Capuchin Center for Spiritual Life

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." (Mark 12:17)

This Sunday, many Christians will hear those familiar words in the Gospel from the Common Lectionary.

It has been said religion and politics are like fire and gunpowder: Good and useful when kept apart, but dangerous when mixed. As many adages, that is a partial truth. Faith and government are to be separate, but not unrelated.

This Gospel verse has been misused to justify a total isolation of faith from public life. The meaning of this passage is quite the opposite. The Gospel envisions the church and the state as separate, but mutually enriching. Your faith informs your conscience and your conscience cannot be separated from your political convictions.

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

The conjunction "and" is significant. Some misquote the verse as, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, but to God what is God's."

That would set one duty in opposition to the other. The original Greek text uses "and," conveying continuity and unity, not separation. Giving to God what is God's includes giving to Caesar what is Caesar's. Faith fosters civic responsibility.

Some who object to faith animating political activity have been inconsistent. When churches were involved in the civil rights movement, the war on poverty and opposing military aggression, they were applauded.

But when churches speak out on life issues, marriage or immigration, their voices are not welcome. It is clearly the agenda, not the principle, that is the issue.

People of faith believe all authority ultimately comes from God. Others might not share that conviction. Even if one holds that all civil authority is derived solely from the governed, one must concede many citizens do believe in God and their social responsibilities will be related to their faith.

The faith commitment of believers does not lessen their civic commitment. It enriches it. Faith instills virtues of justice and truth and mercy, which animate noble political convictions. An authentic democracy will hear not only what Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln can teach us, but also what Jesus of Nazareth, Francis of Assisi and Theresa of Calcutta can contribute to the public debate.

We are not speaking here about theological doctrines, such as the Trinity or the Incarnation or the Eucharist, but about basic human virtues of justice, truth and mercy.

Our founding fathers recognized this mutual relationship between faith and public life. They rightly objected to an established church, but acknowledged our Creator is the source of our unalienable rights. Even the inscription on our currency testifies to this tradition, "In God we trust."

A nation that does not recognize the heritage of its people's faith deprives itself of a great resource. If one fails to see the connection between the two parts of this gospel verse, one misses its core message.

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

Statements of Faith is a series sharing lessons from local church leaders and members. To submit a column for publication, contact the Hays Daily News at (785) 628-1081.