What Would Jesus Tax?

<strong><em>By Sam Webb</em></strong><br /> <br /> I took Income Tax Law during the second semester of my 2L year at Texas Tech University School of Law. The course was taught by a respected professor who was loved by the students. He also happened to be a Quaker, or that was the rumor. Tech Law was an anomaly for state-funded law schools. Of the three tax professors in the faculty, each was rumored to be a Christian and one even held a Master of Divinity and was ordained clergy. Jesus not only calls tax collectors as disciples, but apparently tax professors, too!<br /> <br /> During my Income Tax Law course, the professor took two class periods to watch and discuss a filmed presentation by Susan Pace Hamill, Professor of Law and Honors Professor at The University of Alabama. Professor Hamill argued in her presentation from her perspective on Christian ethics for a more politically liberal, progressive tax policy, an argument which summarized her 2002 Alabama Law Review article, &ldquo;<em>An Argument for Tax Reform Based on Judeo-Christian Ethics</em>.&rdquo;<a href=”#_edn1″ name=”_ednref1″ title=””>[i]</a> Bruce Bartlett writes in Tax Analysts, &ldquo;Her analysis relies less on specific biblical statements about taxation and more on the general view that greed and excessive wealth are contrary to Judeo-Christian ethics and that public policy ought to be oriented toward redressing extremes of wealth and aiding the poor whenever possible.&rdquo;<a href=”#_edn2″ name=”_ednref2″ title=””>[ii]</a><br /> <br /> I do not intend to analyze Prof. Hamill&rsquo;s arguments in this post &ndash; perhaps that will be for another post. However, the question should be asked: Is there a biblical view of tax policy? To put it another way &ndash; what would Jesus tax? This question may seem <em>prima facie </em>absurd. There is no scriptural evidence that Jesus ever passed one piece of tax legislation or drafted a policy position paper on the Jewish temple tax. Even still, the scriptures are &ldquo;profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness.&rdquo; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; The Word of God renews and transforms the mind. And the scriptures, and the Christian faith, begin with God the Creator.<br /> <br /> As image bearers of the Creator God, humans can reason and deduce principles from the created order, albeit the perceived reliability of those deductions will depend on your understanding of the noetic effects of sin. Be that as it may, most all Christians agree that we can have natural knowledge of the world, however skewed, like mathematical and practical knowledge. God has given the Christian two books of revelation &ndash; special and natural. Special revelation &ndash; the Scripture &ndash; requires illumination by the Holy Spirit to be rightly understood. In other words, only the renewed, spiritual mind can rightly understand special revelation. Whereas, natural revelation can be grasped by the natural mind, though the Holy Spirit through Paul tells us such natural knowledge, which should lead to knowledge of the glory of God, is suppressed by the natural man in unrighteousness. Natural knowledge, though, is still possible.<a href=”#_edn3″ name=”_ednref3″ title=””>[iii]</a><br /> <br /> This is important when considering the biblical worldview of tax law and policy. It&rsquo;s true &ndash; the Bible never addresses the wisdom of a given tax policy. Rather, the Bible only calls the Christian to pray what tax is owed and not to unlawfully evade tax payments. For some, this is the end of the debate as to a biblical worldview of taxation. However, like Prof. Hamill, I would argue the Bible offers a special lens by which to view natural principles.<a href=”#_edn4″ name=”_ednref4″ title=””>[iv]</a><br /> <br /> The Protestant tradition has debated natural theology since the Reformation and proffered various theories of the politico-theological relationship, such as two kingdoms theory, sphere sovereignty, and others. The Roman Catholic tradition, however, has a long history of socio-ethical reflection and analysis, even on the topic of taxation. A more recent publication of Roman Catholic thought, the <em>Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church</em>, was published in 2004 by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the request of Pope John Paul II. In the <em>Compendium</em>, the Council observes:<br /> <br /> Tax revenues and public spending take on crucial economic importance for every civil and political community. The goal to be sought is public financing that is itself capable of becoming an instrument of development and solidarity. Just, efficient and effective public financing will have very positive effects on the economy, because it will encourage employment growth and sustain business and non-profit activities and help to increase the credibility of the State as the guarantor of systems of social insurance and protection that are designed above all to protect the weakest members of society.<br /> <br /> Public spending is directed to the common good when certain fundamental principles are observed: the payment of taxes as part of the duty of solidarity; a reasonable and fair application of taxes; precision and integrity in administering and distributing public resources.<a href=”#_edn5″ name=”_ednref5″ title=””>[v]</a><br /> <br /> In the <em>Compendium</em>, we see natural principles at play &ndash; just, efficient, effective, reasonable, fair, and precise. Is justice biblical? How about efficient, effective and reasonable? Yes, of course! God is just. God is efficient (if by efficient, we mean purposeful and not wasteful). God is reasonable, fair and precise. We know this from the Scripture. These are natural principles given shape and substance ultimately by God.<br /> <br /> So, what would Jesus tax? I&rsquo;m not sure. I have my policy prescriptions and I would like to think those prescriptions are just, efficient, effective, reasonable, fair and precise. My guess, though, is that other well-meaning Christians will disagree with my policy prescriptions and that&rsquo;s fine. We should have a robust debate on the merits of such policy prescriptions based on principle, even those principles set forth by the Roman Catholic Church as biblical wisdom. But, let&rsquo;s not disparage brothers and sisters in Christ over matters not clearly revealed in Scripture.<br /> <br /> The application of these principles will vary from person to person and Christian to Christian. The Scripture does not prescribe a one-size-fits-all tax policy that is true for all governments, at all times, in all places. There is no doctrine of taxation in the church. The doctrine of taxation is not like the doctrine of substitutionary atonement &ndash; that Jesus Christ acted as a substitute on the cross for all who would repent and believe. The confessing church can sing, &ldquo;In my place condemned He stood&hellip;Hallelujah! What a Savior!&rdquo; There is no such hymn for the social doctrine of taxation.<br /> <br /> <em>Sam Webb is an attorney and consultant at a corporate tax advisory firm in Washington, D.C., where he lives with his wife and daughter. &nbsp;He serves Grace Baptist Church of Arlington as Deacon of Services and pursues theological studies through Reformed Theological Seminary. &nbsp;He can be reached at scw0530@gmail.com</em><br /> <br /> —————————————————————————<br /> Based on Judeo-Christian Ethics, 54 Alabama Law Review 1-112 (2002)<br /> <br /> <div> <div id=”edn2″> <a href=”#_ednref2″ name=”_edn2″ title=””>[ii]</a> Bartlett, Bruce. <em>Tax Policy and the Bible</em>. Tax Analysts, December 16, 2013.</div> <div id=”edn3″> <a href=”#_ednref3″ name=”_edn3″ title=””>[iii]</a> This brief discussion is not meant to delve into the intricacies of the epistemological debates, or the debates of the possibility of natural theology.</div> <div id=”edn4″> <a href=”#_ednref4″ name=”_edn4″ title=””>[iv]</a> To be clear, I do not agree with Prof. Hamill&rsquo;s analysis of the Judeo-Christian ethic applied to tax policy.</div> <div id=”edn5″> <a href=”#_ednref5″ name=”_edn5″ title=””>[v]</a> <em>Compendium,</em> Section 355.</div> </div> <br />