Taxes, Government and Christ

I watched the debate on Fox News last night and was reminded that, like all people who walk on this earth, all those candidates are just people. Like you and me, they all make mistakes. As my dad would say, they all put their pants on one leg at a time. It’s helpful to remember that when you watch the debates and other events that showcase them. I wish they’d spend more time talking about how they’d solve problems than pointing fingers at each other’s mistakes, but that’s for a different post. Today I need to write about taxes and how they fit in with my Christian worldview.

The first thing that comes to mind is that all wealth, all money, comes from the Lord. All of it. Every means of measuring wealth that people have used through the centuries comes from God Almighty. And all of that treasure is ultimately his. It’s important to recognize that when working out what it means to be a Christian in today’s world.

The second point is that the leaders of our country have been approved by God himself. Sometimes he allows those with hardened hearts to cause events that eventually lead up to his purposes (think of Pharaoh, think of Joseph’s brothers throwing him in the well). Sometimes he places a series of strong leaders in place that quickly move his purposes and plans along. The point is, He has a plan. No primary election in any state or general election or election result will impede his plan for our nation or for each one of us. Even if we all make huge, horrendous mistakes and we end up with a president who tromps all over the Word of God and legalizes everything God says is illegal…God’s plan will prevail. The victory has already been won!

Psalm 33
9 For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm.

10 The LORD foils the plans of the nations;
he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.

11 But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever,
the purposes of his heart through all generations!

A key question during the recent debates has been whether or not each candidate would raise taxes. All the Democratic candidates seek to raise them and “roll back” tax cuts that have already been granted. Ack! We are taxed enough, many people say, including me. When I went back to teaching, the meager extra income put us over into another tax bracket; the resulting taxes, and the amount of personal money I paid to equip my classroom and my students, made my net earnings almost zip. It’s extremely frustrating to work so hard, even to work two or more jobs, to try to get ahead only to have the government penalize your extra productivity.

What does our government use our taxes for? That question is the one of the century. So much waste and corruption are in place, and the tax code is so cumbersome that even the experts don’t know the law! It is not responsible stewardship of our country to take all this money from the people without an easy-to-understand accounting of where the money is being spent. Surely some of that money is being spent in ways that do benefit our country as a whole and in ways that ultimately are pleasing to God.

What did Jesus think of taxes? Let’s find out in Matthew 17:

24After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax[b]?”

25“Yes, he does,” he replied.
When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?”

It’s interesting that Jesus said “kings of the earth” rather than just saying “kings.” I think he was making a distinction. Let’s keep digging. The word used for “sons” in Greek is huios, which can mean descendants. So Jesus is asking Peter whether kings of the earth collect taxes from their own descendants or from strangers.

26“From others,” Peter answered.

“Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27“But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

Jesus said that the King’s sons are exempt from the tax, from the law. Could it be that Christ was painting a comparison between himself as the King and the kings of the earth? The implication is that followers of the true King are no longer slaves to the law. But then what does Jesus tell Peter to do? He says “so that we may not offend them…” The word “offend” is the Greek word skandalizo which literally means to provide a stumbling block, to cause to sin, to cause one to distrust one whom he ought to obey. Jesus did not want us to give those who run our government any reason to distrust the one whom they ought to obey — God! If we do not pay our taxes, if we cheat on them or refuse to pay them, then we are giving someone else a stumbling block to Christ.

How was a fisherman who had been following Jesus everywhere able to come up with the money to pay the tax? Miraculously! The point is that he paid it. Jesus could have gone to the leaders and displayed who He was in a blinding flash of glory. He could have used his extensive knowledge to argue his way out of paying the tax, or to try to change the law. But he did not. Our Lord instead humbled himself and gave over the tax which would be used for the temple.

We in America who earn paychecks give over lots of money involuntarily — much of it is docked before we even see the check. Still others end up having to pay even more money each year when it becomes apparent that the ever-inefficient IRS didn’t take out enough money in the first place. But I think it is important to note that the Bible does not record Peter or Jesus complaining about the tax payment. Perhaps in those days it wasn’t possible for citizens to change the law, as it is in our country. We have a unique privilege to decide how much money our government gets and to demand accountability for those monies.

Which Republican candidate has the best record on taxes? I wish Huckabee had spoken more plainly in last night’s debate. Yes, he did raise taxes. But they were necessary. They money raised was used for the good of the people. Here are the particulars:

$500 Million Total Net Increase in Taxes, Adjusted for Inflation
$5.2 Billion Increase in Spending

When you look closely at those numbers,  you can see that although spending increased over 5 billion dollars, there was only a $500 million net  total increase in taxes.  That is a good sign!  Huckabee was under a court order to change the way public schools were funded so that they would be more equitable. He did so by raising taxes, and in the process increased student performance state-wide. Roads were built and improved. Some might not know that Arkansas state law requires a balanced budget. So he was faced with a budget shortfall, a court order for funding the schools, repairs for pothhole-filled roads, and rising health care costs. He raised some taxes but then cut them back when the needed items were paid for. From his website:

  • Governor Huckabee is a fiscal conservative who cut taxes almost 100 times in the state of Arkansas.
  • He doubled the standard deduction and the child care credit
  • Eliminated the marriage penalty
  • Repealed capital gains taxes for home sales
  • Lowered the capital gains rate
  • Expanded the homestead exemption
  • Set up tax-free savings accounts for medical care and college tuition.

The fact is that when Governor Huckabee began in office, the tax rate was 1% for the poorest taxpayers and 7 percent for the richest – the tax rates remained exactly the same when he left the governor’s office 11 years later. The sales tax only went up 1 penny in 10 ½ years and the gas tax 3 cents per gallon.

From FactCheck.org on Huckabee’s fiscal record:

It’s worth noting, too, that Huckabee, despite facing a $200 million shortfall in 2002, ended his term with a surplus of $844.5 million. A billion dollar turnaround is, we think, a noteworthy accomplishment.

Relying on someone who pledges to do nothing but “cut taxes” is not feasible. Running a government costs money. What I want is a leader who will see what spending needs to be done, find the funding for it, do the job wisely, and give any surplus back to the people. That is responsible stewardship. It’s what Huckabee did in Arkansas, and I believe he would do the same for America.

My prayers go out to all the candidates, and my trust is placed not in Huckabee, nor in whoever wins the nomination, but in my God, who created the heavens, the earth, and all that is in them, including this gorgeous sunrise.sunset.jpg Praise be to Him!

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