October 23, 2006

Voting God’s Way
by Pastor George Van Alstine

“Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.â€? (Mark 12:17)

This was Jesus’ answer to a trap question he was asked by a group of Pharisees and Herodians.

Pharisees and Herodians—that’s kind of like Republicans and Democrats. They represented two extremes in Jerusalem politics of Jesus’ day. The question they asked was, “Should we Jews pay taxes to the Roman Emperor?â€?

If he said Yes, the Pharisees, who were committed to Jewish nationalism, would start voice-mailing their friends that Jesus was a collaborator with Rome. If he said No, the Herodians, who believed the Jews’ best hope was in 100% support of the Roman agenda, would call a press conference to announce that Jesus was a dangerous insurrectionist.

We live in a political climate somewhat like that as we approach our November 7 National election. There is a lot of polarization and name-calling, and it’s quite common for people to identify their position as God’s position.

Jesus’ answer to their question is fascinating. He used a gold coin as a prop, asking, “Whose image is on this?â€? After their halting response, Jesus made the great statement with which we started. I’ve heard it said by preachers that Jesus side-stepped the political issue and avoided taking sides. But he didn’t; he clearly came down on the side of the Herodians, that Jews should pay taxes to Rome: “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s.â€?

But he trumped this issue with a greater concern. Your relationship with Rome is important, but your relationship with God is more important: “Give to God the things that are God’s.â€?

Since both Pharisees and Herodians thought their views were rooted in their faith in God, Jesus was showing them that their passion about Roman taxation should be at least matched by their passion to please God in committed lives of faith. He cut through to their deeper heart need, and that’s why they were “utterly amazed at him.â€?

As we approach our November 7 voting day, some of us feel strongly on one side or the other about political parties, candidates and propositions on the ballot. We may feel so strongly that we can’t see how another person can believe the opposite and still be a Christian. When we are that far from a fellow-believer on an issue regarding this earthly life, we need to turn our attention from the image on the coin to the image of God in our friend. Christians ought to lead the way in mutual respect in the political arena.

But there are other Christians who say, “Bah, they’re all crooks; I’m not voting.â€? If you have that impulse, remember that Jesus did not say: “Don’t give the emperor anything; your only allegiance is to God.â€? He told his questioners that all of them, Herodians and Pharisees, Democrats and Republicans, had a civic responsibility to participate in the government under which they live their lives. Rather than withdrawing in judgment because of how corrupt it is, they ought to bring their moral discernment into the political arena and make a difference for the good.

So, vote on November 7! That’s your responsibility as part of this community and Nation.

And, more important, be in church November 5! That’s your greater responsibility as a citizen in the eternal Kingdom of God.