The relationship between Church and state is one fraught with complexity and peril. This Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 22:15-21) features one of the signature scriptural texts on this relationship. Jesus says, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
Several years ago there was a news report about a state senator in Nebraska who filed a lawsuit against God, “seeking a permanent injunction to prevent God from committing acts of violence such as earthquakes and tornadoes.” A district court judge wisely threw the case out of court, citing the impossibility of serving a subpoena to God.
All sensible people can agree on the absurdity of suing God. But this story shows us a dramatic example of the consequences of seeing an absolute division between God and politics, between Church and state. The Church and state can become imprudently entangled, sometimes to disastrous effect. But there can also be too-sharp a division, one which sets the state against the free exercise of religious belief. And when this happens, people can come very close to saying that there is some part of human life over which God is not Lord.
Then they’re only a step away from making God a defendant, one Who is subject to our laws, our politics, our ideas.
God sets the record straight in Sunday’s First Reading (Isaiah 45:1, 4-6), saying, “I am the Lord and there is no other.” God is the Lord of all things, even politics and government.
The truth of God’s sovereignty finds an echo in most of our country’s founding documents, as well as the long tradition of presidential speeches, the existence of governmental chaplaincies, the Pledge of Allegiance, and countless other ways in which God’s providential rule has been honored in our society.
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