Levellers

Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

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.

July 19, 2006 - Posted by | taxes

15 Comments

  1. Great post. I’m pondering on it…

    I did note that you said:

    “The task of secular government is not to spread the gospel–that’s the church’s job.”

    And wonder why those who don’t want Big Gov’t and who think Gov’t is not the best entity for most jobs (because they stink at it), why they’d want gov’t mucking around in Christian issues?

    Comment by Dan Trabue | July 19, 2006

  2. I wonder the same thing, bro. Why do they hate welfare and social programs, but then want welfare for church work? It makes no sense to me.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 19, 2006

  3. >The task of secular government is not to spread the gospel–that’s the church’s job.

    We don’t want the government to assume the job of the church but we don’t want a Godless government either.
    What about Christians who seek jobs in government? Is it evil to do so? If not, how can Christians not be role-players (ie hypocrites) who put on a mask when they go to their job and then take it off when they go home from the work day? That’s the heart of this matter. True spirituality permeates every part of the believer’s life – and isn’t determined by an unbelieving world. How can darkness contain the light? Impossible. So, we let our light shine in all we do – for God’s glory. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

    >Secular government is only to work for basic justice, fairness, and the common good for all citizens, equally.

    Here’s another problem:

    How does a government body that is secular determine what is just, fair and good? There’s a way that seems right to men and it leads to death. Truth is exclusive to the reality of Jesus Christ – and any relativism of modern, secular man will not have a foundation and will lead to confusion and harm.

    >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.

    WHO WAS SAVING THE SOULS IN THE IFI PROGRAM? Chuck Colson, Mark Earley? Apparently it did have God’s blessing because He was working there! So, you say it deserves to die – yet God is there and working. How do you explain that? The changed lives are undeniable and a testimony to God’s glory.

    Comment by Roger | July 19, 2006

  4. Yes, we do want and HAVE a “godless government”–not in the sense that all or even most who work in it are atheists. That isn’t true now and has never been true. But look at the Constitution. There is no mention of God in it. Art. VI forbids any religious test for office holding and the First Amendment guarantees free exercise of religion AND that Congress can make no law even RESPECTING an establishment of religion–keeping its hands off. That’s what I called “benevolent neutrality,” as opposed to the aggressive secularism of France (forbidding Muslim students to wear headdresses in the public schools), the old Soviet Union, Turkey, etc.

    Should Christians seek jobs in government? Depends on the government and the job. Any job requiring the use of violence (e.g., Secretary of Defense) is forbidden Christians, of course. Some would say that because we are forbidden to swear oaths, any government job requiring an oath of allegiance is forbidden us–I’m still wrestling with that one.

    How can Christians work in government without being hypocrites? The same way as in any other job. If you work for a secular company as a Christian, you are free to invite colleagues to church or, if the topic comes up,give a brief testimony or an evangelical witness–unless the other person asks you not to. You are NOT free to preach “turn or burn” sermons at your co-workers or to keep talking about Jesus all the time when you are supposed to be doing your job. Try it and you’ll get fired, perhaps even brought up on harassment charges.
    If the company does practices that you, as a Christian, find abhorrent, you have 2 choices–try to get them changed (and you are going to have to try to use logic that unbelievers can follow)or quit. The same would be true in any government job. You can be salt and light in some cases–in others, you have to “come out from among them and be separate.” It’s a contextual judgment call–because until the full inbreaking of the Rule of God, all governments will be ungodly.

    How does a secular government work for justice? The best that it can. Sure, you’re right that it won’t have access to the full mind of God–but Christians have been pretty poor at that over the years, too. But God has not left unregenerate folks completely in the dark. There is “general revelation” through nature and conscience. And Christians can help by influencing government–trying to raise its understanding of justice, fairness, and the common good. But they can’t simply dictate what it should do and, to be persuasive, they need to seek reasons for policies that, however much they are inspired by Christian faith or Bible reading, can make sense to a pluralistic society which may not share the specific Christian faith, your interpretation of Scripture, etc. It can be done and is all the time. Catholics use “natural law” reasoning for this purpose and that is one way to go about things.

    Who was saving souls in the IFI program? Well, if souls were saved (I never presume to look on the heart which only God can do), then God did the saving the same as God used the pagan Persian emperor Darius to end the exile for the Jews. Surely, if the program is a good one, God will continue to bless it now that it can no longer rely on Caesar’s coin? Or are you saying that God must have government help to save souls? That’s blasphemy.

    Remember, what government can fund, it can control. Eventually, with this Supreme Court or a better one, all such government spending schemes on church programs will be found unconstitutional like IFIs. So, for both theological and pragmatic reasons, my advice is not to touch Caesar’s coin for God’s work.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 19, 2006

  5. >Should Christians seek jobs in government? Depends on the government and the job. Any job requiring the use of violence (e.g., Secretary of Defense) is forbidden Christians, of course. Some would say that because we are forbidden to swear oaths, any government job requiring an oath of allegiance is forbidden us–I’m still wrestling with that one.

    Is this how we please God? By trying to figure how to obey the letter of the law? By the way, God used a violent death of crucificion on the cross. Why did God require that – after all, Jesus could have called the angels to come and rescue Him from the cross, right? By your logic, isn’t He guilty of something? That’s really another discussion for another day – but that’s something for you to think about.

    >(I never presume to look on the heart which only God can do),

    How do you witness to people? How do you find out if they’re saved or not? How do you know whether to go forward with the plan of salvation? Answer: You ask them! It’s a lie from Satan to take this hands off approach to people’s eternal destinies. What’s better? Not asking someone what they believe and assuming they’re saved when in reality they are not – or asking them and finding out for sure that they are not (by them giving you any answer other than ‘faith’) and proceeding to share with them the truth? Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

    >Who was saving souls in the IFI program? Well, if souls were saved (I never presume to look on the heart which only God can do), then God did the saving the same as God used the pagan Persian emperor Darius to end the exile for the Jews.

    By that logic, it means that you would have worked against the end of the exile, correct? You are working against God – in both cases. Should you be proud of that?

    Comment by Roger | July 19, 2006

  6. “Is this how we please God? By trying to figure how to obey the letter of the law?”

    But you don’t think that we ought NOT to be trying to follow in Jesus’ steps, right Roger? That’s what he’s saying, I imagine. Nothing wrong with that.

    And don’t think that Michael is talking about a salvation about works, he’s not suggested that. Just that Christians ought to be about the business of following Jesus’ teachings. Not all that incredible, really.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | July 19, 2006

  7. >But you don’t think that we ought NOT to be trying to follow in Jesus’ steps, right Roger? That’s what he’s saying, I imagine. Nothing wrong with that.

    Dan, it’s not a matter of ‘us’ doing the work. It’s a matter of us yielding to the Holy Spirit as He produces the good works. Remember, it’s fruits of the Spirit – and not fruits of man. Our good works don’t lead us to favor with God – our works are filthy rags. We must be born-again first and then the Holy Spirit comes in to indwell the believer and will work through us to do His will. Don’t forget Matt 7:21 – external actions can be deceiving. Faith always leads to good works, but good works don’t always indicate faith. It all comes down to in whose strength we are doing the works – of the Spirit – or of ourselves?

    Comment by Roger | July 20, 2006

  8. Don’t worry, Dan, I’m confused too, because the last time I looked trusting in the Holy Spirit wasn’t the same thing as trusting in government tax money. Let’s see: In the world according to Roger, government aid to churches is called relying on the Holy Spirit instead of violating the First Amendment (somehow I doubt he sees tax-money to Islamic, Jewish, or Buddhist groups in the same way) and following Jesus’ nonviolence is called works righteousness. Meanwhile, Jesus’ own nonviolent sacrifice, choosing to die for us rather than kill his enemies, is seen by Roger as proof that God approves of violence. Apparently Roger not only believes (as do most Christians) that God used Jesus’ death in a redemptive manner, but that God, not the Romans, was Jesus’ real murderer. Have I got that right?

    Weird theology.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 20, 2006

  9. Dan said originally:

    But you don’t think that we ought NOT to be trying to follow in Jesus’ steps, right Roger? That’s what he’s saying, I imagine. Nothing wrong with that.

    To which Roger responded:

    Dan, it’s not a matter of ‘us’ doing the work. It’s a matter of us yielding to the Holy Spirit as He produces the good works.

    Okay, Roger, then don’t think that we ought not be yielding to the holy spirit as God produces the good works of us following in Jesus’ steps. Is that better? The thing is, as Jesus pointed out in the parable of the two brothers and again in the parable of the sheep and the goats, “surrendering your life” to Jesus is fine, but don’t mean Jack if you’re rejecting Jesus’ teachings by your words and actions.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | July 20, 2006

  10. Dan Trabue said: The thing is, as Jesus pointed out in the parable of the two brothers and again in the parable of the sheep and the goats, “surrendering your life” to Jesus is fine, but don’t mean Jack if you’re rejecting Jesus’ teachings by your words and actions.

    To which this Leveller adds: This is starting to get off the topic of which taxes are just, but I have to agree with you, Dan, about Jesus’ warnings on lipservice vs. real discipleship. In Matt. 7, at the end of the Sermon on the Mount is the Parable of the 2 Houses. The person who hears Jesus’ words AND DOES THEM is like the homeowner who builds his house on rock. The one who hears Jesus’ words AND DOES THEM NOT is like the homeowner who builds on sand.
    And, in the Great Commission, the Risen Christ commands that as disciples are going into the world, we make disciples from among all nations, baptizing them in the Triune Name and TEACHING THEM TO OBSERVE ALL JESUS’ TEACHINGS. There is nothing about “give your heart to Jesus and following him is optional but what’s not optional is that you have to vote to outlaw abortion and to put federal tax money for evangelism even though Jesus said nothing about either of those topics,” but Roger seems to think something like that is in there.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 20, 2006

  11. Which is the ventriliquist, Dan or Michael and which is the dummie?ūüôā

    Comment by mom2 | July 20, 2006

  12. Well, Mom2, we do agree on many things. Not surprising since we have been friends for many years and go to the same small church. However, we aren’t identical in views, despite what you may believe. Dan lives a much more simplified life than I do–to an extent I admire but wonder if I’ll ever achieve. Also, I think (unless he’s changed his mind since last we talked) he takes a much stronger stand against abortion than I do–though neither of us is very fond of the practice.

    Those are just two areas of many in which we don’t speak with one voice. But, in general, I’d be very glad to be considered a ventriloquist’s dummy for Dan–at least I’d be assured something good would come out of my mouth that way.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 20, 2006

  13. >Meanwhile, Jesus’ own nonviolent sacrifice, choosing to die for us rather than kill his enemies, is seen by Roger as proof that God approves of violence.

    Let’s be serious and look at this deeply. Was the cross a tragedy or a victory? Was God surprised by the cross or did He come to earth to die on it? Is He sovereign or is He not? Did Jesus die on the cross as a last resort of being overtaken by sinful, scheming man and to avoid a confrontation – or to be the atonement for our sin? Is Jesus the God-man or is He not?

    >The person who hears Jesus’ words AND DOES THEM is like the homeowner who builds his house on rock. The one who hears Jesus’ words AND DOES THEM NOT is like the homeowner who builds on sand.

    The ‘doing’ that you are referencing is a reference to the necessity of making the choice to be obedient to what you hear. It’s the difference between two lost people going to a church service and both hearing the sermon – one repents and one doesn’t. One heard the words and was obedient, the other was not. It’s not about a quantity of action, rather the act of being obedient to the truth.

    Comment by Roger | July 20, 2006

  14. ” It’s not about a quantity of action, rather the act of being obedient to the truth.”

    ummm…okay.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | July 20, 2006

  15. Michael, the last line of your original posting, “I think those who think churches need tax welfare have an incredible lack of faith in the ministries they supposedly support,” reminds me of a fund raising appeal that came in the mail from one of the many Christian ministries whose pleas for help used to stuff my mailbox.

    (I decided against sending all of them a form letter signed by someone else stating that I had died and could not longer answer their mailings.)

    One plea was particularly revolting because it was tied into its state’s lottery. Buy lottery tickets that it provided in the envelope and this outfit got a cut of the proceeds.

    I wrote to them to ask why they would get “grubby” like that. Shouldn’t people support your ministry because they are led of God to do so? I asked.

    Well, ideally, yes, I was told in reply. Their financial department had determined that people generally need more than an eternal reward incentive to do what they ought to be doing, i.e., supporting those who are out there doing the field work on their behalf, and the chance of some huge payoff like winning the lottery actually works better as a fundraising tactic than simply depending on the goodness of people’s hearts and their fidelity to spreading the Gospel. Ya do what ya gotta do to survive.

    To which I said then and say again, YUCK!

    Comment by Lex | July 26, 2006


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