SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE
Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Scriptural Readings: Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; Psalms 96:1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10; 1; Thessalonians 1:1-5b; Matthew 22:15-21
My dear encountered couples:
This is that famous saying of Jesus which many uses as an argument for separation of Church and State: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but give to God what is God’s.”
Atheists who want the Church to stay out of all public affairs quote that saying of Jesus as well as do Christians who want the State to keep its nose out of religion.
Is that what Jesus really had in mind? Was he really saying that religion and government are to be apart, unconnected, and unconcerned with one another all the time, and in every way? Did he mean that both government and Church are to be treated as separate, isolated entities, whose operations should have nothing to do with one another? Or did Jesus say, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but give to God what is God’s,” merely to get out of the trap the Pharisees had laid for him and to zero in on his main purpose for coming to earth? We could probably argue over that for a long time to come and never reach an agreeable conclusion.
Whatever the reality of the initial intention of Jesus when he said what he said, there is no possible, practical way to totally separate Church and State. Many of the elected members of the government belong to churches in which they grew up in and from which they obtained their beliefs and morals. And there is no separating beliefs and morals from conduct, unless, of course, we decide to sin and go against our beliefs and morals. I doubt that any citizen, atheist or church member, would care to have sinners running our country. People who belong to churches take their beliefs and morals with them into government.
Government, therefore, is influenced by religion; and you can be sure that religion in turn is then influenced by the workings of the government. (The creed of the atheist is a religion unto itself which does its utmost to influence everything and everybody.)
What our founding Fathers were intent upon was that the government not establish any one or more religions as official religions while making others illegal. Some among the fundamentalist right, who seem to want to control our government, should keep that in mind. Their leaders seem to want to impose by law their beliefs and principles upon everybody.
I would like to make this observation of what Jesus said. In regard to our country, the United States of America, how can we apply his words, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” when we have no Caesar? America has no emperor, no king, no Caesar. What we have is a government made up of the people, voted into office by the people, sworn to legislate for the good of the people. In other words, “Caesar” for us means “The People.” So, Jesus for Americans was saying, “Give to the People what is the People’s.”
Everybody, who is a citizen of the United States of America, is being told to be sure to look out after the good of all other citizens. That means those holding a government position, as well as those who don’t, are to be intensely concerned with what is good for everybody. There is to be no selfishness, no dishonesty, no me-first or I-couldn’t-care-less--about-you attitude towards anyone. The People own this country, it is to be lived in and run for the good of The People - for the good of all the people who are citizens and guests - of any race, color, religion, or orientation.
Do you understand the implications of what I am saying? I am saying that all that is done by our government officials, all that is done by any of us, is to be done for the good of the People, for the protection of the People, for the betterment of the People, for the advantage of all the people of our country. Government officials are not to rule the people, bind the people, tax the people, and spend the people’s money for their own selfish and pet projects. It is The People’s image on the money, and it is to be used for the good of The People. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Remember, in our country “Caesar” is “The People.”
Jesus repeatedly taught that what we do for people we do for him (for God), and what we do to people we do to him (to God). Therefore, when any citizen of the United States of America is discriminated against by any other citizen of the United States, he or she is also discriminating against God. When any citizen, in the government or not in government, treats any other citizen like a second-rate citizen, or like no citizen at all, he or she is treating Jesus Christ in the same manner. When any citizen sins against another, he or she is sinning against Jesus Christ who is God.
Applying to our situation, therefore, what Jesus said when they handed him that coin, please permit me to quote his words in this way: “Whose head is this on the coin, and whose inscription? The People’s,” they replied. At that he said to them, “Then give to The People what is The People’s, Give to God what is God's.”
When we do one, we are doing the other. Have we all been living up to what Jesus ordered?a