As is
well-known, in a debate over the payment of taxes, Jesus asserted that we are
to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that
are God’s.” 
George Weigel called
this “a revolutionary text” [“The Christian Citizen and Democracy” in Robert
Royal, ed., Reinventing the American
People: Unity and Diversity Today
].  With them, Weigel writes, “Jesus gives
Caesar his due.”  Neither Jesus nor the
early church envisioned societies without government.
Even more
significantly, however, Jesus made it clear that Caesar was not God, even though
the Roman imperial ideology claimed that Caesar was divine.  Nearly all governments try to wrap themselves
in the mantle of religious legitimation, and Jesus’ words challenge his
followers in every time and place to see that no earthly power is
ultimate.  No earthly government is
worthy of the kind of loyalty we owe only to the one true God.
Every earthly government is, like all things human, flawed.  For that reason, there are times when we must raise our voices
in prophetic protest against our nation. 
Our nation stumbles and falls short of its own promise and, even more,
as Paul says in Romans, “sins and falls short of the glory of God.”  It is a denial of both honesty and of genuine
patriotism to be silent in the face of injustice.
No nation is
perfect, not even our own.  A recognition
of imperfection need not blind us to the good. 
The best in the American tradition—“liberty and justice for all”—is worth
celebrating, and the United States numbers among its citizens people of remarkable
commitment to freedom and compassion. 
But, a recognition
of imperfection saves us from the dangerous illusion that everything is good.  Our nation,
like all others, is comprised of, and led by, human beings; and no human being,
or human collective, is immune to error, arrogance, greed, and corruption.  That’s why I resonate to the stanza in
“America the Beautiful” that includes a prayer for national reformation:
America!  America!
mend thine every flaw
thy soul in self-control,
liberty in law.
I often recall
the words of Lincoln, who said to a group of ministers that he did not worry
whether God was on his side or not, “for I know that the Lord is always on the
side of right.”  It was, instead, Lincoln
said, his “constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the
Lord’s side.”