Focal passages: Matthew 22:15-22; Romans 13:1; Revelation 13:9-10
As Americans we often take for granted our religious freedom.
Since December 15, 1791 and the ratification of the Bill of Rights, religious freedom was secured for every American. The first amendment begins “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” These sixteen words are as precious as they are unassuming.
One hundred and fifty-seven years later, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (10 December 1948). Article 18 affirms:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
Each year, member countries celebrate Human Rights Day. However, the reality of many of those member countries conflict with their pledge.
A report published May 2009 by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (www.uscirf.gov) names 13 countries where governments engaged in or tolerated particularly severe — meaning systematic, ongoing, and egregious — violations of religious freedom. Those countries named include China (1.3 billion — 19 percent of the world), along with Pakistan, Nigeria, Vietnam, Iran, Myanmar, Sudan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, North Korea, Eritrea and Turkmenistan (675 million — 10 percent of the world). Twenty-nine percent of the world’s peoples live within countries where there are “severe violations of religious freedom.”
What is the relationship between faith and duty to country?
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is confronted by this issue through a debate over Roman taxation. A silver denarius was levied against each male over 14 and each female over 12. Upon reaching the age of 66 a person was finally exempt from the tax (Frank Stagg, Matthew, The Broadman Bible Commentary, vol. 8, 1969, 206).
The denarius coin had the head of the emperor Tiberius and the Latin inscription TI CAESAR DIVI AUG F AVGVSTVS “Augustus Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus” on one side, and the seated goddess Roma…symbolizing the Pax Romana and the inscription PONTIF MAXIM which identified Tiberius as the high priest of the Roman religion on the other side (David L. Turner. Matthew. Baker, 2008, 528).
The coin’s image revealed that it belonged to Caesar, and should, therefore, be rendered to Caesar. In Rom. 13:1 Paul agrees with a legitimate role for the state.
Each person, moreover, is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26), and therefore uniquely belongs to God (David E. Garland, Reading Matthew, Smyth & Helwys, 2001, 227). When the state demands that which rightfully belongs to God, then the Christian must resist the state (Revelation 13).