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Caesar’s Things

By Elizabeth Cranford Garcia

Last night was one of those rare nights that I couldn’t sleep, turning over and over in my head a social media exchange about politics. I say rare because this is exactly why I’ve mostly avoided social media for months now. Seeing the constant stream of antagonism/ignorance/self-righteousness keeps me up at night and occupies my mind during the day, which is really not fair to my children.

This was prompted by my decision to share an article that I felt expressed my point of view about the overlap between politics and faith–specifically, the idea that voting one way or another would make one a “real Catholic,” or in my case, a “real Mormon.” My instinct is to utterly reject this judgmental stance; aside from the sheer number of truly righteous, covenant-keeping Latter-day Saints I know on both sides of the political spectrum, the idea that there is only one way to “righteously” interpret the vast web of complicated issues and questions of moral leadership is glaringly facile. 

Yet it does raise a legitimate question:  

Does God judge us according to how we vote? Does He weigh our souls in the balance when we click one candidate over another, or choose one party over another?

What did the Savior teach about political engagement, and how he judges our civic decisions and stances?

As I pondered this last night, my thoughts turned immediately to Christ’s exchange with the Pharisees, in which they asked him his opinion about taxes: “Is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar?” (Matthew 22:21).

Of course, it was a loaded question. Was it “lawful” in terms of Roman law, or in terms of the “law” of Moses that prohibited Jews from interacting with Gentiles and deemed unclean any mixture of the two cultures?

His answer, to show them a coin and advise them to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” was not merely a clever dodge. It revealed a cognitive space between temporal government, steeped in flaws and imperfect men, and religious belief in a higher, perfect being whose ways are higher than our ways. 

Yet He also phrased this in the imperative, “render,” implying that we are not condemned for engagement in these flawed systems, that we are to be subject to the temporal conditions under which we find ourselves–and can still maintain our purity and standing before God, as long as we render unto God what is His.

He has also told us that until He returns to rule, to institute a perfect government, we will “wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against power, against the rules of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Is there any government in this world that is not flawed? That isn’t influenced by the philosophies of men mingled with scripture? How is it possible for our church–for Zion and all her stakes–to exist in more than 160 countries worldwide, with 167 temples, without embodying the core values of the ___________ party (fill in the blank)?

Precisely because it is possible to live the gospel, to have church members in good standing, amidst a wide range of governments and ideologies, all on different points of the capitalist-socialist spectrum. I mean, how on earth can they have so many temples in Europe with all those social programs and liberal philosophies taking away their religious liberties?? 

So then–what will He judge us on? Our hearts. The presence of enmity. If we treat others with contempt, or compassion. If we love our neighbor. I can think of at least three speakers at the recent General Conference who emphasized these teachings. Within Zion, we are to “be one; and if ye are not one, ye are not mine” (D&C 38:27). We are to have our “hearts knit together in unity and in love towards another” (Mosiah 18:21). 

If we are to be a Zion people,  we are to be “of one heart and one mind” (Moses 7:18). 

How do we do this? How do we attempt to be of one heart and mind with those whose political opinions we find appalling? This is something that has occupied my mind now for years. Does being “of one mind” mean we’re supposed to agree on every civic issue? I doubt it. God knows well the complexities of every issue, of the political parties, the historical context of every debate–all that we don’t know we don’t know–and, I believe, focuses his judgment on the desires of our hearts.

I find Alma’s example of brotherly love compelling. During his mission to the Zoramites, who were publicly proclaiming, “We thank thee, O God, for we are a chosen people unto thee, while others shall perish” (Alma 31:28)–what was Alma’s reaction, other than condemning their attitude as wicked? He said “Behold, O Lord, their souls are precious, and many of them are our brethren.” 

How do you seek unity with church members whose political opinions vary drastically from your own?

About Elizabeth Cranford Garcia

Elizabeth Cranford Garcia is the current Poetry Editor for Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought, previous Poetry Editor for Segullah, and a contributor to Fire in the Pasture: 21st Century Mormon Poets. Her work has appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies, and her first chapbook, Stunt Double, was published in 2015 through Finishing Line Press. Her three small children compete with her writing for attention, and usually win.

4 thoughts on “Caesar’s Things”

  1. Such good points. I have this question as I read: "Whose mind are we to be one with?" It would seem that a Zion people would have the will and mind of God…especially since men and women are fallible. To me, it makes much more sense to not seek unity with a church or with others. I seek for understanding their perspectives and then ask what God wants me to do about it.

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  2. I am part of a small, important-to-me group of LDS spiritual seekers/students. There is a clear ideological divide between our members which was threatening our very existence. We manage the division with mutual respect and real love, always emphasizing our common commitment to God and to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We never talk politics because it's a useless conversational effort, at least at this point. We acknowledge then ignore things the "other side" sends us that we vehemently disagree with. We meet virtually once a week and we stay in love by staying centered on our One Love. It's a challenge, to be sure. But unity is absolutely critical to our hope as a Zion people.

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  3. Heather, I have realized the same thing about unity. I feel that Zion will be built from the inside out, not the outside in. In other words, Zion will come about as people change their hearts and more closely align with God's will. I think there are some ways we can change society and some structural changes that will enable this more easily, but you can't create true and lasting unity purely by enforcement.

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  4. This really spoke to me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, they made me feel less alone. I really do want to know what God wants me to do – even with my vote – but I do truly believe most people in both parties have good intentions. I wish everyone would give their brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt. Or just focus on seeking the mind and will of God instead of casting judgement from their (supposed by each side) place of superiority. Such a crazy time!

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