How Do We “Render Unto Caesar” in a Democracy?

CaesarThe following exchange takes place between Jesus and the Pharisees in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22: 16-22.

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words.16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.[b] 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.[c] 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

Several Trump evangelicals are using this verse to justify their support for the POTUS.

Over at the Anxious Bench, Chris Gehrz asks a question about coins:

So how might we hear Matthew 22:21 differently if we’re looking at the metallic relief of a long-dead president who held limited power for a relatively short period of time, rather than that of a living emperor with the hubris to believe himself a figure of unimpeachable power?

Great question.

Gehrz, a history professor at Bethel University, adds:

Perhaps we’d then hear “render unto Caesar” as a reminder that, if American Christians owe limited allegiance to any secular authority, they owe it to no one person, but to the American people, who govern themselves through elected representatives sworn to protect the Constitution. The same Constitution that keeps even presidents from benefiting financially from their position, from obstructing the work of those who investigate lawbreaking, or from inventing fake national emergencies in order to subvert the work of those who make laws.

So render to God what is God’s: your image-bearing self commanded to love other image-bearers. And render to Trump what is Trump’s: your responsibilities as an American citizen to dissent from unwise and unjust uses of American power and to hold American demagogues accountable for their attempts to play Caesar.

Read Gehrz’s entire piece here.  It deserves a wide readership, especially for his thoughts on court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr.’s use of this verse.

"The Wealth of Nations," the "Sermon on the Mount," and Poverty in the Early Republic

Gabriel Loiacono, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, checks in with another report from last weekend’s thirty-sixth annual meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic in Philadelphia. Thanks for Gabriel’s great work as correspondent at SHEAR for The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  Click here to read his previous report.
An Erudite Opera in Four Parts
SHEAR President John Larson’s presidential address, last Saturday evening, was big-thinking and light-hearted all at the same time.  Entitled “An Inquiry into Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations,” Larson also called his talk a comic opera in four acts.  In between the occasional comic leavening, Larson’s goal was to tackle Adam Smith’s famous work, and to pose the question: did Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” upend Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount when it comes to our attitude towards poverty?  While I can’t do justice to Larson’s whole talk, and I assume it will appear in the Journal of the Early Republic as past presidential addresses have, I can give you a taste of what it hit upon.  It traced the varying meanings of the word “Fortune,” from uncontrollable circumstances to a pile of cash.  It traced the uses to which Smith’s work was put, from his own assumptions of Christian charity and a common good to readings which stripped those assumptions away.  The villain of Act IV of Larson’s talk was undoubtedly Francis Wayland, the Baptist pastor and president of Brown University, in whose works Larson finds a sanctification of the most ruthless readings of Smith’s “Wealth of Nations.” 
As a scholar of poverty, and as a teacher of the survey, I appreciated Larson’s big sweep and inclusion of poverty in the story.  I highly recommend it to all readers of the JER.  And, of course, it whet a large number of SHEAR-ites to come back for more great scholarship on Sunday morning.  Always a tough time, I was pleased to see lots of listeners in that time slot.
Signing off,
Gabriel