Jesus said to them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they marveled at him. -- Mark 12: 17 (ESV)
I have written before about the devolution of the evangelical vote over the past twenty years. In 1996 the evangelical clarion call was "Character counts" in response to the sexual indiscretions of Bill Clinton. In 2016 however, in response to the sexual and moral indiscretions of Donald Trump, the clarion calls are:
"We are not electing a pastor in chief!"
"Everyone is a sinner!"
"Let him who is without sin cast the first stone!"
This is of course glaringly hypocritical to the world, which is now starting to report on the ethical bankruptcy of the church that whines about morality while propping up Trump out of the corners of their mouths. The pastor in chief line is devoid of any shred of intellectual honesty because it is designed to be a catch phrase. I have heard evangelical pastors defend Trump similarly by saying things as absurd as, "I may not want him to teach Sunday school but But what? So you think that the man is too morally challenged to walk into your church and speak to your children but you want him running the country? Seriously? The "everyone is a sinner" defense is equally silly as the same argument can be made for anyone then, including his opponent. Just because everyone is a sinner does not mean everyone should be president. The last defense is what bothers me more as it tries to leverage the Bible to defend the unbiblical. I am sure that when Jesus spoke these words thousands of years ago He did so as a precursor to defending a man who thinks being a celebrity means he can move on married women like a b*tch and grab them by their vaginas. Call me a stickler for correct exposition but I don't think that was the teaching point Christ was going for.
I say this as a precursor for examining a recent statement from Liberty University President, Jerry Falwell Jr. Falwell has been a Trump enabler for awhile now. A seemingly unwavering surrogate, he has been consistently in the news defending the indefensible candidate. This apparently did not sit well with some of the student body at Liberty who recently made a public statement and submitted a petition asking Falwell to stop representing Liberty as a Trump defender. They correctly stated that Trump does not represent Christian values. Kudos to the kids for realizing their leader is simply wrong. Falwell however doubled down with his own statement where he primarily challenged how many students really were disagreeing. As if that was the point. His proof offered was that Mike Pence, who last time I checked was not Donald Trump, received five standing ovations when he recently spoke at Liberty. Wow. Let's just file that under "completely irrelevant" and move on to the truly disappointing portion of Falwell's statement:
The student statement also falsely claims that I am "touring the country" and associating Liberty University with Trump. The fact is, I traveled with the Trump campaign only one weekend in January, and I always make it clear to the media that my endorsement of Trump is my personal endorsement only and that I am not speaking for Liberty University, its students, faculty or staff. I am only fulfilling my obligation as a citizen to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's" by expressing my personal opinion about who I believe is best suited to lead our nation in a time of crisis. -- Jerry Falwell Jr.
Perhaps "touring the country" was a stretch but to pretend that Falwell is not one of the most vocal supporters of Donald Trump, every single day, is simply a lie. He just put out a statement claiming Trump will produce evidence refuting the recent accusations from several women about past sexual assaults. He recently refused to say that if the allegations were proven true that he would not still vote for Trump! The second point is in the disengenous nature of pretending his support is personal when you consider his position as President of Liberty. When you hold such a position everything you do and say is reflected back to your position. Every time he speaks he is referenced as Liberty's President. He would not even have a platform from which to speak without his role at the University.
The most egregious portion however is in the mangling of the key Scripture for today. This verse of course shows the complete indifference of Jesus for the political wranglings of His day yet Falwell uses the verse to pretend that it is ok to mix politics and religion as long as you somehow pretend you are not. In the story, the Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus in His words. They were trying to get him to comment on the poltical and carnal responsibility of paying taxes to Caesar. Jesus asks them whose face is on the coin and they respond Caesar. Thus render unto Caesar the things of Caesar and render unto God that which is God's. The story actually points out that Jesus saw their hypocrisy. The hypocrisy of mixing the carnal things of this world with the holy things of God.
The secondary twisting however is the notion that the obligation to pay taxes is the same as voting and specifically for endorsing a candidate. That is patently absurd. One is required to pay taxes. While it is considered good civic duty to vote, there is no requirement to vote. There is no law to. There is also no biblical mandate to. Even if there was, it certainly has nothing to do with endorsing a candidate. Jerry Falwell Jr. is not out there saying we should vote, he is saying who we should vote for. Matthew 12:17 speaks to the opposite of what Falwell twists it for. It shows the complete apathy for the affairs of the world that Jesus embodied in His ministry. For Falwell to misuse it as he does here either indicates an ignorance to Scripture or a lack of respect for it.
The students of Liberty were correct. Donald Trump represents nothing Christian and we should want nothing to do with him. We may not be electing a pastor in chief but we are still supposed to stand for something. Character is supposed to count still. Before you start attacking the character of his opponent realize that only makes you more hypocritical because you apply a moral test for one candidate and then proclaim everyone is a sinner when the same standard is applied to yours. The world may be blind spiritually but they are not blind carnally. Falwell's father was largely a punchline by the end of his career. His son is apparently on the fast track for that reckoning as well.