Pretty much everyone.
Other than the occasional "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's" sermon, we Christians don't think very much about taxes. We do have thoughts on government initiatives, but it seems we spend very little time thinking about the question, "At what cost?" Some may assert that cost doesn't matter. I would argue it does…especially if the cost will be retrieved forceably from a particular segment of society…and if it draws Christians closer to the bosom of the state. Here are some questions I'm pondering as we get near to tax time:
- Is there a right amount for the government to tax citizens? Is there an immoral or an ideal level?
- Is it just to tax some people more heavily than others? If so, on what basis? This is a different question than, "Are those who have more obligated to share with those who have less?"
- What effect does taxation have on the hearts of the taxed?
- Is government a just distributor of social services?
My own take, boiled down to a couple of paragraphs is this:
It is absolutely fair for government to collect taxes from citizens. Christians are obligated to pay those taxes, provided some they don't find themselves in violation of some weightier matter of God's Will as a result (and they can't cop out here…it has to be legit). As I've mentioned in previous posts, I don't believe much in the power of government to transform much of anything or even make things equitable. To me, a transformed society of sharing must come another way…and a transformed society becomes more unlikely every time the government takes by force. I would be more trusting if the government would execute its duties without acquiring more power and money as it went. Without knowing what a hard number is, I do believe there is an immoral level of taxation…depending on its purpose and extent. At some point taxation becomes theft…but it's hard to know where that line is. I also feel that whether the left or the right occupies power…the church does well to keep a healthy distance from the Empire without being outright hostile to it. We are to be good citizens, respectful of and prayerful for those in authority.
While some would claim government programs focused on "justice" are consistent with Jesus' mission to bring good news to the poor and sight to the blind, this seems like a stretch to me—as He certainly never sought out government as the tool to do it. He never called for higher taxes, more government programs or claimed entitlements as civil rights for people. Christians would have an easier time coming to consensus on the issues of our day if He had. He called those who would listen to a new way of life characterized in part by sharing and justice…and we should as well. This doesn't mean that government cannot play any role. I just don't believe inviting an unconverted Caesar to be a primary tool of justice in the world is a good idea. If Caesar were to become Constantine (government became Christian), I would still urge the church to keep it's distance. History has some vivid lessons to teach us on this point. We should pay our taxes and do justice. Sometimes justice may happen because we pay our taxes. But not usually. Justice happens as transformed people and transformed churches do justice and begin the work of transforming society from within. Secular society cannot be depended on to act justly…especially until it's cleansed itself up a bit. Nevertheless, we must give to Caesar what's His, and to God what's His.
What say you?