Then He said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21b NIV)
We are entering a season where faith will be sorely tested. The political climate is becoming more and more turbulent, and each day seems to bring actions by the new administration that could have unexpected or negative effects on us or those we love. Already badly divided by the recent election, our nation threatens to become even more so as President Trump tries to reshape policies. Amidst the news and protests and atmosphere of escalating tension, fear and hate, it is all too easy to be overwhelmed and wonder, where is God?
Contrary to popular belief, the general feeling that faith and politics are not supposed to mix comes from interpretation, not actual law. If you remember your American history studies, you have probably come across the phrase “separation of church and state.” This is commonly thought to be part of the First Amendment, but in fact the only place the phrase appears in writing is in an 1802 letter by Thomas Jefferson to a Baptist association in Connecticut. In it (you can read the whole letter here), he states his belief that religion is solely between us and God, and that the government should not have power over public opinion. He goes on to quote the First Amendment, which prohibits laws establishing religion or restricting worship, as the basis for “building a wall of separation between church and state.”
While the wall of separation is the image that has survived over the years (and has been taken to a whole new level in the last year!), the underlying point is just as important: God holds each of us accountable for our faith and our actions, and His authority must not be woven with human law. Jesus said as much Himself when questioned on Roman authority; He told the people to “give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). The metaphor of the wall was meant to illustrate that our law cannot demand one faith or limit another. Unfortunately, it has expanded to the point where God is left out of the picture completely, and both lawmakers and common people are acting on their own agendas, and in so doing, disturbing and disrespecting faith, often intentionally.
On an individual level, everyone builds their own walls of separation out of hate and anger. When I am angry at God out of circumstance, I find it difficult to worship Him, and am guilty of cursing and not paying attention to Him until I am out of whatever rut I am in. Likewise, when I am angry at others, or the world, or even myself, I tend to shut myself off from everyone else, retreat into my internal shell, and try to sort things out, not emerging until I feel better. Both are frustrating experiences, but instinctive ones that are hard to avoid when the situation arises.
It grieves me to see the walls that have risen in our country currently and are being planned, walls that restrict the liberty God gives us and our country takes pride in, walls built from hate campaigns, conceived human threats and differences of opinion. This is not the separation Jefferson envisioned. God is all but absent because we are walling Him out, focusing on our laws.
The true test of faith is seeking God amidst difficult and even horrifying surroundings, and we must do so now more than ever. We must give God what is His, and let our faith in Him drive our actions. At the same time, we can give Trump what is his. How? For starters, we should pray for him. Whether or not you voted for him, he is our President. Second, we can make our voices heard, and show compassion for others in need. Whether we take to the streets with signs, write letters, or simply give our time and resources to the causes we believe in, we can continue living life “the American way” while still spreading the message of God’s love.
Daniel can be reached by email here.