Preaching and Politics: Give to God, Give to Caesar

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Don’t talk about politics and religion. Just don’t! That’s the wise policy if you want to avoid conflict in the break room, not turn the family reunion into a family feud, and so forth. After all, both politics and religion can become so divisive that it seems best just to leave them alone.

Well, I’m a preacher, so I already have a hard time not talking about religious matters. I also have a hard time avoiding politics but probably not for the reasons you might think.

Like most people, I have my opinions about the various political issues facing society and who might best serve as elected officials. Yet, I also know that it’s probably best to keep those opinions to myself and that seems especially true when preaching.

So conventional wisdom seems appropriate. Don’t preach about politics. Just don’t!

What Belongs to God

If we’re talking about politics in the usual sense, then I agree that preachers should refrain from such opining. At least in my opinion, it’s not the place of preachers to say whether or not Christians should vote or who they should vote for if they do vote. And yes, I just sort of violated my agreement that preachers shouldn’t opine about such politics. But that’s the exception. Besides, with only about thirty-minutes of your attention every Sunday, I want to make the most of that time by telling you about Jesus.

Yet it is something that Jesus said that gives me pause and reminds me that I can’t preach about Jesus and not preach politics. 

In the Gospel of Mark, some of the Pharisees and supporters of Herod tried to trap Jesus. So they came to Jesus with a question about the Law of Moses and paying taxes to Caesar, the Roman Emperor. Seeing through their question and recognizing their hidden agenda, Jesus asked to see a coin and then asked them whose image was on the coin.

Acknowledging that the coin had Caesar’s image on it, Jesus looked up and said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mk 12:17, CEB).

Jesus’ response is well known to most Christians. In fact, it’s common to hear Christians proof-text what Jesus says in this very passage of scripture as justification for becoming involved in politics. But listen a little more carefully to what Jesus said… Give the coin, which has Caesar’s image stamped on it, back to Caesar because it belongs to Caesar but Give to God what belongs to God.

What is it that belongs to God?

Well, the answer to that question is us. We belong to God. We have the image of God stamped upon us as his creation. So while we’ll pay our taxes, giving the coins that bear the image of Caesar back to Caesar, we don’t dare give our lives to Caesar because our lives belong to God. We owe God our lives, pledging our complete allegiance to him as followers of Jesus.

My Son… Listen To Him!

“Well, of course, our lives belong to God. We hear what your saying preacher,” says anybody. 

Do you? Do you really hear what I’m saying? I ask only because I’m not sure if Christians in America have received this memo. 

This past Sunday, March 3rd, was Transfiguration Sunday according to the Christian calendar. So I preached on the story of Jesus’s transfiguration from the Gospel of Luke. In that story, Peter, James, and John see Jesus along side of Moses and Elijah. So the three disciples want to build shrines for all three, as though they’re all equals. However, that is when God speaks from the cloud and says, “This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him!” (Lk 9:35, CEB).

As important as Moses and Elijah seem, they’re not equals to Jesus. Of course, we know that. Jesus is the Son of God, the Lord and Messiah. So despite the numerous names of important religious leaders in the scheme of world history, none of these leaders are Jesus. We wouldn’t dare listen to someone like Mahatma Ghandi or the Dali Llama over Jesus. Yet, from where I sit, it seems like some Christians are building shrines for the politicians they voted for. That is, they seemingly listen to these politicians as much as, if not more than, they listen to Jesus.

Let me say it this way. Right now it seems as though American politics, on both sides of the aisle, has too much of an audience among Christians living in America. It seems as though the voice of Jesus must compete against politicians and political talking-heads for our listening ears. If that’s the case, as I contend, then our confession that Jesus is Lord is in danger of becoming little more than a pious religious expression with little bearing on the life we embody. In other words, Jesus might be our Savior still but Lord? I’m not sure about that. Not when we give to Caesar what belongs to God.

So, Preaching and Politics

So I know that preachers shouldn’t talk about politics. But confessing that Jesus is Lord (and Caesar is not) is unapologetically political and so I must preach about politics. I must because we belong to God and must continue giving ourselves to God, who already has a political claim upon our lives — paid with the offering of Jesus upon a Roman cross.

When it seems that Caesar is receiving what is due to God, I must preach a message that challenges us to reconsider what really matters in life. You see, we can’t tell our neighbors that they should give their lives to God when it is evident that we give our lives to Caesar. In the same way, we can’t lead others to follow Jesus if we ourselves are not following Jesus.

So yes, I know that preachers shouldn’t preach about politics. But sometimes I must and so should every other person called to preach. For only as we give to God what belongs to God do we live as the ekklesia of Jesus Christ in America. And that’s what matters.

~ K. Rex Butts, Newark, DE

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