Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s

By Jim Jones
JJ Commontater

Jim JonesAs Idaho Christians gather together on Easter to celebrate the life and legacy of Jesus Christ, it is an ideal time to reflect on his wisdom that cuts across all of society. He was a powerful advocate for the poor, downtrodden and oppressed. Jesus urged us to love one another and treat others as we wished to be treated. He admonished us to take in strangers, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and give drink to the thirsty.

He was strongly committed to social justice and expected the same of his followers.

These principles are quite common to the world’s organized religions and widely recognized outside of the sectarian world. If most of society generally observed these teachings, we would not have anywhere near the anger, fear, hatred and discord that currently afflicts our everyday lives in Idaho and the rest of the nation. I believe a major reason for the current strife-ridden state of affairs is our increasing failure to follow an important, but often ignored, Christian touchstone.

Jesus was one of the earliest and most important advocates for separation of church and state. As he succinctly put it: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” In other words, our government acts in the temporal realm, while God is in control of the spiritual realm. We have seen a blurring of those lines in Idaho in recent years, with some zealous Christian organizations seeking to use the government to regulate everyday life in accordance with their religious views.

Christian nationalist groups like the Idaho Family Policy Center have pushed legislation to restrict the right of parents to obtain necessary medical care for transgender children, have cast aspersions upon the LGBTQ community and have falsely claimed that librarians and teachers are trying to sexualize our children. The Christian nationalist Alliance Defending Freedom has worked closely with Idaho’s Attorney General to defeat the constitutional rights of LGBTQ Idahoans in federal and state court proceedings. In both the court and legislative arenas, the LGBTQ community has been falsely portrayed as a serious threat to Idaho kids that must be opposed at every turn. Consequently, the health and safety of LGBTQ Idahoans have been put at risk.

It was particularly disturbing to read of the murder of Don Henderson in Orofino last week by two members of the Aryan Knights prison gang. Henderson’s partner, Ron Thompson, told a reporter that he’d lived with Henderson for about a decade but moved out in 2018 because “he just couldn’t stand living in Idaho anymore, especially as a gay man.” He said that previous to his murder, “Henderson was assaulted and threatened by people who speculated that he was gay.” When persons in authority vilify members of a minority, it can result in unfair discrimination or even violent action.

Just a few months ago, I had the opportunity to act as the judge in a play commemorating the sentencing hearing for the person who murdered Steven Nelson, a gay man, near Lake Lowell in April 2016. It was an extremely moving reenactment, with the heart-felt testimony of his family members. He was a thoroughly decent person who did nothing to deserve such senseless violence.

I’m not accusing Christian nationalists and like-minded government officials of being complicit in these horrific crimes against LGBTQ victims, but when people who pretend to speak for a wide swath of the religious community regularly vilify a segment of society, it can lead to unfortunate results. There is no credible evidence that LGBTQ folk are more prone to abusive conduct against others than straight folk. On the other hand, LGBTQ folk are much more likely to be the subject of violent attacks by members of the straight community. Wrong-headed governmental leaders can contribute to an unhealthy, violence-prone mindset amongst an unstable segment of society.

Legislators and those who pretend to speak Christian values to government policy makers have a responsibility to know what Christ taught and the values he stood for–love, compassion, understanding and social justice–rather than trying to push a vengeful narrative that serves their own political agenda. Mixing religion into a regulatory agenda is a recipe for abuse and repression. Christ should be better served, particularly on the day set aside to celebrate his remarkable legacy.