I am very concerned. As a citizen of the United States, I am called to “render unto Caesar” by voting in the upcoming General Election for the presidency of my country. I am tempted to follow the path of about half of the eligible voters and not cast my ballot at all. I feel like we’re in some kind of parallel universe where we are called to vote for the person placing second to last in the most important contest in our land. Without naming names or stating platforms, I am faced with an almost impossible decision. I take solace in God’s providence and His ability to write straight with crooked lines, but it still leaves me wanting.
Crooked Political Lines
The word crooked has been used quite a bit in this election cycle. I think it is too weak a word to describe the candidates and our political system in general. There are no winners here; only losers to a cancerous growth that has metastasized to the limits of our national body.
A dinner sponsored by Catholic Charities, designed to provide a much-needed cease-fire in the middle of bloody battle, turned out to be an escalation of warfare and an embarrassment. Instead of laughter, there were boos, and in place of comic relief, there were sighs of grief among the attendees (and many viewers, I’m sure). Instead of handshakes at the debates, there were awkward gestures and facial expressions. Both parties have become caricatures of themselves, and as close to pathetic in their engagement as they could possibly get without actually experiencing mutual self-destruction.
How have we gotten to this point? Who or what is to blame? What can be done? If Jesus walked among us today, what would He say?
The Election and the Temple Tax
When Jesus did walk among us, Caesar was indeed the leader and sole ruler of the Roman Empire. Caesar presided over a corrupt and unjust system of government that oppressed the Jewish people and made daily life almost unbearable.
The method of taxation alone had the extra twist of usurping money through the agency of the Jews’ own people. Tax collectors were despised because they were legally allowed to tack on additional amounts that were over and above that due to Caesar. Only prostitutes were considered as lowly as they were. Today these two professions could easily produce more qualified candidates for the highest office in our land. Yes, I’m exaggerating, but well within the “margin of error” that has been bandied about so much in this election.
The question that was posed to Jesus in Scripture (Mark 12:17) applies here. With a slight adjustment, the question becomes one of discerning the degree of involvement I must undertake in matters of government. Should I vote for “the lesser of two evils”? Should I vote just as a kind of preemptive strike to prevent one of the candidates from being elected? Should I vote at all?
Church teaching, as sound as it is, will not make the decision for me. I am called to consult my conscience and proceed accordingly. God’s grace, Sacred Scripture, and Church teaching are all abundantly available to me to ensure that my conscience is as properly formed as it can be. The rest, as they say, is up to me.
Proportionality and Good Stewardship
As we near Election Day, care must be taken to maintain a balance between civic duty and fidelity to Christian faith. We are called to hold faith and reason in creative tension. The both/and of theology and mystery must coexist with the either/or temporal decisions we are called to make here on Earth and in our country.
Our government officials, elected or appointed, are tasked with the stewardship of our collective tax dollars to fund the temple that is the United States of America. Good stewardship is another matter altogether. In a good-fair-poor model of grading, fair to poor seems to be the general consensus on both sides of the aisle. Let us pray for the grace and strength to render what belongs to good citizenship, and to render unto God what belongs to God.