I said the other day that the religious left treats America as a church just as much as the religious right does. Since the cliché is that this is only true of the religious right and people who don’t run in mainline circles just do not know how political these denominations are, let me show you something that has me pretty irritated.
All you need to know about the religious left is in this poster that the in-group in my denomination have been sending around:
My response to Carter is that of course we should stop saying we want a country based on Christian values. President Carter thinks that compassion for the poor requires the welfare state. He thinks that those on the right who think America is a church are hypocrites. Notice, though, that he seems to think America is a church too, and it would be a better church if it spent more on what he thinks are policies based on Christian values.
But do we want a theocracy? Do we want public policy in a secular state based on a particular interpretation of a religion? The majority of Americans identify as Christians. Does that make America a church and our taxes donations to its cause?
Jesus did support paying alms. He also supported paying taxes. But they were very different things. He did not conflate them as though paying taxes was the same as alms for the poor. Rendering to Caesar was not the same as helping the poor.
Do you think that Jesus thought Caesar would use taxes for benevolent purposes? Don’t you think Jesus knew Caesar would build his army, his roads, his aqueduct’s, his gladiatorial stadiums, and his pagan temples? Don’t you think Jesus knew his tax money would support the institution of slavery and the interests of the patrician class in Rome? Taxes, for Jesus, had nothing to do with compassion for the poor.
Rome was not the people of God, just as America is not the church today. The majority of voters may be Christian. But there are red Christians and blue Christians, red churches and blue churches. There are churches like mine that sometimes seem like an arm of the Democratic Party. And there are also lots of churches that abhor Democrats and support Republicans. And then there are Christians like me, who don’t really get the politics-and-religion thing. Is there really any more reason to expect America to act like a church than there was to expect Rome to act like a church?
Observant Jews and Christians had an obligation to the poor. But they did not express it by thinking their taxes were like donations to a charity.