Anyone who has read my column knows that I am an ardent supporter of the separation of church and state.
Not only is this a cardinal Baptist principle, though not widely accepted by Baptists anymore, but it is also a clear biblical principle.
Render unto Caesar, Jesus said, and render unto God. Nothing could be clearer except for those who want to obscure the issue for their own purposes.
Here is a good example.
Speaker of the House John A. Boehner, who grew up in a Roman Catholic family in Ohio, was invited to give the commencement address on May 14 at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
This is a prestigious Catholic venue primarily for its setting in Catholic Church circles for America’s Catholic bishops.
In the run-up to Boehner’s speech, criticism of his national budget priorities became a source of controversy.
According to a New York Times story, more than 75 professors at Catholic University and other prominent Catholic colleges wrote a very critical letter to Boehner saying that the Republican proposed budget he supported in the House will hurt the poor, the elderly and the vulnerable. The letter also alleges that these policies fail to uphold basic Catholic moral teachings.
“Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance from one of the church’s most ancient moral teachings,” the letter states. “From the apostles to the present, the magisterium of the church has insisted that those in power are morally obligated to preference the needs of the poor. Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress. This fundamental concern should have great urgency for Catholic policy makers. Yet even now, you work in opposition to it.”
The letter goes on to criticize Boehner’s support for budget cuts for Medicare, Medicaid, and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program while granting tax cuts to wealthy corporations.
Here is my point: When do religious concerns stop being simply religious concerns and become issues of the common good?
Obviously, the Catholic bishops and other Catholic leaders who criticized Boehner drew their criticism from theological interests. But is there a point where theology and the common good of society coincide?
Because if there is – if there is a place where religiously motivated social concerns coincide with what is simply good for our society – then their concerns stop being only religiously motivated concerns and become concerns that are good for everyone.
They are no longer merely theological issues, but issues of justice. And justice issues should be the concern of all citizens – not just people of faith.
Jesus suggested that there were two spheres of influence in this world – God and Caesar.
In his remarks he did not discredit either one, but rather suggested that each had a role to play. I wonder if he was suggesting that in some ways the two were supposed to work together.
This may have particular application for people of faith. We are called to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and our neighbors as ourselves. And then, we are to be in the world but not of the world.
At the same time, Jesus taught us to pray for God’s will to be done, “on earth, as it is in heaven.”
What’s working there that’s not working here?
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.