In an attempt to trick Jesus, the chief priests ask him if it is lawful to pay taxes to the emperor. In response, Jesus asks the priests to examine the coins they use to pay their taxes. “Whose head is on the coins?,” Jesus asked the priests.
“Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s,” Jesus said.
Reverend Rosa Lee Harden used this gospel reading as a launch pad for her sermon at Stanford’s Public Worship Service earlier this fall. Harden believes the passage addresses some basic questions: “Where does our money go?” and “Do we get to keep it?” She emphasized that these questions are just as relevant today as they were in Jesus’ time.
Harden addressed such questions in her sermon, saying she wanted to raise “a very intentional conversation about money” and faith.
Reverend Harden, who is the Canon for Money and Meaning at the Cathedral of All Souls in Asheville, North Carolina and the Co-Founder and Producer for Social Capital Markets, spoke as part of the Center for Ethics in Society’s Ethics of Wealth series.
She said the passage was all about politics. She claimed Jesus lived in a “highly politically-charged place,” explaining that the Pharisees and the Herodians were among the most powerful – and antagonistic – political sects of the time.
One of the things Harden fears the most in our current social and political atmosphere is that we will come to believe that just stamping “In God we trust” on our money makes it true. Instead, in her view, it should serve as a reminder that “whatever we’re about to purchase is not the solution to our problems or to the world’s problems.”
Reverend Harden referenced an editorial published early this fall in The Christian Century that claimed that dividing the world into makers and takers is a “false dichotomy” and that if we are created in God’s image, we are created as dependent on one another.
In such an interdependent society, Reverend Harden contends, the genuine political question should not be who is giving or receiving more, but rather whether the tax policies and other measures further the common good. She claimed that when we metaphorically stop seeing individual images of ourselves on the coins and “start seeing our image,” we begin to act in ways that serve the common good.
“What do our coins say?,” Reverend Harden asked the audience. “Whose picture is stamped on mine? Whose picture is stamped on yours?”
Following the service, Reverend Harden stayed for a lunch discussion to elaborate on and field questions about the issues she raised in the service. A dozen or so attendees questioned Reverend Harden on topics ranging from her thoughts on Proposition 37, the California ballot measure that would have required labeling for genetically engineered foods, to the church’s current tithing system.
At one point, Harden discussed what she considers as her “very odd title” of Canon for Money and Meaning. She said the role grew out of a conversation she had with her long-term friend, the dean of the Cathedral at Asheville. They were discussing matters where the church and money intersected and the dean wanted someone to oversee these kinds of questions, while encouraging preaching and teaching that helps us make connections between money and faith.
When asked for recommendations of “good companies,” Reverend Harden directed the group towards BCorp, a website that certifies companies based on how much they contribute to the public good. She discussed how there used to just be for-profit companies and nonprofit companies, but that now there is something in between: companies that are for profit that have said they will also do public good. Websites like BCorp help to identify these companies.
As those in the room passionately debated ideas related to the intersection of money and faith, Reverend Harden’s goal of starting “a very intentional conversation about money” seemed to be coming to fruition.
Rosa Lee Harden is Executive Producer, and one of the founding directors, of Social Capital Markets (SOCAP), which encourages the flow of capital towards social good through its annual event series. An Episcopal priest, Harden led the congregation at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church in San Francisco for ten years. She is currently Canon for Money and Meaning at the Cathedral of All Souls in Asheville, North Carolina. Her work exists at the intersection of spirituality and business, money and meaning.
Anne Evered is an undergraduate student at Stanford University. She is interested in issues of healthcare and education policy, as well as animal ethics.