.. that which belongs to Caesar and to God that which belongs to God’. Thus Jesus’ typically cryptic way of handling a trap set for him by the authorities. It has sometimes been used to justify the separation of religion from politics. The press and politicians can be quick to tell bishops to get back in their box if they are seen to be interfering. (The fact that there are 26 bishops in the House of Lords might suggest they have a role but perhaps they are thought only to be there to pray or spread a sort of spiritual fragrance.*) But if faith without works is dead, doesn’t the church have something to do with the general welfare of all? As an institution it is welcomed by politicians for its practical contribution but not if it expresses an opinion about policy.
When it comes to us ordinary folk, it can be the same in some churches and denominations – some say politics and religion should be kept apart. Running a lunch club or collecting for a food bank may be ok but discussion about the causes underlying the need for these is a step too far for some. But perhaps it depends on what we mean by ‘politics’.
We may agree that a place of worship is not the place for party politics, but if ‘politics’ refers to the governance of our shared life, how can we avoid it? (Maybe we should talk about ‘civic life’ rather than ‘politics’.) In ‘Moving Swiftly On’ , two blogs ago, I referred to Jesus setting out his ‘manifesto’ about preaching good news to the poor etc (Luke Chapter 4.) The bible, whatever its complexity, is pretty clear about our duty to the needy and the stranger throughout the old and new testaments. It may make uncomfortable reading but if we are to ‘give to God what belongs to God’, does this not include taking seriously the injustice we see around us? If people of faith are not free to speak and act in the cause of justice, if we are only to pray and pass round the collection plate, then I don’t believe we are following the Master who named oppression and was often to be found in the company of the ‘underclass’.
In writing this I freely acknowledge that I’m preaching to myself and will have to answer for ‘what I have left undone’!
* the Church of England website says:
Their presence in the Lords is an extension of their general vocation as bishops to preach God’s word and to lead people in prayer. Bishops provide an important independent voice and spiritual insight to the work of the Upper House and, while they make no claims to direct representation, they seek to be a voice for all people of faith, not just Christians.