Render to Caesar the Things that Are Caesar’s Part 3

Render to Caesar the Things that Are Caesar’s Part 3 October 19, 2023


With this in mind, how might we apply rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s in our context today? 

I live in the United States. There are times when the claims of my citizenship here are in perfect harmony with the teachings I believe are in the Jesus story. There are times when those teachings call me to lean more deeply into my civic duties because of the demands of love of neighbor and the belief that every person is the object of Divine love. As Dr. Emilie Townes so poignantly says, “If you begin with the idea that God loves everyone, justice isn’t very far behind.”

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(Read this series from the beginning at Part 1 and Part 2.)

And there are times when the state demands of me actions that oppose the teaching I perceive in the Jesus story. I think of times when I’m asked to pledge allegiance to and support the American military-industrial complex. I think of the times when I’m asked to pledge allegiance to the economic exploitative and poverty-creating elements of a global capitalism. I think of when I’m called to pledge allegiance to American policies that still systemically hurt those made vulnerable. I think of the systemic racism and misogyny still baked into how we do things. 

Being a Jesus follower who is also an American is complicated. Sometimes I’m proud of this nation and happy to participate in its society and fulfill civic duties. At other times I’m ashamed of our national actions and I participate in our society by speaking out and by obstruction. As someone who both loves the Jesus of the Jesus story and many of America’s democratic aspirations, even when I speak out, it’s because of love. Love of neighbor is my highest call. But I also love this nation, or rather, I love the ideals this nation claims to aspire to. If a human society actually could live up to these high ideals, they would not contradict the ethics and values I read in the Jesus story. What I read in the Jesus story would lead me to lean into those high ideals and my civic duties if those ideals could be realized. And that’s the big “if.”

The values of the Jesus story call me to continually choose to work toward making our world a safe, compassionate, home for everyone. Wherever people are working to make American society a safe, compassionate home for everyone, I can come alongside them and participate in the work. Where they are working to make American society unsafe, lacking in compassion, and unjust, I can come alongside those working to oppose them. My allegiance is to love and justice and compassion first and foremost. My allegiance to America is contingent upon its fidelity to these values. I don’t give my country a blank check when it comes to my allegiance. When I oppose spaces that contradict the values I am most deeply committed to, I oppose them out of love for what we as a society could be if we leaned more deeply into the just demands of love of neighbor. 

This is what the gospel teaching render to Caesar those things that are Caesar’s and to God those things that are God’s means for me in my context today. It means to know the difference between the obligations of my civic duties as an American and to understand my higher commitments to love, justice and compassion. It means to hold the former wholly dependent on my fidelity to the latter. 


Finding Jesus book coverHerb’s new book, Finding Jesus: A story of a fundamentalist preacher who unexpectedly discovered the social, political, and economic teachings of the Gospels, is now available at Renewed Heart Ministries.

About Herb Montgomery
Herb Montgomery, director of Renewed Heart Ministries, is an author and adult religious re-educator helping Christians explore the intersection of their faith with love, compassion, action, and societal justice. You can read more about the author here.

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