An important theme of Old Testament history is the way
in which God's people Israel related to the other nations surrounding them. The
people of the covenant were not to follow the idolatrous practices of those
nations. Israel, after all, had the benefit of God's revealed law. The other
nations did not.
One thing that the Israelites wanted to imitate, however, was the fact that
other nations had a king. At one point they demanded of Samuel the prophet,
"Give us a king!" Upon consulting the Lord, Samuel was told, "They have asked
for a king---Give them a king." But God also gave this essential warning: both
the people and their king have a king in heaven! The well-being of the entire
nation depends on the obedience which both the king and his people give to the
King of heaven. (See 1 Samuel 8:1-22 and 12:13-15.)
The Lord Jesus expressed the same theme in Matthew 22: 15-22. When asked
whether taxes should be paid to Caesar, Jesus asked whose image and inscription
was on the coin. "Caesar's," came the answer---The Lord then said, "Then give to
Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God" (Mt. 22:21).
The coin belongs to Caesar, for it bears Caesar's image. Human beings belong
to God, for they bear God's image! The implication of the passage is that "What
belongs to God" includes Caesar himself! Caesar must obey God.
Both the passage from 1Samuel and from Matthew's Gospel teach what the Second
Vatican Council commented upon at length,1 namely, that separation of Church and
state does not mean separation of God and state. If you separate the state from
God, the State disintegrates. While the Church does not have a political
mission, she nevertheless has a political responsibility: to bear witness to
those moral truths without which the common good---which is the very purpose for
which governments are instituted---cannot survive. These moral truths are basic
and go beyond the bounds of any denominational beliefs. Because they are truths,
they must shape public policy.
Not only do individuals have a duty to obey God, but so do governments.
Moreover, the People of God do not lose their citizenship on earth by virtue of
the fact that they are citizens of heaven (see Phil. 3:20). If anything, our
belief in heaven makes us more concerned about earth, not less concerned. Why?
Because the good that we bring about on earth is not lost in the next world, but
remains and grows.2 Human life and activity continue in the world to come, which
is why they are so important to us now.
Christians have a duty to be politically active, to register and vote,3 to
lobby and educate candidates and elected officials, and to speak up about the
issues that affect the common good. The US bishops have stated it beautifully:
"In the Catholic tradition, citizenship is a virtue; participation in the
political process is an obligation. We are not a sect fleeing the world, but a
community of faith called to renew the earth."4 The Church does not set up the
voting booths, but when we go into the voting booths, we don't cease to be
members of the Church! If we don't shape public policy according to moral
truths, why do we believe that moral truth at all?
Now is the time, now is the challenge. No longer are we to think of our
religion as a purely "private matter." Christ taught in public and He was
crucified in public. Now risen from the dead, He places us in the public arena,
with the commission to make disciples of all nations (See Mt. 28:18-20). May we
not fail Him or our nation.