As I’m typing this piece, there are exactly five hours until President-Elect Joe Biden’s inauguration as President of the United States. We will experience a change in regime, for better or worse, depending on your political stance and perspective. It is difficult to believe that just two weeks before, we saw four deaths as a slew of Trump sympathizers laid siege to the Capital building; some fitted with body armor and with tactical gear, and even a Viking helmet. There were housewives and husbands, decorated military and various individuals from different walks of life storming the house floor. Many of us have viewed the footage of angry rioters pushing past police and Capitol security. Once there, they chanted “treason,” “stolen election,” and “defend the Constitution,” with many focusing on searching for Senator Nancy Pelosi and stealing government documents once inside. Due to Vice President Mike Pence’s refusal to comply with President Trump’s demands to overturn the election results (a power the Vice President does not have), there were also chants of “hang Mike Pence.”
In addition to all of the tumult and violence that happened a peculiar thing happened— once this disenchanted and enraged group reached the House floor, Jake Angeli, the Viking helmeted de facto ringleader, takes a selfie standing in the spot where the vice president’s seat is. Shortly after this, group of five rioters gather around the Vice President’s seat; and begin praying. “Jesus Christ, we invoke your name. Amen,” shouts one man as cheers erupts from other rioters. “Let’s all say a prayer,” says Angeli, while holding an American flag. After laying down the flag and grabbing a megaphone, he begins his discourse: “Thank you, Heavenly Father, for this opportunity to stand up for our God-given inalienable rights. Thank you, Heavenly Father, for giving the inspiration needed these police officers to allow us in this building. To allow us to send a message to all the tyrants, the communists and the Globalists. That this is our nation, not theirs”.
While writing this, my mind flashes back to previous months of the year 2020 and the many protests, rioting and unrest that has happened on the streets of cities all over the nation such as Portland, Minneapolis, Louisville, Kentucky, and New York City, and even my own hometown of Columbus, Ohio, following the deaths of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Armand Arbury and so many other needless deaths at the hands of Police. Black Lives Matter supporters flooded the streets and united for the cause of racial justice to be enforced among law enforcement. The battle to eradicate systemic racism and bring swift justice for so many lives taken was no longer rhetoric. It was reality. As surreal as it was for us to see Facebook Live posts, history took shape before our eyes. A civil rights movement took shape and was happening in real time via the power of the internet and live cell phone footage. Among so many social media posts depicting Black Lives Matter and “Protect Black Life” and “Defund the Police,” there was also two presidential candidates. Before our nation could even take a breath, so to speak, it also had to decide what president would lead us through the next four years. What issues would said president address? What will he do about police brutality? How, if at all, will they address race relations? What will they do about COVID?
While the history shaping moments of things like George Floyd’s funeral, which included many gospel singers and stirring eulogies, there was also an election in the backdrop of 2020. With every election, the political rhetoric must touch the hot button issues of the day. As a result, we saw bi-partisan politics draw a hard line—both the Donkey, and the Elephant, took a side and pushed their agenda. We had a President, seemingly apathetic to the cries of African-Americans protesting police brutality and flat-out homicide of our own, and but then also many Democratic politicians standing with African-Americans and those who would challenge systemic racism and police brutality. An ideological and political divide is forming and solidifying. Social justice and racial equality on the left side, Patriotism and the upholding of Christian values, on the right. It would seem that the Church is following suit and drawing the same lines. We have many Christians, who challenge the ideas of Critical Race Theory, White Privilege and “Woke Christianity,” tending to lean more on the Republican or Conservative political leaning; on the other end of the spectrum, “Woke Christians,” who may lean more toward Liberal or Democrat attacking Christians who are politically Conservatives. The question for the Christian is: where should we stand? How involved should we be? What should the American Christian’s response be in all this? Should he or she simply pick a side? With so many issues falling under each “side” which should we care about more?
Jesus faced a similar conundrum in His day as well. The Israel that Jesus was born and grew up in was forced under the foot of Roman rule, and Roman taxes. In addition, Roman occupation of their homeland and were forced to subscribe to Roman ideals and culture. Under Roman rule and influence, once had to confess Caesar to be God. Roman rule allowed Jewish kings to rule over their native lands as provinces, but of course they were puppets; catering to the wishes of the Roman Empire should they fall out of favor and be executed.
L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin describes political climate of Jesus’ day as follows:
For the ordinary people of the Jewish homeland, Rome was a kind of dominant political factor. Although they might not have seen Romans on a day-to-day basis, the imposition of Roman power was certainly there. In the case of the client kingdom, Judea, Herod’s rule and Herod’s forces would have been the political entity. But everyone knew that Rome was the power behind the throne. Everyone knew that Rome was the source of both the wealth and also the source of some of the problems that occurred in the Jewish state. So, the political reality of the day was of a dominant power overseeing the life on a day-to-day basis.”
Naturally, this forced assimilation and display of puppet leadership, was seen as a blasphemy and disrespect in the highest degree. Not unlike our own times, there was government and policies that many in Jesus’ culture were outraged and angry over, causing massive amounts of civil unrest and tension. Many Jews saw the Herod’s parlaying with the Roman Empire as an abomination, an encroachment on the Jewish Religion, and the occupation of Rome as a violation of their religious right, as they were forced to interact with those who were not Jews. There were groups of Jews who banded together and violently opposed this way of life, rioting, and waging war in their own cities and towns.
What was Jesus’ response to His own political climate?
In Matthew 22, we see Jesus masterfully confront the political tension of His day:
15Then the Pharisees went out and conspired to trap Jesus in His words. 16They sent their disciples to Him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that You are honest and that You teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You seek favor from no one, because You pay no attention to external appearance. 17So tell us what You think: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”18But Jesus knew their evil intent and said, “You hypocrites, why are you testing Me? 19Show Me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. 20“Whose image is this,” He asked, “and whose inscription?” 21“Caesar’s,” they answered. So Jesus told them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” 22And when they heard this, they were amazed. So they left Him and went away.
Why was this such a poignant response? First, we have to examine the ideologies of the two parties who posed the question of paying taxes to Rome. The Pharisees were resentful of Roman rule in Israel and thought that paying taxes to Rome using a coin with a Roman ruler’s face on it was Idolatry; thus, violating Jewish law. The Herodians, on the other hand, were in support of Roman rule in Israel and didn’t see paying taxes as a violation of Jewish law. Both Pharisee and Herodians were opposed to one another, but both parties came together in attempt to fight against Jesus as a common enemy. The aim of the Pharisees and Herodians was to attempt to get Jesus to “pick a side.” If Jesus would have said, no it is not lawful to pay taxes, then the Pharisees would be able to say Jesus is siding with the Pharisees. The issue with this position is that Jesus would be suggesting that people should break the laws that Rome enforced. This would be treason and rebellion against Rome. Should Jesus have said it is lawful to pay taxes, He would have made Himself appear as though He is siding with the Herodians who appeared to be compromising their faith in order to stay in favor with Rome.
Christian Vlogger and apologist Whaddo You Meme?? in his YouTube video entitled, Jesus was in the same Political Boat as us, further fleshes out the significance of Jesus’ answer:
Remember that the coin not only had an image of Caesar on it, but it also had an inscription on it that said that Caesar is God by saying “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar and give back to God what is God’s He’s basically putting things in the right order. He allowed Caesar to have his proper place while He also reminded them of God’s true power overall. Jesus once again reminded people that these earthly regimes have their limit; and God is Still King.”
In short, what should be kept as paramount for the Christian is the question of citizenship. Sure, we are citizens of Earth, citizens of America, citizens of whatever state and county we reside in, but as citizens who belong to the Kingdom of God; we must not forget our Heavenly citizenship. As Philippians 3:20 states: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Ephesians 2:19 drives home what “side” we hail from: “Therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household.”
Jesus was always aware of His true citizenship. Let’s look to Jesus’s response to His political landscape as an example of how we should respond to our political and social climate. Let us contend for what Jesus contended for as He prayed to the father “Thy Kingdom come; thy will be done; on Earth as it is in Heaven.” As we embark on a new four years with a new president, regardless of what “side” you may feel inclined to choose or lean toward, I implore you please remember your true citizenship. As a citizen of the Kingdom of God, the King of the Universe; remember your that the government of Heaven is our holds our purpose and Holy mandate. That Holy mandate to facilitate the transfer of Heaven to earth, brining hope, redemption, and true law and order to man.
Follow Stan Turner on Instagram @psalmist80