What Taxes are Just?
I’m not going to give a full philosophy of taxation here (that would be a long post), but some comments in previous posts (e.g., by roger and mom2) show that I need to say why I find government tax money for religious purposes so evil. I suspect part of our difference is that many consider this to be a Christian nation and therefore see no reason why the government should not show Christians some favoritism. To me, as an (ana)Baptist and Leveller, the very idea of a “Christian nation” is heresy if not blasphemy. The U.S. is not a modern analogue to ancient Israel. The Israel of the New Covenant is no nation or government, but the church universal. The church is in the world in the same way that Israel was in exile–scattered among the nations. In Matt. 28, the Great Commission, the Risen Christ tells the apostles to make disciples from among all nations and in Rev. we are told that the redeemed include those “from every tribe and tongue and nation.” But NO nation-state is saved–the kings of the earth attempt to make war on the Rider on the White Horse (Christ)–without exception.
Since the people of God are scattered among the nations, we seek the shalom (peace and wellbeing) of the cities or nations where God has sent us in exile, as Jeremiah told the Judean exiles to Babylon (Jer. 25). But we don’t expect the nations where we live to “become Christian” anymore than the Judean exiles expected Babylon to accept Torah and the Babylonian males to ask for circumcision! The task of secular government is not to spread the gospel–that’s the church’s job. Secular government is only to work for basic justice, fairness, and the common good for all citizens, equally. It should raise taxes only for promoting the common good.
So, taxes for roads, bridges, levees, etc. are just–whether we like paying them or not. We pay taxes to support the police even if we can also afford a private security force–we get no tax refund for this. So also, we pay taxes for the education of the young–even if we are childless or our children are sent to private schools or home schooled. This is NOT, some Christians to the contrary, double taxation. Therefore, no parochaid tax credits are owed. Further, any vouchers for religious schools are unjust because they rob people to pay for the promotion of religious views they do not hold. EVERYONE has to support the common schools (public schools). This is just. Society as a whole has a vested interest in educating the young. But the religious education of the young is up to parents and religious organizations–not the state. In the 19th C., the U.S. government decided to wipe out Native American culture (after having already confined Native Americans to reservations). So, the government paid Christian missionaries to open schools for Native Americans where English only was allowed, boys had to cut their hair, Western dress was required, and the curriculum included specific instruction in Christianity. This was wrong. It was not wrong for the missionaries to build such schools–just wrong for them to accept government funds. It was not wrong for the government to wish to educate Native Americans (although the desire to abolish their culture was evil), but it was wrong for them to pay missionaries for that purpose.
The same goes for prison ministries and the like. I am all in favor of such ministries and have been involved in them. But government funding for such is both illegal (a violation of the no-establishment clause of the 1st Amendment) and heretical. Any religious group or ministry which cannot survive by the donations of its members and supporters does not really have God’s blessing and deserves to whither and die. I write this as one who this year had to leave a job I loved with a Christian non-profit organization because they were not competent in fundraising and ran out of money for my position. Would federal tax money have helped me stay employed ? Probably, but I would not touch it. It would be wrong.
That’s my view and I make no apologies for it. I don’t think it is secular. My view of government is secular, not my desires for society. I think those who think churches need tax welfare have an incredible lack of faith in the ministries they supposedly support.
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