Glenn Beck is a polarizing figure. People seem to land in one of two camps — they either love him or loathe him. He’s either the savior of our democratic state or a catalyst to toxic political debates around the country. Just a week ago, he held a rally that drew thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, to Wasington D.C. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It’s clear that a large percentage of the country loves Beck’s message.
What surprised me from the articles I’ve read and the video segments I’ve seen, is how religious the rally was. Beck was calling on Americans to restore honor to our country by getting serious about God again. He discouraged people from bringing placards that backed politicians. He didn’t want this to be a political rally. It was about taking our country back. It was about restoring honor. It was about becoming more moral. They celebrated the good in America’s history and they honored America’s troops all with gratitude to God.
An article on Beck’s website describes what Beck is doing and the movement he is leading this way:
Beck is building solidarity and cultural confidence in America, its Constitution, its military heritage, its freedom. This is a vision that is despised by people who have long held the commanding heights of the culture, but it is obviously alive and kicking. Beck is creating positive themes of unity and patriotism and freedom and independence (Glenn Beck’s Website)
He is “building solidarity and cultural confidence in America.” Beck is telling us that we are good. He is saying that the high points in our history far outstrip the low points. He is saying that God has particularly blessed America. Our history is good and our potential for a brighter tomorrow is good. He is saying, “America, believe in yourself and believe that God has blessed us and then get out there and be moral. Work hard, make money, support the military, and don’t let the government take over control of our lives.” It’s a message that is simultaneously hopeful and encouraging. It is a message that says that we the people are good while they the politicians are bad. It’s a message that says, if we would only be ourselves, our true selves, as we’ve always been at our core, then we could reclaim and restore our original honor.
This past week I preached on Matt. 22:16-22. It’s the passage where the Pharisees ask Jesus whether it’s okay to pay taxes to Caesar or not. Jesus highlights the idolatrous nature of the coin (and money) and then says, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. As I read the passage and prepared my sermon, Glenn Beck and all those who cry out against the government and against it’s ever increasing slide towards socialism came to mind. In this story, the Pharisees are lamenting the taxes they have to pay to the Roman government. They come to Jesus to confirm the idea that God is against tyrannical governments. It’s the same question that Beck and many of his followers are asking. The sentiment portrayed by many of Beck’s followers is strikingly similar to that of the Pharisees’ question. One rally attender put it this way:
Ryan Townsend, 35, of Parkersburg, W.Va., said he came Saturday because, “I’m not going to sit idly by while tyranny and socialism replace our Constitution.” (Washington Post)
The Jews of Jesus day hated to pay their taxes just as much as Ryan Townsend. They also considered themselves to be under the oppression of a tyrant, and they similarly saw the power of the tyrant expressed in the bondage they felt to paying taxes. That’s why they posed this question to Jesus:
“Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”” (Matthew 22:17 ESV)
The Pharisees and many of the Jews assumed that in order to restore honor to themselves and to their nation, they would have to stop paying taxes. But surprisingly, Jesus says is, pay your taxes. The level of importance you place in that coin is idolatrous. By paying your taxes you will be relieving yourself of the burden of carrying that idolatrous coin around. He is saying, you should pay your taxes even if your government is as tyrannical as the Roman Empire and it’s leader is as great a delusional megalomaniac as Tiberius Caesar, who happened to think he was divine. Jesus says, whether your leader is Tiberius Caesar or Barak Obama, and whether your government is democratic, tyrannical or socialist, “Pay your taxes!”
Don’t pay them because your hope and trust is in Caesar. Don’t pay them because your identity and hope for the future is in your government. Pay them because you can still give to God what is God’s even while you give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. You can pay your income tax and still have everything you need to give to God what is God’s. You can pay your taxes and still have a full and content life as well as a hopeful future. You don’t need all your income to be happy. You don’t need all your money to have worth. Jesus championed the radical idea that you don’t need to avoid taxes or live under a just government to restore your honor.
But so long as we are obsessed with income tax brackets we are just like the Pharisees. We are missing the point. We love money and think that we need it to be happy. Jesus is trying to set us free from our bondage to money. He is proclaiming the radical message that you and I can be happy whether we are rich or poor. Whether we pay taxes or not, we can still give to God what is God’s.