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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Paying Taxes Joyfully

Last night Dr. Cornel West spoke at a Salvation Army event for young adults; he spoke about racial reconciliation and the love that Christians must have for each other, and for everyone. But there were some who were less than blessed that Dr. West was our guest. Some accused him, before the event, of stirring up hatreds, and others were angry that we’d invite a Marxist to speak.

Afterwards, in a very brief Twitter exchange, a Salvationist friend of mine posted: “Socialism ≠ Christianity. Christ promoted voluntary giving/charity NOT mandatory taking by the government.”

To which I replied that I’m “not convinced those are (or have to be) mutually exclusive categories.”

I voluntarily – joyfully, even – pay my taxes to help others and to contribute to the uplifting of my neighbors. I like that we can have roads, fire departments, police, public libraries, schools, health inspectors, and et cetera. I enjoy paying my taxes in the sense that I am pleased to help others in this way. It is a form of service and giving – and while it may be a duty, an obligation, it is not a hateful duty.

'Yes,' but, I am frequently interrupted when I speak this way, 'wouldn’t it be better to give your charity to the homeless guy personally, instead of letting the government do it?'  Maybe. But if government subsidized housing can keep that guy from being homeless, I’d rather have the government program than the beggar on the street corner.

There are some caveats to my joyful taxpaying, however.

Waste is bad and to be continually eliminated. Being liberal (that is giving freely) should not be equated or equivalent to wasteful. However – I’d rather give extravagantly (wastefully, even) than be stingy or miserly, withholding from the many because of the faults of the few.

Fraud is also bad – and there are some who “take advantage of the system.” True. However, those cases are relatively few.  I’d rather be defrauded by a few than not give at all.

I also object to tax funded instruments of death and destruction – and by this I mean the huge military budget of our country. My joyful giving is greatly taxed by this. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” (Beyond Vietnam April 4, 1967) 

'But,' I am interrupted again. 'Taxation is theft!'

And to this I sigh. I have heard too many sermons and devotionals and commentaries from Christian leaders, and preachers, who have over and again said in one word or another that ‘we are only stewards of what God has entrusted to us’ for this argument to take root. Taxation can only be theft if I stubbornly insist in thinking that the money is mine.

Socialism and Christianity may not be synonymous, terms to be used interchangeably, but I don’t believe them to be mutually exclusive terms. It is possible that Socialism can be a political expression of the love we, as Christians, are commanded to have for each other. Socialism is (or can be) love.

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