Acton Institute Powerblog

When Should Christians Refuse to Pay Taxes?

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As the federal government becomes ever more willing to use taxpayer dollars to fund activites that violate the conscience of its citizens, we’re increasingly faced with the question of whether we should refuse to pay those taxes. Theologian R.C. Sproul Jr. says the Christian answer is clear:

. . . I can say with confidence that Christians should in fact pay whatever taxes they owe even when that money ends up financing abortions. The Christian who pays such taxes has no need to feel guilty, while the Christian that refuses to pay, however well intentioned, ought to feel guilty.

Theologians have long understood the principle that must be applied here- we are responsible for our own actions, not the actions of others. In this instance, the Bible is quite clear about our obligation to pay our taxes (Mark 12:17). It is also clear that the proper function of the state is not to finance evil, but to punish it (Romans 13). Their failure to do what God calls them to do, however, does not mean I am free to not do what I am commanded to do. That they have so horribly misused the taxes that I have paid doesn’t mean I am guilty of what they have done. I have been taxed, and when those taxes are paid, they are no longer mine. What the state does with them may be something I should speak against. It may be something I should condemn. But I am not guilty.

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • Peter

    The whole point of a democratic govt is that it is participatory. We cannot divide “us” from “they the govt.” We are the govt.

    Further, Sproul’s use of Mark 12:17 begs the question “Well what is Ceasar’s?” Is the portion of money he will use to kill babies really his?

    We are not responsible for other’s actions, but we are responsible for our actions with respect to others, when we know their evil intent. I owe my neighbor his gun back, and happen to know he is going to go murder someone, etc.

    The issue is not so clear cut. Presenting it as such undercuts careful thinking.

    • Roger McKinney

      It’s not quite accurate to say that we are the govt. The govt is the majority, which has often oppressed many minorities in the history of the US. If the majority has become evil, then the govt will be evil, too.

  • Roger McKinney

    On the principle that we aren’t responsible for the actions
    of others, I agree with Sproul. Paying taxes does not make us responsible for
    the evil that politicians commit. I don’t agree that the Bible teaches that we
    should blindly pay all taxes.

    The knee jerk response from most Christians is to quote Romans
    13. But if we consider Paul’s actions, he was a hypocrite because he refused to
    quit preaching the gospel when ordered to do so by the state. All Christians
    will admit there the state can cross a moral line beyond which Christians
    cannot obey state laws. As an extreme example, Christians had a very hard time
    obeying the laws of the Third Reich concerning Jews.

    Mark 12:17 doesn’t
    tell us to pay our taxes, only to render to Caesar. The coin had Caesar’s image
    on it so it belonged to him. Jesus wasn’t a policy wonk. He didn’t make public
    policy pronouncements.

    So all Christians admit there is a limit to how far we
    should obey state laws; we merely disagree over where that line is. If people
    decide to quit paying taxes because the state uses the money to fund abortions,
    or start illegal wars, or any of the myriad of evil the state can do, that is a
    personal issue between them and God. I don’t think any Christian has standing
    to criticize them.

    Church scholars at Salamanca,
    and Protestant writers during the Reformation agreed that the state had the
    right to collect taxes for its God-given duties of defending life, liberty and
    property. Any taxes collected beyond that were theft. Christians don’t have to
    participate in the robbery of their property by the state.

    However, on practical matters, it is very dangerous to defy
    the state. Early Christians chose to go underground, as have many in Muslim
    countries today. I think that is wise given Jesus’ advice to not cast pearls
    before swine. Paul left cities in which the persecution was too severe. Of
    course, if you desire to send a message to Washington,
    you’ll want to go to jail for not paying taxes.

    I think Christians are under no obligation to pay taxes to
    an evil government. Nor are they sinning by paying those taxes. But if you
    choose not to pay taxes, and you don’t intend to send a message, the only
    option left is to participate in the black market, or what should be called the
    free market.

  • Jim

    I believe you are incorrect . Its totally just, to refuses to pay taxes to a government funding abortions, as well as running up unjust amounts of debt that cannot ever be repaid.

    Render to Caesar, what is due Caesar, Caesar is not entitled to an unlimited amount from the tax payers.

    If you take that stand you should be prepared to accept the consequences

  • Roger, it appears you have confused facts to suite your argument. There is ample evidence that many Catholic ministers were sent to NAZI Germany’s gas chamber because they fought the Nazis for murdering Jews.. You raise good points but wash out in the detail trying to prove your point with inaccurate and incomplete information. But its OK, the intention was good. I agree with you there are times one has to stand up against the system, but by breaking the law you play into Satan’s hand. Let me explain this statement.

    During 2005 I supported the opposition MDC a political party in Zimbabwe. ZANU-PF sent in militia to remove me from my property. The militia invaded my lodge may times and finally covered me with petrol (gas) as they threatened to burn me. I told them on each occasion, if they murdered me, they must answer to God. They backed down fearing retribution every time. I could see their hearts were not in it. I had a good reputation for charity in the village.

    When the militia would not murder me, ZANU-PF sent in the para-military police. They stormed my property thrice hoping to catch me doing something unlawful. But they could not. Finally, they detained (arrested) me under false pretense on suspicion of failure to pay taxes and currency laws. The real reason was because I was an outspoken critic of ZANU-PF Government for their mismanagement of the country and murder, rape and beating of those opposed to do keep control.

    They ordered the police to arrest me under the Presidents Emergency Powers on suspicion of tax fraud. They held me months in jail while they investigated me. In Zimbabwe, it is not necessary to have a prima facia case against you, police may detain you while they make a case against you: for 30 days at a time. I was detained for three consecutive period of thirty days with five pace intermission between release and rearrest. But, Because I’d paid my taxes, the Mugabe government could not convict me.

    While I was detained, I started a church in the prison. Our singing and prayer every evening shook the walls. I was their worst nightmare come true: a Christian prepared to remain in jail for life to oppose social injustice – a humble Christian prepared to accept beating and hardship with my fellow prisoners without complain. With every injustice I became stronger. When I criticized it was with humility. I looked for ways to be useful to the prisoners. I fixed toilets and lights that had not worked twenty years, I grew food, held bible study and we sung at the top of our vices to raise moral every evening. ZANU-PF offered me freedom in return for a false confession. I chased them out of the jail telling the whole jail these thugs offered me freedom if I lied. I told them, God put me in this jail to sort it out, He will release me when He is ready. I shouted me was a dirty dog (a big insult in their customs) to the cheers of all those watching.

    Because my hands were clean and they couldn’t pin anything on me, and ZANY-PF couldn’t induce me to leave the prison, ZANU-PF decided to murder me.

    ZANU-PF needed the police, justice and prison authorities’s cooperation to get me from the prison into their truck where they unseen could dispose of me. The plans was they were to transfer me to another jail and they were to shoot me for attempting to escape. Christians in these these organisations decided to bust me out. They put their own careers, lives and their families at risk.They busted me out of jail and arranged my safe passage out of Zimbabwe. Praise be to God! Without lifting a finger to free myself. The power of God opened the hearts of good Christians from within the enemy camp and that is how God delivered me.

    Being innocent of any wrong doing was essential – if I had not paid my taxes ZANY-PF would have had the right to remove me from that jail and kill me. It is unlikely that those Christians would have helped me if they know I’d broken the law, God protected me for being obedient and faithful.

    I hope you enjoyed the story and moreso that it will inspire you to put yourself into Gods hands. Don’t try do it your way! Do it His way! May the peace and blessings of God bring you and your family joy and happiness this lent and Easter weekend to you.