Liberia: Render Unto Caesar What Is Caesar's and Unto God What Is God's (Matthew 22 - 15)

opinion

The fight against the Coronavirus may prove to be an uphill battle given the disposition of many fringe Christian groups who continue to assemble in prayer sessions despite the warning and ban against such gatherings. This newspaper continues to receive reports of Christian groups conducting prayer services despite official public warnings against such gatherings. In the face of this situation, the government's response to such blatant violations of regulations and measures intended to protect the health and safety of the public has been weak and ineffectual.

Some Christian leaders are even advising their flock to come to the church for healing. And in their naïveté and ignorance, they continue to hold prayer services in gatherings. Some churches are even advising their members to assemble behind closed doors. As it appears, this situation obtains because the government is not moving hard and fast enough to bring to book those religious leaders challenging the ban on public assembly owing to the threats posed to public health by the deadly Coronavirus.

In the face of the onslaught of the disease, many countries have ordered a complete lockdown in order to control movement of people, all in a bid to ensure their health and safety. This newspaper has opined that in view of the experience garnered from the 2014 Ebola outbreak, a lockdown for a severely food insecure country like Liberia and the general lack of doctors, fully equipped and staffed hospitals could prove counterproductive especially in the absence of subventions from the state to its citizens to mitigate the effect and impact of the deadly disease. In view of this, the need to strictly adhere to prescribed measures (ban on public gatherings etc.) intended to safeguard public health cannot be overemphasized. And some Christian leaders' wrong and out of context response to the measures is simply unacceptable.

To the contrary, Muslim religious leaders appear to be more in compliance with officially recommended health safety measures than their Christian counterparts. It is as though some Christians believe they have an inherent right to special privileges including the right to violate public health safety measures simply on account of their profession of belief in Jesus Christ.

But Jesus Christ who they profess to follow once said, in response to enemies trying to entrap him by asking whether it was right for Jews in Palestine to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor, Christ simply took a Roman coin and asked whose picture was on the coin and they all replied, "Caesar". And Christ replied, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's", meaning in effect: Give to worldly authorities things that belong to them and to God, what belongs to God.

Matthew 22:15 reads: "Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?"

The reply of Jesus implied that in using Roman coins, the Jews accepted the rule of the Romans, and so the Roman government had the right to tax them, as long as the Jews were not compromising their religious duties. Jesus' more general point was, "Give to worldly authorities the things that belong to them, and to God what belongs to God".

In short, the esoteric meaning of Christ's response is the material aspects of life belongs to the Government of the day. The building of schools, hospitals, roads and other infrastructure, the maintenance of peace and security is the responsibility of the state while, spiritual aspects of life belongs to the church, mosque, temple, etc under the guidance of spiritual leaders. The Coronavirus as well as the Ebola virus, especially the former, are disease outbreaks which as the evidence shows can be addressed not by assembly in places of worship but by trained doctors, nurses and other medical personnel and drugs not by an army of prayer warriors.

Were this the case, there will be no need for hospitals, clinics etc. In this light, any religious leader who persists in conducting prayer assemblies claiming that the closure of worship centers in attempt to safeguard public health as an attack on their faith should accordingly be charged and prosecuted for endangering public health. Threats to resist with their blood the closure of churches owing to the deadly Coronavirus, is dangerous and provocative and those making such statements should be dealt with in the harshest manner.

Social distancing, which these religious leaders claim they are observing in their various places of worship is but an excuse to justify illegal behavior and the Government of Liberia under the leadership of President George Weah has the responsibility and obligation to protect the health of all Liberians Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, adherents of traditional religion by vigorously clamping down on all such individuals and organizations including some government officials and functionaries who are reportedly assembling large groups of people to conduct what they call awareness and sensitization on the Coronavirus disease.

We cannot wait for disaster to strike, neither should we wait for thousands to die before we act. Now is the time!

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