“If we are going to have a separation of church and state, we’re going to have a separation of church and state.”
Those are reportedly Al Jackson’s words in explaining his support for the Government’s recent mandate that all religious institutions, save a very narrow exception for churches themselves, must provide for contraceptive services in their employee insurance, even if they have moral objections to doing so. At first glance that statement seems irrational, that is until one recalls what folks on the political left in our country mean by “separation of church and state.” When one digs beyond the superficial when it comes to the idea of separation of church and state what one finds is to them it really means the church is to stay out of the state’s business and out of public life. It doesn’t mean that the state must stay out of the church’s business. They consider the state the highest expression of man’s hopes and desires and every other institution under the sun inferior. Thus all others must bow to the dictates of the state without exception. When that is understood Mr. Jackson’s words make perfect sense.
Normally I prefer to stay out of political issues; this is a religious blog after all. However, the controversy over the mandate provides a perfect opportunity to have a look at the issue of the relationship between Christians and the states they live under. So I’m going to take the bull by the horns.
Jesus was once asked once asked whether it was proper for a Jew to pay the Roman tax. That was a hotbed issue in his day as the Jews resented their Roman masters and the taxes they imposed. Their scriptures told them they were a “Gods” to the Gentiles and many felt that as such they shouldn’t be subject to the tax imposed by imperial Rome (Ps. 82:6). Jesus’ answer is quite instructive and forms the basis for the relationship between the members of the true Church, those called to be co-heirs with the Christ in heaven, and the state (Rom. 8:14-17).
Here is the passage:
“Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.” (Matt. 22: 17-21)
Notice how deftly he turned their question back on them. Still, he gave a very profound answer to the question, one which every Christian should keep in mind.
As Christians we occupy a pretty unique position in this world. Paul explains to use that since we are called out of this world to be future rulers with Jesus Christ we are really members of the ruling class of that future government. As such we are in the position of ambassadors telling the world about that kingdom and what it will do for mankind (2 Cor. 5:18-20). As such we live under rules much like temporal ambassadors do.
Modern ambassadors fall under certain international conventions and treaties giving them a different position in the societies they have to function and live in. Generally speaking they are exempt from the laws of the lands they live in, but for the sake of peace they are expected to follow those laws unless their duties require them to break them. So while an ambassador has the liberty to ignore, say driving laws and cannot be prosecuted for breaking them, he or she will generally follow them, unless special circumstances require they be ignored, for the sake of safety and good will.
Those exemptions exist for a reason since ambassadorial personnel routinely conduct activities which are illegal in their host countries, such as intelligence gathering, and couldn’t perform their duties without those exemptions. As subjects of another government their allegiance is to that government and they must follow its laws and demands. There is a caveat, however.
That exemption isn’t absolute. If caught blatantly disobeying their host country’s laws they may be declared persona non grata and deported. In certain cases, such as murder their governments didn’t sanction, their government may choose to remove their immunity and hand them over to authorities for prosecution. That has happened. Do you see where I’m going with this?
In the thirteenth chapter of Romans Paul tells us to be obedient to the laws of the nations amidst which we live (vs. 1). Then he goes on to outline why and what benefits we derive from doing so in the next seven verses. This is in line with Jesus’ comment to “give Caesar that which belongs to Caesar.” Caesar coins the money, so it is his and we who have placed our hope in the heavens are but stewards over that money which our heavenly father blesses us with for our efforts to provide for our selves and our families. And for the sake of smooth daily living obedience to the laws of the land are a must. After all, how far will one get if they decide they don’t have to stop for red lights or stop signs?
Yet we are citizens of another government, members of its ruling class in training. That means we do have a higher loyalty and its laws are our priority. That is what is meant by giving God’s things to God. Since the nations don’t recognize God’s government, and certainly don’t recognize it as having a prior call on our loyalties, that can bring us into conflict with them. That conflict can lead to our being expelled from those lands by imprisonment or even execution.
Those of us who live in the United States of America are fortunate. Our land has the right to practice our faith enshrined as one of its primary laws, one which is intentionally made difficult to change. God put that government and its law in place for a reason. That freedom of religion led to a rediscovery of genuine truth and the establishment of a Christian movement based on those rediscovered truths. That also led to the truth being spread to much of the world, including nations very hostile to it because that movement had a secure base from which to operate. For this we are very grateful to our God and heavenly Father.
We are seeing those liberties eroded day by day, as the situation which inspired this blog amply demonstrates. There are men determined to bring everyone and everything into total subjection to the state under the progressive model we see elsewhere on this earth. Yet, as Christians we shouldn’t be overly anxious over the matter. And while we live in this land as God’s ambassadors we will continue to “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.”