There has much conversation in recent years about both the religious right and religious left, as to why their views differ. Since both movements claim to be functionally Christian in their orientation, we need to examine why they often support opposing cultural mandates when it comes to putting faith into action.
Probably the most often quoted verse from scripture regarding the matter of the entanglement of God and Government is Christ’s comment about paying taxes… “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s.” The statement has ramifications for everything in life and not taxes only. The obvious question we must ask before we can expound on Jesus’ comment is, what exactly belongs to Caesar and God respectively? As we answer that question, we see how the religious right and left, respectively, arrive at their opposing ideologies.
Many people have said that Christ’s statement here upholds the principle of church and state separatism, thus it proves the “theocratic” objectives of the religious right to be off base. But that analysis is both an oversimplification of the issue, as well as an inaccurate inference.
The principle of church/state separation has always existed in the Judeo-Christian scriptural tradition. But it existed as a functional or jurisdictional separation of the duties of civil government and role of the institutional church. It exemplified the justice versus grace dichotomy. Even under the Old Testament Hebrew theocracy you saw this type of separation in the distinction between the duties of the king and the priest, between the palace and the temple, etc. Pagan cultures often fused the top religious leader and political into one office.
Today, when people talk about the separation of church and state, they are referring to an ideological separation, or absolute separation where religious precepts should not inform government policy. Those on the religious right and many social conservatives tend to reject this understanding as a latter day perversion of that normative principle. Leftists, secularists and, often the religious left, tend to hold conceptually to this view of church and state separation, though we will see later that their practical application is often in opposition to it.