies that were against the Jewish faith and moral code, certainly Jesus would protest this and support those who did not want to pay taxes, right? Jesus would be sympathetic to the view that people of faith cannot be asked by their government to support things financially that they object to on religious grounds, right? We do not need to conjecture as to what the answers to these questions are, because here is the concrete example that Jesus left for all of his followers:
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the
Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in
accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then,
what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for
paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matt. 22:15-21, NIV).
This story clearly shows Jesus setting an example of one who has the common sense to distinguish between the sacred and the secular. Jesus paid taxes to the Roman government, and as far as I can tell, he did it without complaint. He did not organize protests. He did not run a smear campaign of government officials. He did not raise objections to how the tax dollars were spent. Long before Thomas Jefferson, we find Jesus affirming the concept of a wall of separation between church and state. He did not concern himself with the day-to-day affairs of government. He did not see it as his mission to warn people of government corruption. In fact, the corruption that Jesus pointed out and rebuked was religious in nature. Read the Gospels and you will find that the harshest words from Jesus were reserved for self-righteous, religious hypocrites. If he were to respond to some of the Fox News anchors or to many of the Facebook posts I have read since President Obama came into office, I believe his comments would be along these lines:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank
in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there
is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to
remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matt. 7:3-5, NIV)
You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel (Matt. 23:24, NIV)
But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.
(Matt. 12:36, NIV)
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.
The authorities that exist have been established by God…This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s
servants, who give their full time to governing.” (Rom. 13:1, 6; NIV).
If you call yourself a Christian, then be Christ-like and distinguish between the sacred and the secular. Pure and undefiled religion is not exposing government corruption. Heaven’s final exam does not contain any of the following questions:
How many bumper stickers and lawn signs did you own?
Did you vote only for Christian politicians?
Were your tax dollars used to subsidize only pure and holy things?
How many letters did you write to congress in my name?
How many Christian voter guides did you distribute?
Were you against Obamacare?
Did you support the Defense of Marriage Act?
Did you refuse to offer health insurance that covers birth control?
Did you fight for prayer in public school?
Did you do your part to keep “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance?
Were you responsible for any displays of Christianity on government property?
No, the best I can tell, the final exam contains only the following five questions (Matt. 25:31-46):
Did you give food and drink to those without?
Did you provide shelter for those who needed it?
Did you provide clothes for the poor?
Did you take care of the sick?
Did you show compassion toward those in jail?