People have all kinds of feelings about taxation.
Some are convinced that taxation is just the government taking hard-earned money out of our pockets, while others hold a more indifferent attitude.
Generally speaking, it is probably safe to say that most people want to keep as much of their paychecks as possible while still paying into “the system” enough to benefit from infrastructure, like safe roads and bridges.
Unfortunately, how we do that often devolves into partisan bickering. Christians, however, are called not to partisanship, but to righteousness.
The prophet, Micah, asks and answers the question of our call as people of faith. “And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”
While the prophet was speaking to a different audience in a different context, his words still serve as a helpful guide as we discern a faithful response to a variety of contemporary concerns, including taxation.
“To love kindness” is to fulfill the actions of the righteous, whom Jesus describes in Matthew 25:35-36, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
While some might suggest we could be taxed less if the government were not offering so many social services, the truth is that too often Christians are happy to pray for the poor but complain when the government does something about them.
As congregations do their best to serve their communities, we know that churches struggle to meet our neighbors’ various needs.
Pooling our resources through taxes is one way to provide food, clothing and healthcare “to the least of these.”
Christians can think of paying taxes as a way to offer kindness even to those who they will never meet.
“To walk humbly with God” is a reminder that our humanity makes us vulnerable. It is the precursor to the saying, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”
Some of the most important products of taxation are social safety nets. Unemployment, illness and death can strike anyone at any time.
Knowing this, we set up assistance that can carry an individual or a family through a time of crisis.
To contribute to this system is to acknowledge humbly that we, too, may be in need one day.
We are not too proud or self-assured to believe that we are somehow better than our neighbors in need.
Finally, as we work “to do justice,” we must consider how tax dollars are spent. We are not called to pay taxes blindly. What those dollars go toward matters greatly.
In “Credo,” William Sloane Coffin noted in the 1980s, “had the world spent for the poor $1 million every day since the birth of Jesus Christ, it would have spent but one half of what the current presidential administration wants to spend in five years on the U.S. military alone – $1.5 trillion.”
The sentiment holds true today. How our tax dollars are spent says something about who we are as a nation.
People of faith should work to make sure that the monies collected by state and federal government go to the common good, specifically for economic justice, public education and social services for our most vulnerable neighbors.
Paying taxes can be an important way to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly.
As we consider Micah’s words, let us also consider what it means to pay faithfully into the system.
May our commitment to kindness and humility be guided by our commitment to justice as we care for all of God’s beloved children.
Lori Walke is a minister at Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ in Oklahoma City. She earned her juris doctor from Oklahoma City School of Law in 2009 and then answered the call to ordained ministry, graduating from Phillips Theological Seminary in 2012. Her sermons can be found online, and you can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series on taxation. The previous articles in the series are:
Graduated Income Tax Creates Fair System for Everyone by Ralph Martire
Paying Taxes is Our Duty, Not Our Reason to Rant by Bob Browning