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Words for Lee

Words for Lee

I miss my friend Lee. Although I continue to grieve, the worst of it has passed and I think it’s time to write for him. I hope that someday his daughter might find this post, and find some comfort here.

This is a difficult post to write for a number of reasons, but the trickiest part is to walk a careful line where I can be authentic and honest without compromising privacy. Lee confided in me; I know so much about his history, his issues and challenges, his hopes and dreams. It would be very therapeutic for me to finally bring out into the open some events and issues that made (and make) me very angry. I would, too, I really would – except that during the last long conversation that we had, the major topic was forgiveness.

He was in his 40s, and his inability to let go of the hurt in his past had been so damaging to himself and others for so long. We talked a lot about his daughter. She was the bright star in his life – he loved her so much – and we talked a lot about how his healing was tied to his ability to care for her, and to be the kind of father he wanted to be for her. One thing that really seemed to help was for him to imagine that the things he experienced were happening to her. Once the situation was transferred to someone he loved, he could finally see that someone who would behave hurtfully toward a child has deep problems of their own. He could even start to empathize – enough to stop blaming himself for everything that happened.

There was a lot of hurt and anger in Lee, but I am comforted by the thought that I really do think he was able to start authentically forgiving. More than that, I think he was even able to feel compassion, and to see the cycle, and even to disrupt it. He was capable of insight and of meta-thought and of imagination, but he was so hurt – so deeply and emotionally bone-tired and hurt – that it was only later in life that he even could bear to talk about it. A true friend is sometimes almost as good as a therapist. The safe place to talk – was with me. I’m honored that he trusted me that much.

But I’m starting at the end of the story. Once again, from the beginning this time…

Burnam Lee McCoubrey III (everyone called him Lee) and I were part of a Kingdom Hall community of Jehovah’s Witnesses. When I first tried to write this post, it veered off into remembering things that affected both of us just because of that, but I’ll try to keep to issues that are important only to our friendship this time. It was just as we were hitting adolescence that I remember him appearing as a figure in my life. At that time, my father was no longer an elder, and my parents had divorced and remarried. His father was an elder, one of the few that I trusted because he had a sense of humor and a loving heart. His mother – well, she always seemed to dislike me, for whatever reason, but she was a pillar of the community and not to be trifled with.

Lee McCoubrey
Lee McCoubrey
Lee himself was withdrawn, quiet. He was very pale in complexion, and when he was miserable it was transparently obvious. Still, there was something about Lee. If there was only a single ray of sunshine, he would seek it out. He had a core of innocence that never went away. Often he reminded me of Opie – not so much the later Ron Howard – but really Opie Taylor. I wished that he could have had that Mayberry world.

Once, his father was seriously injured. The men and older boys were playing some sort of game, perhaps touch football, and he fell and hit his head on a rock. It appeared that he probably had a concussion. Everyone panicked, and they were loosening his belt (I still don’t know why they do that), and trying to get him to respond. He was taken to the hospital.

Meanwhile, no-one seemed to remember Lee. He looked terrified. He’d gone ghost-white, and was sitting by himself, dazed. I went and sat down next to him. He often talked about that day, and how much it helped that I just sat there with him, not saying much, just being near. Somehow it made him feel that everything was going to be all right. I wish now that I would have hugged him, but at the time it was really unthinkable to do that.

We were still too young to date – even among other JWs – when we decided that we had a mutual crush going on. Basically, this meant that there was something to look forward to at those endless meetings – we could say shy hellos and give each other bashful smiles.

After a while, we got permission to talk with one another on the telephone. He was so so sooo shy. For the first few conversations, he had no idea what to say to me. So he read aloud the text from the back of Beach Boys record albums. He loved the Beach Boys. Eventually, we started to really talk. It was much easier on the telephone than in person, especially with everyone in the congregation monitoring us all the time. We would tell each other about bugs and rocks and plants, and how comforting and safe it felt to be among trees. He always told me that I was beautiful and kind and funny – especially funny. At a time when I was very insecure and very often sad myself, we cheered each other up.

Well, things move on. Sadly, I dumped him. Unceremoniously. With the fickleness of youth, I had a crush on another boy, and the year of Lee and Heidi was over. He was mad at me, and hurt of course, and it took a while to admit that we actually still liked each other and could be friends. I knew he still liked me “that way” though, and a couple of years later, I did give him a kiss. It was in jest, almost a dare (I was in a time of some confusion). I didn’t know until about a year ago that it had been his first kiss. We never held hands, or went out alone on a date, or anything like that. Just the one kiss – but it was a good one (smile).

Lee was third generation. Not only his father, but also his grandfather, were Jehovah’s Witness elders. In high school, I started to hear that Burnam was saying bad things about me, and I was shocked. I felt so betrayed! My lack of understanding on how or why that could possibly be the case gave me unaccustomed courage and I confronted him with what I had been told. His face fell, and he searched my eyes – something no other elder had done. “But I didn’t, Heidi,” he said – his voice breaking. Later I discovered that it was Lee’s grandfather – someone I’d only met briefly, occasionally – who was the one who had somehow developed a very bad impression of my “dangerousness” – not Lee’s dad at all. I went to him at the next meeting, and apologized profusely. Presumably, he investigated the thing – I don’t know, we never spoke of it again. Lee wouldn’t talk about it. But it wasn’t long after that when I was accused of many things that didn’t actually happen. Ahh, the rumor mill of malicious gossip.

What I remembered, though, was that Lee’s father was the only elder who treated me as a full person. He talked to me honestly and respectfully. I think it was the death of Lee’s dad that prompted Lee to find me again. He needed to talk, and to remember.

I couldn’t believe that he had forgotten the best and funniest thing that had ever happened, the day that Bernie got a little creative.

He was giving a talk on what it means, scripturally, to be a righteous man, and he had an idea for how to set it up. So we’re sitting at the Kingdom Hall meeting, and suddenly through the speakers – “Body, body, wanna feel my body, body” – the opening for “Macho Man” (video) by the Village People!

First of all, I can’t begin to explain the shock. It’s the only time I ever heard any other music than canned recordings of the “Kingdom songs” at the Hall. Then – OBVIOUSLY he had NO IDEA that the Village People were gay. None. None at all, or it would have been an entirely different sort of talk.

And then – Bernie comes strutting up to the podium, flexing his biceps and bouncing to the music. I thought I was going to pee my pants. It was one of the very few times that I remember where almost everyone was roaring with laughter.

“Is that what it means to be a man – being ‘macho'”?

Wow – it was hard to settle down to the scriptures after that. It did make the point, and it was perfect, but… well, someone must have enlightened the parental units. Lee was made to destroy much of his album collection that day. When we talked about it, we got almost hysterical with laughter, until he remembered the aftermath.

“But Lee, dear – you decide – was it worth it?” He thought about it for a couple of heartbeats, then started laughing again. “Yes. Yes, Heidi. It really was. Thank you. That’s one of the best memories of my Dad – that was so cool. It was worth it.”

Lee had lots of hard times, and sometimes it was as a result of bad choices, but I knew Lee really well – he had reasons to want and even need his escape vectors. Like most JWs, he never got to go to college, and he seriously injured his back some years back. He got addicted to the painkillers and had to go through a lot to get off of them, finally. He had financial troubles, too – he didn’t manage his meager funds very well. His love life was always a disaster area – I might have been the only woman that he really trusted.

His daughter – oh! Molly was the sun and the moon to him. He was so proud of her. He wouldn’t have wanted to abandon her, but to love and protect her always.

Lee and Molly
Lee and Molly

Lee was so hungry for caring and love and joy and laughter. Whenever he could be with a group of people, it made him so happy. He would open up. And when he opened up – oh, what magic! As he got older, the Opie side of him never quite went away but more and more he reminded me of Dan Akyroyd (especially as the character Joe Friday in the 1987 movie Dragnet). There was a slight physical resemblance, but more that that – the combination of abruptness, dry humor, and – yes, even then – a slightly naive kind of openness and innocence. I would have loved to have seen Lee decked out like a Blues Brother – just once.

Dan Akyroyd
Dan Akyroyd

Recently, he had attended a JW assembly with this mother. It meant a lot to her that he go to the thing. He said that he was still able to get something from it – he still believed in God – and that it meant so much to her that he couldn’t refuse her. I thought it was a very giving thing. <3 We talked about the JWs a lot. Over and above the doctrines and all, the thing that had most bothered both of us – going way back – was the way that legalism was more important than kindness. I hope that if any Jehovah's Witnesses read this, that you might try – just try – to be a little kinder and less petty and judgmental with your brothers and sisters. Follow the way of love and compassion, even “loving-kindness” – and especially, please be kind to the children. You’re already asking a lot from them. Be kind. Be loving. Be true. It matters. They – and you – don’t have to be perfect, don’t need to be perfect, can’t possibly be perfect. Do the best you can, and trust in love. Be kind to one another. As an adult, Lee was only very nominally part of the JW community, primarily to avoid being cut off from his mother. His memory is not authentically honored by contributing to the community that so often treated him badly. Even at the funeral, I’m told that there was one older man who, bible in hand, intimated that Lee had brought his death upon himself. I didn't go to the funeral. It would have been very difficult to travel there in time - as a former JW, I strongly suspect I wouldn't have been welcome anyway. Lee was gone, and I didn't think I could get - or offer - much comfort there. Lee died from complications of a preventable hospital staph infection. These deadly infections have affected the lives of several people that I know, and Lee is the second death among my close family and friends. In both cases, children were left fatherless. Lee worked for many years caring for others in a hospital setting, and it seems appropriate to me to honor his own real service and to work against this type of preventable death.

So while the official family request “in lieu of flowers” was for contributions to the local Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall, I would ask you to consider contributing to (or taking action for) a higher standard of hospital care. Please visit some of these sites and/or doing something to support this cause:

Finally – to respond to Lee’s last text message to me (and how I wish I had called him back immediately): I love you, too, and I always have. You are in my thoughts and daily meditations and, if there is an afterlife, I hope that you have – at last – found your endless summer. <3

This one’s for you:

“Catch a Wave” – The Beach Boys

Memorial for Robert Detweiler

Memorial for Robert Detweiler

There will be a memorial service for Bob Detweiler at the Cannon Chapel (directions) at Emory University in Atlanta, GA on Saturday, Sept. 6 at 10:00 a.m.

Mark Ledbetter will conduct the service.

Friends of Bob Detweiler, please pass it on.

An obituary was submitted to the AJC today with this information.

I didn’t know that his middle name was “Clemmer.”

ROBERT CLEMMER DETWEILER, 76, of St. Simons Island died Sunday. The body will be cremated. Memorial service plans will be announced; Cremation Society of the South, Marietta.

Brenda Lee DID it!

Brenda Lee DID it!

OH….my….GOD. Oh, sweet lord in heaven.. (string of expletives following, unsuitable for blog publication).

I can’t believe it. Brenda Lee has done what I’ve fantasized about doing since I was 12. I’ve spent a fair bit of time trying not to think about it, for fear that I might actually do it.

A mildly disrespectful, gum-snapping Brenda attended the Jehovah’s Witness Memorial Service (their annual memorial of the Last Supper, at which almost no-one partakes of the “emblems” of wine and bread) and she…PARTOOK!


Excuse the capital letters, but my heart is still racing in empathy.

It’s so nice to know that I wasn’t the only one to think of doing it. Now that someone has done it, maybe it’s time to let go of that particular fantasy (don’t worry, I have others).

Of course, my fantasy continued after that point. I imagined that I would stand up and say that everyone there should partake of the bread and wine, that to refuse the communion made a mockery of the entire ceremony. It reinforced the idea that almost all Jehovah’s Witnesses were unworthy to share in the spirit – at the same time that they thought they would be the ones sheltered from their loving God’s wrath during the Last Days and through the Apocalypse. Yeah, I thought I’d get a chance to preach a little sermon of my own.

I’m in shock. If you haven’t had any involvement with Jehovah’s Witnesses, it will be difficult for you to fully comprehend the transgressive nature of what she did. The only ones that are supposed to partake are of the 144,00 thousand destined to rule in heaven “as kings” with the Christ (Jesus / the Archangel Michael) after Armageddon. Among other things, they don’t mention any “queens.” I’ve never seen anybody partake. Not anybody.

I had recently ordered another copy of Brenda Lee’s book to send to a friend, but when I saw that she had inscribed the book with a message (Truth, love + light… Brenda Lee), I couldn’t bring myself to part with it. I sent my older copy instead.

After finishing my previous post, I clicked on the Technorati tag at the bottom of the post to check on how things were going with Brenda Lee. I came across the video that way. There is a decent (if a little flippant) introduction, and then – with the help of two accomplices – she filmed the whole thing. And here it is:


I was screaming out to John. As much as I’ve tried to convey the effects of having been raised a Jehovah’s Witness, I think he still has a little trouble understanding. I don’t often feel obvious effects of it these days, partly because the work I do trying to help others is extremely healing to me. His own upbringing involved a kind of lukewarm semi-involvement in one of the major protestant denominations, and he’s in the agnostic/atheist camp now. Lately, watching what right-wing fanatics have done in this country, and seeing the daily slaughters over questions of religion in the news, he is even less likely to engage in discussions about spirituality. He smiled mildly at me (yelling “look at this! look at this! She’s doing it! She’s doing it!”) and… well… I guess it’s just one of those things. You had to have had certain kinds of experiences to fully understand. You had to be there…

I somehow thought that if I ever did that, lightning would strike in some way. I would be dragged out by a passel of elders. People would go berserk. Something. Man, she took her time munching that wafer down – very noisy – and gulped down three good swallows of the wine.

And nothing happened. It didn’t even look like anybody said anything to her.

The public is invited to the Memorial, so she was – technically – invited to be there. She wasn’t intruding on a private ritual. A lot more people attend the Memorial than go to the five weekly meetings, or go door-to-door. It’s a chance (as you can hear in the video) for them to preach to newbies, or to family members that aren’t yet JWs, or to the ones that drift in and out.

Of course, they would consider her an apostate for writing a book about her experiences as a JW, and if they had known who she was, they wouldn’t have let her enter. When they print those memorial statistics, just know that one of the memorial partakers is actually an “apostate.” I wonder if they’ll really count her?

I think in a way it was worse for her than for me, because her mother converted when she was a kid. She had already celebrated Christmas and birthdays and all – and then it was taken away. I think that would have been worse than never having known any other way.

I am not baptized according to the doctrine of any religious group. I did participate once in a christian communion – but the circumstances were very unique. At the time, I did feel very moved by the ritual. To me, it’s almost a kind of suggestion, a mind placebo. Or perhaps it’s a kind of witchcraft. I wrote a whole chapter in my dissertation comparing communion and vampirism. When you grow up as a Jehovah’s Witness, you can’t help but think about the symbolism of blood and spirit.

I am still very spiritually driven – I think spiritual independence is one of the aspects of my freedom that I most value.

Still, I feel like whooping in laughter – yes, a kind of mildly wicked kind of whooping – imagining sitting there next to her, and – not being to overcome the expected behavior – whispering, “All right, all right, quit fidgeting! Do you have to chew the gum like that?!?!” and then realizing, and losing my composure, and laughing, laughing, laughing. I would probably have become somewhat hysterical. Even now, I’m not sure that the whole experience wouldn’t have been too traumatic for me to take.

The last time I went to a meeting, many years ago now in my home congregation in Massachusetts, I was hemmed in by older women, then confronted by an elder. And that was before I ever had a web site or anything like that. They just somehow had heard that I was in an MA program in religion. That was enough. I get a shiver even driving by a Kingdom Hall. It’s hard for others to understand. Somehow, at the door it’s different. Everywhere I’ve lived I’ve had multiple visits from JWs, and gradually I’ve gotten to the point where I have conversations, even somewhat enjoyable ones. But I don’t think I could sit through another one of those meetings ever again.

I can’t help wondering if the entire congregation was staring her down. The elders didn’t even corner her later?!?!

Yeah, I’m expecting some expressions of disapproval in the comments. It was a transgressive sort of thing, kind of like having sex on a church’s consecrated alter (Abelard and Heloise found it rather exciting), but she didn’t really disrupt anything in a major way. Heh-heh. She didn’t make a scene. Considering everything, she showed self-control.

I’m sorry, but on this one I have to laugh. I can only laugh. Oh……oh. On the way out, she advised some JW teens to hang in there – someday this would all be over. That congregation is going to be gossiping about this for a long time to come.

I don’t think I would be able to follow through on going to the Memorial and partaking, because I don’t think I’d be able to resist being a little more… theatrical. Knowing that I would have a hard time resisting the temptation to be very vocal and disruptive, I wouldn’t do it. So, no worries, dear rank and file JWs. You won’t be seeing me at the Memorial. You don’t want me to be there, and I don’t want to be there. It’s too traumatic for me. Even Brenda Lee showed some signs of anxiety and stress as the moment approached.

Of course, if hundreds of other people all over the world all decided to do it at once… hmmm.

My adrenaline levels are still high. I can’t believe I’m sitting here. I think I’m going to go outside and giggle helplessly to myself.

Brenda, sweet girl, more details please! Swing by and comment, I beg of you! Send me your phone number immediately! We’ve got to talk!

JW News – Former JW Protests at Memorial

JW News – Former JW Protests at Memorial

Man protests Jehovah’s Witness teachings
By Robert Mills, Lowell Sun, Lowell Massachusetts, April 13, 2006

WILMINGTON — Rick Fearon stood outside the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall just off Main Street last night knowing a daughter who will no longer speak to him would soon be inside.

That daughter, as well as several other family members, stopped speaking to Fearon a few years ago when he left the church and began speaking out about problems he sees in the Jehovah’s Witness religion.

A Jehovah’s Witness for more than 40 years, Fearon now wants to inform people of accusations that the church does not adequately react to reports of sexual abuse of children, and charges the church’s teachings on blood transfusions have needlessly killed Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide.

“I attended this congregation and never realized the problems they had,” he said.

Fearon stood across the street from the Kingdom Hall with about a half-dozen others in the hopes they would make those new to the church look into it more deeply.

Those inside the Kingdom Hall were observing The Memorial of Christ’s Death, in which they celebrate the death of Jesus on the first full moon of the Vernal Equinox. Those new to the church or not yet part of it often attend the observance, Fearon said. Fearon cites national studies and news reports on a growing sexual-abuse crisis in the Jehovah’s Witness religion, which he says has not done nearly enough to keep pedophiles away from children.

He also says the churches previous ban on members getting blood transfusions, and other confusing teachings about accepting blood have led to what he said are thousands of unnecessary deaths.

He was joined by John Harris, of Norwood, who was one of hundreds of clergy-abuse victims who sued the Archdiocese of Boston. Harris, who said he was abused by Father Paul Shanley, said he settled with the archdiocese in December of 2003. He said he is fighting all religions and cults in which abuse is not adequately responded to, and that he is pushing for federal laws to make it easier to prosecute and prevent abuse.

A man who answered the telephone at the Kingdom Hall declined comment last night.

Ex-JW Rebuttal to a Jehovah’s Witness

Ex-JW Rebuttal to a Jehovah’s Witness

I’ve been having an extended discussion/argument with a Canadian Jehovah’s Witness in the comments of an old post. Feel free to read the whole thing if you can bear it. Yes. It’s long. I know. There were some resources in my latest reply that I thought might help others – so here’s a piece:

Most of what I posted from JW publications (not my own opinion, but actual arguments made by JWs themselves) show pretty clearly that JWs believe that you have to be a JW to live through Armageddon. Isn’t that a direct refutation of your claim? It is illuminating that criticism has forced the organization to change its rhetorical tactics – where is the standard line: "Only Jehovah’s Witnesses….." do such and such – refuse to salute idolatrous flags, refuse to partake of blood (again, why not kosher meat, which is where the Jews do honor the blood prohibition?), refuse to vote, etc etc?

OK, on blood. I don’t disagree with any of the arguments about medical risks. Yes, there are new things to test for every year. Blood transfusion is riskier than most people realize, and it’s good to have this information out there. Incidentally, did you know that JWs used to be prohibited from vaccinations as well? In an actual life and death situation, however, a doctor or team of doctors has to weigh the risks. I would be dead myself without a blood transfusion given after massive internal bleeding from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, so I’m not unbiased on the issue. As for it not being a current issue, that’s simply not true on either side. The Society’s own positions are constantly changing and often contradictory, and they reassessed their teachings again just last month. There is almost always a lawsuit in the works somewhere. Here’s the most recent one from your own country. I’m sure you’re aware of it. And please check out the Watchtower Victim’s Memorial, including the Library of Watchtower Blood Quotes and archival images that illustrate their views of the medical profession. On the other side, there are important advancements in no-blood alternatives – certainly worth consideration and I am happy to see it.

You have not given any real argument here as to why a corporation formed in the last century could have any connections whatsoever to the Pentacostal outpouring of holy spirit. As you say, the last surviving member of Jesus’ original followers has been dead for a long time. The JW interpretation of the governing body’s authority is the single most destructive aspect of their teachings. I refer interested parties to Captives of a Concept by Don Cameron, Jehovah Lives in Brooklyn, by Richard Francis and Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah’s Witnesses by James M. Penton.

Captives of a Concept (Anatomy of an Illusion) Jehovah Lives in Brooklyn Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses

Suppose the JWs are right, and that there is a literal remnant of a literal 144,000 that still lives on earth – what relation do those people have to the multiple corporations of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society? Who directs the "new light" then, the remnant or the guys in Brooklyn? JWs never question the connections and disconnections of the structure here – they only know they must obey. What is funny to me is that former JWs are described as the "evil slave class" in opposition to the "faithful and discreet slave" putting them at the same level of importance. A few whistleblowers are so threatening as to be put at the same level…

Why would I think that the organization’s protection of known pedophiles and abusers would be the reason you are doing this? That’s really a desperate kind of charge. In any case, it’s all well-documented and the Society has spent a lot of JW money on lawyers. Consult for news on lawsuits and the history of JW policies on this matter. The Society has protected sex offenders, hidden their records from "worldly authorities" as well as from members of congregations, failed to report accusations to the police and even punished children and families making accusations. The Watch Tower Society defends keeping the database of self-confessed and accused offenders secret as part of its strategy of dealing with abuse without referring to the judicial system – ie, the "theocratic war strategy" (do a search on that phrase – it’s basically a justification for lying). You can keep up with JWs in the news – on this and a range of other topics such as those I mentioned – at Watchtower News and the Watchtower Information Service (note: Here’s another source I just found at the About Guide).  With the internet, people can research and discover for themselves the actual dealings of the corporation you worship. A simple search is sufficient to disprove your statements.

You use your words about the Bible to distract from difficult issues into vague feel-good information that most Christians might agree with. I remember the strategy from the so-called Theocratic Ministry School. While I was never baptised, I sure did go to about 5 hours of weekly indocrination at the Kingdom Hall. I did go out in "service." I recognize the language and the strategies you employ because I’ve actually made a study of discourse analysis and applied it to my own experience. I teach my students how it’s done – it helps them read the news.

Normally, I resist being sucked into doctrinal argument. I think these are things that people are empowered by God to decide for themselves. However, I do have my own opinions. I am a contextual ethicist and a scholar of religion to some degree – although my most advanced training (and interests) moved into other topics as well. I’ve taught religion at the college level, including Judeo-Christian Traditions. It was quite a revelation to me to read the "meaty" work of real scholars and to compare that to the "skim-milk" of JW pseudo-scholarship. I recommend that those who are interested in any of these topics to read widely and to consider various arguments.

The JWs are largely unaware that there are multiple interpretations for many of these texts. Some of the considerations of interpretion include the actual meanings of biblical worlds and phrases in the original languages, the cultural and historical context, the genre and purpose of each kind of text, literary methods and theories, anthropological, psychological, linguistic, archaeological questions, the way the texts were actually selected for biblical inclusion, and a host of other perspectives and questions. Good interpretation comes from asking better questions from a better-informed perspective, not from rote repetition. JWs do not allow question-based analysis of any kind among their members, although they have to tolerate it from newbies and people at the door. What they generally will do is exactly what you’re doing – deflect, distract, and get back on script. JWs are not trained in the interpretation of texts – they have no methods for doing so because it is not allowed. The rank and file JW is simply force-fed the interpretation of the mysterious few at the top (while criticizing the Pope and priests for doing the same thing).

Just one example. You earlier interpreted Jesus as refusing to be drawn into an argument over the paying of taxes. I would argue just the reverse because I think his response was one of the most brilliant rhetorical accomplishments I have ever seen. What he actually said addressed a very complex religious and political situation of conflicts between multiple audiences – yet his words had a message for each one of them. The Herodians and Pharisees wanted to trap Jesus with a no-win answer: Neither group really wanted Jesus to agree with them. The Herodians were hoping that Jesus would say you should not pay taxes – that would put him big trouble with the Roman authorities. He would be guilty of sedition, a capital offense. If he so agreed with the Pharisees, the Herodians could charge him with revolution against the Romans. But the Pharisees were hoping Jesus would take the Herodians’ position and support the payment of taxes. Then Jesus would have lost the support of the people who hated Roman occupation of Israel – and if he agreed with the Herodians, the Pharisees could charge him with idolatry.

But Jesus countered with "why tempt me you hypocrites?" He called attention to the likeness of Caesar on a coin – and made a simple distinction: to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s (translations vary: compare the different gospel versions as well). In one cryptic sentence, he addressed several audiences. The Romans "heard" that these new followers would continue to pay their taxes, and that this rabblerouser wasn’t in fact interested in taking political power or challenging them on this topic. The Pharisees couldn’t fault him for prioritizing God’s law or separating the realms of heaven and earth and the Herodians couldn’t align him with the revolutionary movement. Those who wanted to trap Jesus were foiled and dared not question him that way again.

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