Here’s the thing, no one likes taxes. Sane people recognize their necessity, but they do not like them. It is a simple fact of human nature, we don’t like people taking our stuff. Take a toy from a two year old without his permission and you will see just how unlearned that feeling is.
What most people realize along the way, hopefully, is that sometimes we need to share. Not all the time, mind you, just sometimes because sometimes it’s the best thing for everyone. If little Tommy decides he wants to form a monopoly on the kindergarten’s blocks, he will be made to share because everyone needs a chance to learn hand eye coordination. If we let little Tommy’s run our kindergartens then our society would be filled with people lacking basic hand eye coordination. Tommy’s should not run kindergartens.
Taxation, at least done well, is not stealing, it’s sharing for the common good. Like the military keeping you safe? Thank taxes. Like the FDA making sure there isn’t poop in your food? Thank taxes. Like public schools (and you should as they’re the foundation of democracy)? Thank taxes. Like children and mothers not starving to death? Thank taxes. Just like any smart kindergarten teacher, a smart society knows that a certain amount of sharing (i.e., taxes) are necessary to keep the whole thing functioning.
And just like little tyrannical Tommy, sometimes the burden of sharing falls unequally on some members of society. Tommy has to give up a bit more than everyone else because the other kiddos can’t build a house with two blocks.
The GOP tax plan effectively tells the Tommys of the United States that they don’t need to share as much, and that the other kiddos can make do. As the non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation observes, the initial (and more modest) tax cuts felt by the middle and lower classes would gradually be phased out while the massive tax cuts for the uber wealthy and corporations would stay intact. Over the long term life of the bill, some in the lowest tax brackets will even end up paying more. In effect, Tommy gets to share less while the other kids start sharing more.
What is more, our national deficit will continue to balloon under the plan. How will our leaders make up the difference? You can bet it’s not a reduction in military spending or Congressional retirement plans. No, it will be our societal safety net. The programs that feed kids, help people find jobs, take care of the sick and poor, keep your grandparents alive, those are cash cows that will soon be on the proverbial butcher block. It is a bait and switch on a devastating scale. Tax cuts are seldom followed by a lean mean governing machine, they are usually followed by someone losing something.
Now, you may be asking yourself, “What does this horribly oversimplified analogy on taxation have to do with Christianity?”
Well, the answer is “A lot.”
The Bible has a lot to say on money, how societies use that money, and how the rich and poor should interact. The Bible is no communist dreamscape, it accepts that the world is often an unequal place and that there are haves and have-nots. That said, it also doesn’t play well for hyper individualist free-marketers or the socially irresponsible use of wealth.
One of the biggest “Money No-No’s” of the Bible: rich people using their power to take stuff from poorer people.
The prophets of our tradition still speak loudly by the power of God’s Spirit:
The Lord says, “The people of Israel are as dishonest as the Canaanites; they love to cheat their customers with false scales. ‘We are rich,’ they say. ‘We’ve made a fortune. And no one can accuse us of getting rich dishonestly. Hosea 12:7-8
They are all experts at doing evil. Officials and judges ask for bribes. The influential people tell them what they want, and so they scheme together. Micah 7:3
He cheats the poor, he robs, he keeps what a borrower gives him as security. He goes to pagan shrines, worships disgusting idols, and lends money for profit. Will he live? No, he will not. He has done all these disgusting things, and so he will die. Ezekiel 22:12-13
This list could go on and on, but you get the gist.
It is important to remember that wealth is not an evil in the Bible, but it is dangerous. Not just because it can lure your “heart away from God,” but because it means you are more responsible for those less powerful than you. Wealth means you have more power, and as Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben reminds us, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Christian Scriptures suggest that the wealthy and the powerful, rather than being less burdened, should be more burdened for the plight of those poorer than them. The tax legislation suggested thus far seems to fail the test of this basic Biblical ethic. It is an attempt to unburden the wealthy at the expense of the public good. There is no economic boom coming to create a massive trickle down effect where all boats rise. It’s just plain stealing from public coffers.
So, what might be a better alternative start for a better tax plan? As usual, Jesus may have something to say.
The people asked him, “What are we to do, then?” He answered, “Whoever has two shirts must give one to the man who has none, and whoever has food must share it.” Luke 3:10-11
If we begin from the assumption that our wealth has social importance, that it is not just ours, and that it demands something of us, then we’ll be thinking about wealth in a way closer to how God thinks of it. Taxes, as horrible as they feel, can be an extension of our concern for our neighbors. In fact, that is exactly what they are most of the time.
From what I’ve seen, the only “neighbors” this plan truly cares about are the ones who have deep pockets. The block-hoarding tyrants of the classroom were just made the teachers.
Note from the Editorial Team: Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.