Render Unto Caesar: The Death of Reason and the Triumph of Feelings
Matthew chapter 22 tells of an argument between Jesus and the Pharisees and Herodians. The two groups were a mix of religious and secular political Jews in ancient Judea. If Christ was the Messiah of Israel, neither group would benefit. Neither would advance in their social status. They asked a Jesus a question. Based on his answer, it would have political and religious consequences. “Tell us then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay census tax to Caesar?” His answer became a basic principle of Western civilization until recently. As citizens of an earthly authority, we should submit loyalty to it while realizing a greater loyalty must be given to a heavenly authority. “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
A Source of Division
I am a card-carrying and convicted Roman Catholic. I’ve spent almost 20 years in a classroom forming citizens for our country teaching Civics. However, most recently I began teaching theology and shaping souls for citizenship in heaven. Seeking truth, I found someone, not something that can be defined by politics (John 14:6). Jesus’ answer was as much a source of division for groups of first-century Jews as it is today for groups of twenty-first century Christians. The debate over defining marriage and gay lifestyle among Christians is dividing them. If one questions that, they only need to scroll through direct attacks between Christians on social media sites on the issue.
From Moral to Political
Those who promote that lifestyle communicate their position in the same way pro-choice advocates do with abortion. They take a moral issue and make it a political one. Actor George Clooney believes that in the future, gay marriage won’t be an issue. “Everyone who stood against this civil right will look as outdated as George Wallace standing on the school steps keeping James Hood from entering the University of Alabama because he was black.” There is political and emotional genius in comparing homosexuals to segregated African-Americans in the 1960’s. It produces a swell of public support. However, there is a flaw in doing so that has been sadly missed by Christians, regardless of their position.
Christians who support this lifestyle often state those who oppose it are passing judgment to gain the moral high ground. Or they say it is a civil rights issue just as the famous actor above (See Luke 7:41-43). The following observation, in charity, is intended for them. As a fellow Christian, I humbly ask them to re-examine their logic in their beliefs favoring that position.
In April of 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested in Birmingham, Alabama. He had led a protest against segregation during the Civil Rights Movement. During his brief stay in prison, he wrote “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” His words below define a principle of Christian worldview. They also support Christ’s divine wisdom in his response to the Pharisees’ question. “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. …Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.”
A Baptist preacher borrowed truth expressed by a Catholic theologian-saint explaining reality. Moral (natural) law is eternal. Throughout history it has been the foundation for all human law. Segregation laws did not uphold the dignity of the human beings toward which they were applied. Therefore, because they were unjust, citizens were not required to follow them. Modern Christians seeing identical conflicts in laws legalizing gay marriage are not required to follow them either. Dr. King, in the early 1960’s, was appealing to a Christian majority in the United States population.
Many Christians support using moral law to uphold the dignity of individuals against discrimination in segregation laws. Yet they claim the same moral law is a form of discrimination when used to oppose laws legalizing gay marriage. This is a contradiction. Especially when gay marriage laws violate the same dignity the Civil Rights movement sought to protect. The dignity of the entire human person in its nature includes their sexuality. Christians make numerous moral judgments based on natural law daily. To deny that is more than irony. It’s rejecting a basic principle of Christianity. It’s an example of feelings influencing a decision rather than reason. Especially when charges of bigotry are being made against the moral principles that once identified it as illegal.
‘We Must Obey God’
Social pressures are no different for followers of Jesus now than they were years ago. Civil authorities threatened first-century Christians about witnessing the truth of the Resurrection. St. Peter’s response despite the coming persecution in choosing to do so should be ours as well. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:28-29). Perhaps, Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is more of a question He is posing to Christians today regarding this dividing issue: “Will you render to God what belongs to God?”