Friday, January 08, 2010

Rendering to Caesar… AND to God

The separation of church and state is a broad and fuzzy thing. Some think that there is a bold line dividing the two but it can quickly become complicated. For example, churches are exempt from taxes but still benefit from fire, police and other government services. Of course, it can be argued that the members of the church are tax-paying citizens and already pay for such services. Moreover, as a government of the people, we have a say in creating these local codes.

The Fire Department, on the other hand, does come in and enforce fire regulations, the police enforce the law within the walls of the church, and all local regulations involving food handling and public safety must be followed. It can often be costly and annoying but we still must comply.

Another complication has occurred with programs funded by the government through faith-based initiatives. Some on both sides worry about government sponsored religion and/or government interference.

Many organizations have been able to “render unto Caesar” and unto God as well. One example is the Baptist Temple Daycare. It is state licensed and follows all sate and local codes. Because it is a Christian daycare center, we teach the children about Jesus. The state does not have a problem with that.

Another example is a free summer lunch program aimed at feeding children who were receiving free lunch at school. Because this program was government funded, we could not do anything “religious” during the lunch hour. By religious they mean praying, sharing your faith, talking about God, etc. They did not mean such other religious practices as feeding the hungry, befriending the poor, showing yourself to be an example of Christ, etc.

Moreover, Christian programming before or after lunch would be fine. What the government wants is that the lunch be open to everyone in the community and that no one be forced into a religious indoctrination that the government is funding. I can live with that.

As American taxpayers we all (even Christians) have a say as to how our tax dollars are spent. As Christians we have an obligation to minister to our neighbor. Christians have as much right to use government funds as atheist and secular humanists. If only secular humanists are using government funds to help the community, then Christians are not only at a disadvantage but being poor stewards of resources that come from God. Isn’t God Lord of all?

I’m not saying that the government should favor Christianity. The government ought to remain neutral over issues of faith and belief. I am saying that as citizens and taxpayers, Christians ought not to fear the government but, rather, take our rightful place at the table and help improve our communities by helping the under-resourced. This makes us both Christlike and good citizens.

“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,
and to God the things that are God’s.”
Matthew 22:21 (New King James Version)

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