Caesar and God


“Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s”

January 20th’s post was declined by at least two mainstream Christian Facebook pages that had always seemed to welcome my free, ad-free weekly posts. The admins who declined them determined them “political,” unsuitable for their Christian audience. One even claimed that spirituality had nothing to do with politics!

As long as everyday Christians avoid the marketplace of ideas, extremist Christians will seem the prevailing voice of Christianity and/or the church. As Bishop Spong has said, religion is like a public pool: all the noise comes from the shallow end.

My post challenged a reactionary politician’s rejection of one of my Celtic Christian spiritual saints, Pelagius. Yes, he was declared a heretic, but initially by the State and not by the Pope at the time. In J. Philip Newell’s words in Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality:

Two attempts were made to condemn [Pelagius] in 415, but twice Pelagius was acquitted by the Church in Palestine. In 416 Augustine and the African bishops reacted by convening two diocesan councils, at which Pelagius and his Celtic friend Celestius were condemned. In the following year the Pope himself convened a synod in Rome to consider the conflict; here Pelagius’ teaching was declared entirely true and orthodox.

In an attempt to reconcile Pelagius’ emphasis on our essential goodness with Augustine’s emphasis on the prevalence of evil, the Pope wrote to the African bishops, “Love peace, prize love, strive after harmony. For it is written, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

The Pope’s guidance was not heeded by Augustine [who championed the concepts of “human depravity” and “original sin”] and the Western Church began to lose sight of the essential God-given goodness of the human. This loss would have implications for the Church’s perspective on the world, as a fundamentally unholy realm [p 20].

When tested by religious leaders about the relationship of faith to empire, Jesus famously said, “Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s.” Of course, in our faith, everything belongs to God. Some conservative/reactionary Christians instead see Jesus drawing a line between religion and politics, citing the apostle Paul’s dictum about obeying authorities.  Progressive Christians, on the other hand, see Jesus declaring the political realm also an avenue for welcoming the kingdom, or commonwealth, of God.

So many political advances would not have been made without Christian and more broadly religious investment: more humane treatment of those who break the law, which led to establishing prisons and reform movements instead of inflicting physical punishment or death; the abolition of slavery and the much later Civil Rights Movement; the establishment of social safety nets to alleviate poverty, hunger, homelessness, and lack of education.

Jesus was crucified for his political views, even if betrayed by religious colleagues. The cross was an execution by the state, the Roman Empire. If it were for religious reasons, he would have been stoned.

Some of our present religious colleagues would like to silence or betray those of us with progressive views on refugees, immigrants, racial justice, women, LGBTQ people, peace, and justice. Theirs should not be the only Christian voices heard in the media and on social networks.

Visit Chris Glaser’s website here.

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