The great, and at times frustrating, thing about my Facebook wall is the diversity of my friends and their willingness to engage in discussion. I have conservative Tea Party friends, Socialist friends, Christian friends, Atheist friends, Fundamentalist friends, Liberal friends, etc. They come in all shapes, sizes, hues, tones, & shades. This means I get to engage with a wide variety of thoughts. Sometimes this leaves me feeling like I am hitting my head against a concrete wall…and at other times it leaves me invigorated. So, when I posted the above meme on my wall, there was a lot of discussion.
I have had many similar discussions over the years. One theme that often pops up is the idea that taxation is theft. In this conversation, one person (who is an administrator at a conservative Christian college) said, “Governments don’t ‘have’ resources, they take them”. This is an oft-repeated refrain in my political discussions. In some ways, they are saying that “What is mine is mine, and what the government taxes they are stealing from me.” This is an idea without Biblical support.
God ordained a tithe which was essentially a 10% tax for both religious and state purposes. 10% is actually a little misleading because there were three tithes along with mandated hospitality and the requirement to not fully harvest fields so that the poor could harvest the rest. Further, in the New Testament Jesus clearly said to “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” This was in the context of the Roman government’s taxation of Israel. Rome was an occupying force and its tax system was oppressive and unjust. Yet, even then, Jesus said to pay your taxes. Plus, he didn’t say let Caesar steal from you he actually claimed that it WAS Caesar’s. Paul likewise, in Romans 13, is very clear that the earthly authorities over us (ie. government) are ordained by God. He even says, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed”. Those taxes aren’t theft from us. They are owed by us to our government. If we don’t pay them we are the thieves. Fortunately, in the United States, we have a system where we have some say on taxation and how it is used. We should be involved in that process. But, even if we were under a government that did not give us that say and often used taxes to oppress, such as ancient Rome, taxation is not theft… biblically speaking.
We get what we have not earned and Christ paid that price. That is the very heart of love…the very heart of the Gospel. Why do we want our earthly principles to be so different from the eternal ones?
Another argument that is often repeated is the idea that people should only get what they earn. People often make the argument that to help the poor without making sure they deserve it is to enable the poor. The idea of paying one cent of tax for something that someone else doesn’t deserve is terribly troublesome to so many. One example that comes to mind was when the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010. I was, at the time, heading the Art Department at a denominational school.
Unfortunately, like many Christian Colleges, they do not take good care of their faculty. I had health insurance through the college, My children were covered by Medicaid (unfortunately, that was common for children of that school’s faculty), and we could not afford health insurance for my wife (also a common problem among faculty families). When the bill was passed by Congress I posted on my wall, “One small step for Congress…one large step for my wife’s life expectancy!” To which a close family member responded, “One less dollar in my bank account.” As the conversation continued, it was revealed that the family member assumed that I was choosing not to insure my wife but didn’t want to pay so they didn’t want to pay for my choices. It wasn’t true, but we often make those sorts of assumptions about others. I can understand that sentiment. But, we too often just assume every problem is a direct result of other people’s neglectful choices.
This same sort of sentiment often comes out when people argue that the poor shouldn’t get food stamps, cash aid, or medical care. The base argument is ‘why should I pay for it when they don’t deserve it?’ On the human level that really hits home. But then something occurred to me and I posted a new status on Facebook (which also started a conversation though not as huge of one):
So many Christians are against the poor in our country getting something they haven’t earned and are really bothered by others paying the price for them. But, that is the exact spiritual Truth that every Christian clings to. We get what we have not earned and Christ paid that price. That is the very heart of love…the very heart of the Gospel. Why do we want our earthly principles to be so different from the eternal ones?
The very heart of the Gospel is getting that which you have not earned. To receive eternal life is to get free stuff you didn’t pay for. We cling to and cherish this truth as Christians. It is the very core of our faith. God paid the price for those who were his enemies to receive eternal life if they so desire. Not because we deserved it but because he loves us.
If that is true, and it is, why are so many Christians against the idea of people getting things they don’t pay for? I think the answer is love. God has unbounded love. It is limitless and extravagant. Ours isn’t. Our selfishness fights against our love. Jesus told us, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13-34-35) How did Christ love? He loved in word but more importantly in action. He loved by feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and teaching truth. But today, at least in the United States, we Christians are not known for our love. That is to our shame.
Jesus also said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’…‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:35-26 & 40)
The way we treat the poor and the needy is a reflection of our faith. Further, when one reads the full parable they see that those who love God do this and those who don’t love God don’t. To reference Russell Moore’s piece about Trump in the New York Times those on the right side of God care for the poor those on the left (wrong) side do not.
At this point, the objection about an individual being different from the state always comes up. It has always seemed incongruous to me to argue that our government values should somehow be different from our personal values. If we value caring for “the least of these” we, in a representative republic, should advocate for a government that shares that value. Our Government is made up of “We the people.” Sadly, many have turned the government into a boogie man, an “other” that we must fight against. I, by no means, believe that government is perfect and doesn’t have problems. It has serious problems. We should advocate correcting those problems but the government we seek to create should be an extension of our values.
It has been instructive for me to read books like Ezekiel and Isaiah and see the things for which God castigated Israel. I was struck a few years back when reading about the sin of Sodom in Ezekiel. He uses Sodom as an example to show that Israel is worse:
“As I live,” says the Lord God, “neither your sister Sodom nor her daughters have done as you and your daughters have done. Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit.” ( Ezekiel 16:48-50)
The first and primary sin was their pride and lack of care for the poor and needy.
Similarly in Isaiah God claims that the religious devotion of the Israelites was a burden, an abomination, and even hated by God. What did God want from his nation collectively?
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land (Isaiah 1:16-19)
How do we learn to do the good that God wants? Seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s case. As a nation how was Israel to make their sins white as snow? It wasn’t through religious devotion. Their devotion had disgusted God. It was through caring for the needy and oppressed. That is how they were to demonstrate that their devotion was not hollow.
What does God require of us as individuals, as a community of believers, as a nation?
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
If we are to have a nation of Christian values it doesn’t come through our public display of devotion. Israel did that and God hated it. It will come through honoring the heart of God and caring for those in need. Most especially, those whom we feel do not deserve it. If we are to follow Christ’s words we are to love one another even as Christ loved us. That means loving others when they are unlovable…when they do not deserve it.
Getting what we don’t deserve is the heart of the Gospel and our politics should reflect our faith.
This essay is from our Anastasis Series where we resurrect articles from the past that are either still relevant today. This piece was first published on May 23, 2016, and has been lightly edited and updated.