Taxes and the common good

April 8th, 2016

Like thousands of other Americans right now, my mind has been preoccupied with the topic of taxes more often than usual lately, no doubt given that Tax Day 2016 is looming just ahead, always a big red X on the family calendar. Let’s face it; the word taxes is a highly charged and loaded word for many people. The connotations tend to be negative to almost anyone I have ever asked.

Ginghamsburg Church, where I have served as lead pastor since 1979, is located in a largely conservative district, with former Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner as its most recent congressional representative. That being said, Ginghamsburg’s congregation itself can be politically diverse. One weekend during my sermon a few years ago, I asked congregants to indicate by a show of hands, if they were willing, to share their primary political affiliation. The point of the message was to demonstrate how our allegiance to kingdom-of-God priorities supersedes that of any earthly political entity. The raised hands revealed Republicans, Democrats, Tea Party affiliates, Libertarians and so on. Although these disparate constituencies could find common ground in Jesus, I am not so confident they would find a common viewpoint on tax policy.

In the United States those who define themselves as liberals and those who define themselves as conservatives can espouse wildly varying stances. There are not completely black-and-white belief systems when comes to taxes; there are many nuanced shades of gray between both ends of the spectrum. But in general, the more liberal viewpoint would embrace higher taxes on the whole than conservatives would, especially when it comes to taxing the wealthy. The more liberal worldview would claim that a high-enough tax rate is necessary for a large government to be able to create jobs, support welfare programs, and in general care for the poor and needy.

Conservatives on the other hand are more likely to promote lower taxes and a small government. The underlying belief would be that lower taxes give the common woman or man more opportunity and incentive to work, save, invest and build their own lives, helping others through charitable giving as they see fit.

From my perspective both sides make some valid points, but I also think neither alone has the complete picture. I believe governments must be strong enough and well-funded enough to serve the common good, though that does not let us off the hook as individual Jesus followers or faith communities. In the United States, federal nutrition programs provide 20 times more food assistance than churches or charitable programs. The government spent $102.5 billion in 2013 versus a charitable investment of $5.2 billion. It takes a collaborative effort. It’s naïve to think that the government has no role to play in care of the poor.

Regardless of our individual viewpoints and policy perspectives on taxation, all Jesus followers must be active voices and advocates for those lacking access and influence. And, we must hold our governments accountable for contributing to, not limiting, ignoring or destroying the common good for all of God’s children.

Mike Slaughter is the almost four-decade chief dreamer and lead pastor of Ginghamsburg Church and the spiritual entrepreneur of ministry marketplace innovations. Mike’s call to "afflict the comfortable" challenges Christians to wrestle with God and their God-destinies. His newest book is The Christian Wallet: Spending, Giving, and Living with a Conscience.

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