a political map of the United States showing red and blue states representing Republicans and Democrats

Over the last number of years in the United States of America Christianity and politics have become so intertwined that in some places they are almost indistinguishable. The rise of the “Moral Majority” and the “Religious Right” have turned Christians into a voting bloc to be used. Now, the political left is even getting in on the act. Christianity bought into a bill of goods that argued that if there was support for a certain political agenda then Christianity would have greater cultural influence.

Today, we are now reaping what those decisions have sown.

People outside the faith see people who loudly profess their Christian faith complicit in their support of political leaders, who in life and policy, are sub-Christian at best. Those on the outside looking in experience Christians as very much saying a “Good for me, not for thee.” They see the hypocrisy of a faith that purports to follow in the way of love as supporting political agendas that are anything but.

I have been thinking about an interaction between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day:

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away. (Matthew 22:15-22)

Jesus sniffed out the trap. If he said “Pay the taxes,” the Pharisees would call him a traitor to the people. If he said, “Don’t pay the taxes,” the Herodians would bring him up on charges as a traitor to the Empire. He was in a lose-lose situation. What does he do? He flips the whole thing on its head.

As I continue to wrestle with this interaction, I think we miss the point of what is going on here when we focus purely on the money question. I think we have to think about the ramifications of the subtext. Where did Jesus' loyalties lie? With whom was he aligned? Rome or Israel?

Jesus, in effect seeks to pull the two apart.

I think that when we have a proper view of faith, we realize that our following of Jesus is primary. When this realization hits then we can in a sense “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” We can do so because then our political engagement becomes one that is based on an organizing principle of “love God and love people.” When we do this, we are no longer beholden to party politics.

When we start pulling the tangle of lights on the religious political left and right we find that things have gotten disordered. For too many Christians political identity has become the primary lens through which they view the world. That is, a particular political agenda is what they think will “fix” the world.

“If only this particular political solution could be instituted then all would be right in the world." Or so the thinking goes. But, this isn’t the truth.

I’m reminded of Joshua when he is leading the Israelites into the promised land. Moses had recently died and Joshua has ascended to the position of leadership. He had a couple of quick military successes and is about to challenge the great city of Jericho when has this interaction,

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. (Joshua 5:13-15)

Who was the Commander of the Army of the LORD for? Well, obviously it would be the Israelites, right? WRONG. The answer was, “Neither.”

You see, when it comes to the political maneuvering of our tiny governments God is for, “neither.” Once again, God is pulling the whole way we think about politics and power apart. God, from the beginning was about doing what was right, not about picking sides. God’s ways are not our ways. God doesn’t play power politics. God is at work bringing God’s covenant promises to pass through grace, mercy, and love.

It is no wonder that as emerging generations (and even older folks) begin to take their faith seriously they can see how many in previous generations have become co-opted by modern day “Caesars.” When they challenge this, they are told that to be a Christian is to be a member of the party. If you’re not with the party, then you’re not a Christian. You can’t be. So, they walk away.

Many people I know who are older saw this phenomenon in the Catholic Priest scandals of the 70s and 80s. They called it out and were silenced and walked away.

Now, we are seeing this in the realm of party politics.

This is not to say that Christians are to not be politically engaged. It means that our faith must be the primary lens by which political engagement is understood. When we lead with a principled faith position we will find that there is neither a political home on the right or the left. Both “Caesars” will be found wanting.

When we disentangle faith from party politics we begin to align more and more with Jesus' statement to “give to God” and “give to Caesar.”

If you look around and can’t believe a Christian can “vote for that party,” then you are most likely placing political identity before your identity in Christ. A significant part of my ministry since 2016 has been helping people understand that to be a member of a particular political party is not necessary to be a follower of Jesus.

The way of love transcends the demands of modern day party politics.

It is time to disentangle from party politics and say with the Commander of the Army of Lord, “Neither.”