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FEATURES: "The Things That Are Caesar"

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FEATURES: "The Things That Are Caesar"

Heber H. Votaw

Associate Secretary, General Conference Religious Liberty Department

 

It is my conviction that a fitting appreciation of citizenship in the municipality, the county, the State, the nation in which one lives, will manifest itself in a proper contribution to all civic activities, in a full recognition of a citizen's duties and obligations, and in the proper respect for all officials. The same Christ that told us to render "to God the things that are God's," bade us render "to Caesar the things that are Caesar's."

I am sure that, by and large, public officials are anxious to do the best they can to discharge the trust imposed upon them. Their task is not easy. Conflicting interests demand consideration. No citizen may rightfully be refused a hearing. The forces of evil are vocal and insistent. Naturally they present their wishes or demands in the most favorable way possible, so that their selfishness may not appear too bald. Far too frequently those citizens who believe in and long for good government do nothing to impress officials with their interest in civic matters.

It is much easier to criticize for failures than to suggest measures for success. It seems that most people feel that when a public servant does the things they want done he has only done his. duty, and is entitled to no special word of appreciation; but if his course does not meet their approval, he merits censure, and they are quick to voice their disapproval. This re mark is credited to a cynical Congressman: When a Representative or Senator gets a man appointed as a postmaster, he "makes many enemies and one ingrate."

Some time ago I accompanied one of our brethren who was commissioned to ask a member of Congress to deliver a speech at a temperance rally held at a Seventh-day Adventist camp meeting. The Representative told us it was impossible for him to come, and went on to explain that though he is both personally and politically dry, and has been known as an outstanding foe of the liquor traffic, he has become disappointed and disgusted with many dry leaders. Shortly before our visit he had received a letter from a temperance leader in his home State asking him to attend a meeting of dry forces and deliver a lecture. He was advised, however, that they had no money to pay his railroad fare, which was not a small amount. This he might have over looked, but when the dry leader explained that the temperance people could not openly espouse his candidacy but would do what they could privately to help him, he naturally felt that they sought all the favors and were not willing to give him any. He stressed the fact that his activities in behalf of temperance made him the target of all the wets and the undesirable elements in his district.

The cynicism that is sometimes found in men of public life is understandable, if not excusable. Receiving much censure and little praise, they naturally wonder whether or not it is possible to please their constituents. Further, large numbers of people of whom better things might be expected seem to feel no hesitancy at all in asking the most impossible things from public servants. It is known that many feel that anything that belongs to the government belongs to them, since in a republic the government is made up of all the people. The unreasonable requests made of public servants might almost justify them in concluding that everybody is seeking to take everything from rather than give anything to the government.

Let Us Be Considerate

As Christians, we must consider the good of all rather than the benefit of the few. We must forget selfish considerations for the common welfare. This, everyone recognizes, is the relationship that must exist in the church. It is just as important in the state. The fact that many do not practice this principle does not lessen its importance. I am convinced that we have an opportunity to place our denominational position in a fine light before public officials. To do this, we must bear certain things in mind.

First, officials want to know their constituents, and we should, as far as possible, form their acquaintance.

Second, we should recognize that they are busy men, and when we meet them we should be careful not to take much time. They cannot be discourteous or too abrupt with us, but if we consume their time needlessly, we may find it impossible to secure a second interview.

Third, without cringing, one should be deferential. One may be earnest and forceful in presenting facts and seeking consideration for his position without violating in the slightest degree the principles of true courtesy or social amenities.

Fourth, in setting forth what one believes to be the proper relationship between church and state, it is well to choose a positive rather than a negative approach. Though the state should not have direct dealings with the church as such, the fact remains that the members of the church are citizens of the state, and as individuals have a responsibility toward it that is second only to their obligations to God. To avoid or evade any civic duty is unworthy of the Christian. The state may properly demand every service that does not interfere with one's fundamental human rights or infringe upon the duty man owes to God. In talking with public officials one should state this freely and cheerfully. Forming personal acquaintances with public officials may be found exceedingly helpful when our enemies seek to arouse prejudice against us in the minds of these gentlemen.

 

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