Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?” “Caesar’s,” they answered. So Jesus told them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” And they were unable to trap Him in His words before the people; and astonished at His answer, they fell silent. –Luke 20:24-26
A billboard popped up all over my city on the 4th of July. The background is red and blue, with three white stars across the top. JESUS is spelled out in huge, white letters. Across the bottom it says [A Christian radio station] supports this message.
My knee-jerk reaction upon reading the billboard was to groan loudly and roll my eyes. I support the separation of church and state and see how often Jesus gets tied into a God bless America agenda that is sometimes at the expense of people in other countries or people who practice other religions. Sojourners created a bumper sticker that read, “God is not a Republican. Or a Democrat” as a response to this subtle hint of Jesus being American or taking political sides. “God Bless the Whole World. No Exceptions” is another bumper sticker made in response to the red, white and blue Jesus Christ.
I’m sure the radio station was just trying to be clever. You can’t blame them for running that ad on the 4th of July during a presidential election year. I’m sure it will be quite effective. As I continue to see it around town, however, I can’t help but go to a place where they are inserting Jesus into a political campaign in an unhelpful way. Jesus has a lot to do with how I vote, yet I do think we should carefully talk about the distinction between what makes good law and personal faith. What makes an effective politician who can put into law a structure that supports vulnerable people is fairly distinct from my choice to follow Jesus as my Lord.
It’s hard. Our system is broken. There is never a perfect candidate. Yet Catholic Social Teaching pleads with us to be engaged citizens who enter into politics in a meaningful way, not sidestep the process. Law matters. Good policy speaks up for the voiceless in our society. Fair legislation puts people before profit and promotes the common good. We are living in a season when our faith is calling us to both continue to follow Jesus with passion and to enter into the secular political process, to hold our politicians to a higher standard for the betterment of us all.