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SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Separation anxiety: tax and theology


MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 10 March) – Many would cite The Christ’s statement “Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, render unto God what belongs to God” as a basis for admonishing church people to desist from engaging in political issues. At first glance it looks valid except that those who are using it are doing so out of context.

The idea of separation of church and state was as alien as the concept of gay rights in those times. In fact, ancient and medieval rulers anchored their legitimacy on “divine rights.” Jewish kings acted as priests. At least one Roman ruler, Julius Caesar, anointed himself as Pontificus Maximus or High Priest. Yes, pontificus, the word from which Pontiff, another name used to address the Pope, came.

This isn’t to say there should be no separation of church and state. The point is, it wasn’t in anybody’s consciousness at the time.

Back to The Christ. He sensed that the question whether paying tax to the Romans was lawful was a trap laid by the Pharisees. If he said “yes”, it would alienate him from his own people who were burdened by the taxes imposed by Rome. If he said “no”, his enemies could accuse him of sedition or whatever was the equivalent of this crime under Roman law.

It was akin to being asked by a boy whether the proverbial bird in his hands was alive or dead.

The Christ, so the account goes, requested for a coin and asked whose face was inscribed on it. After the crowd shouted “Caesar’s” He gave that brilliant reply that left His audience enthralled and frustrated an attempt by his enemies to ensnare Him.

It was a clever way of skirting the dilemma using the image that symbolized the subjugation of the Jews, the emperor’s face on the coin. His enemies failed to realize it was a sarcastic way of repudiating Roman authority, not taxation per se since all governments exact taxes.

Fast forward to the present. There are those who are invoking this narrative in the Gospel to rant against leaders of the Catholic church who are voicing out their thoughts on the upcoming political exercise, the May 2022 elections. Yet, they were curiously silent when Apollo Quiboloy, the leader of a sect that looks more like a cult, endorsed their candidate of choice. A selective application of their uninformed interpretation of the church-state separation clause in the Constitution?

I say uninformed because such provision defines what the state cannot do, not what the church cannot do. The state cannot impose a religion and use public money to support it.

In addition, the provision doesn’t prohibit church people from expressing their sentiments on political and social issues. They remain citizens of the land and are guaranteed the same entitlements under the Bill of Rights. Why, they’re not even barred by law from seeking elective posts except that the Catholic church in particular prohibits its priests and bishops from doing so. I don’t know about other sects.

There’s one more thing: I would appreciate it if they could tell their candidate to fulfill his responsibility to government by complying with his tax obligations and the prison term for failing to do it. Never mind his duty to God.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at hmcmordeno@gmail.com.)

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