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In the Gospel of Matthew, the Pharisees ask Jesus if it is lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar; yet, the Pharisees are not actually interested in His answer. Rather, their objective is to trap Jesus through their inquiry. They know a simple yes or no answer would violate either Roman or Jewish law and attempt to use this knowledge to their advantage.
As voters in many states prepare to return to the polls, we're reminded of last year's presidential race, which had a particularly appalling tone and was arguably one of the more divisive campaign seasons. It's no secret that the political climate has yet to improve, and many would argue that the division has even reached new heights.
Whether it be through our social media feeds, evening television news or talk radio pundits, we are all witnesses to a political and cultural climate that similarly asks questions, not to work towards mutual understanding, but to entrap and even destroy an individual or group. Political pursuits seem to be less about achieving the common good and more about winning an argument. We need only to read the comments section of any online posting to see that dialogue and debate has devolved to little more than insults, accusations, and dismissal.
As a nation, we are certainly facing many critical issues that have the potential to dramatically change our society, especially regarding the protection and defense of human life, conscience rights, and religious liberty. While we must always stand firm in our opposition to threats against these rights, we must never forget the innate dignity of those individuals who oppose or disagree with us. When we enter such discussions and debates, as our faith calls us to do, we must set the example of how to challenge positions and arguments while always maintaining the dignity of the other.
If we "win" an argument at the expense of another's dignity, we've already lost.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI highlights, "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction" (Deus caritas est, 1). Because we have encountered Jesus, we know who we are and where we are going. We know we are called to share the gift we have received and—as Jesus teaches us—to love and to pray for our enemies.
When the Pharisees ask Jesus about the census tax he responds, "Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God." His answer does not simply avoid their trap, but as my pastor recently noted, serves as an invitation to reflection. Jesus provides a response that the Pharisees may ponder within their hearts, as can we.
As Christians, our ultimate mission is the salvation of souls, and the soul of the person who opposes us is as precious as that of the child in the womb. Therefore, may the way we speak to and about those who oppose our efforts be to them an invitation to reflection. By loving and respectful communication, may others come to encounter He who is the Truth.
Chelsy Gomez is a Program Associate for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For more information on the bishops' pro-life activities, please visit www.usccb.org/prolife.
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