It’s tax day, and though I’m sure you’ve already begun your revelry, I suggest we all take a moment of silence to close our eyes and relish that warm, fuzzy feeling we get when pressured by the IRS to pay up or head to the Big House.
Indeed, with all of the euphemistic Circle-of-Protection talk bouncing around evangelicalism — reminding us of our “moral obligation” to treat political planners as economic masters and the “least of these” as political pawns — we should be jumping for joy at the opportunity. Nuclear warhead funding aside, progressive Christianity has elevated Caesar’s role to a degree that surely warrants some streamers.
Yet, if you’re anything like me, you did the exact opposite, writing off purchases, deducting charitable giving, and — gasp! — trying to get some of your money back.
Alas, on tax day, even those who tend to think of wealth redistribution as some high form of Christian charity still try to come out on top, most likely believing that, when push comes to shove, they know how to spend their money more wisely than our bloated federal government.
And, despite their conflicting cries of “greed” and “avarice” about their wealthier neighbors, they would be right. Assuming responsibility and stewardship at the lowest levels possible — through our own hands, by our own spiritual discernment, guided by not our own thoughts and inclinations — is bound to be more personal, prudent, and powerful in touching lives, empowering people, and unleashing human flourishing.
Government has its legitimate purposes, of course, and our tax money can and should be used to fund those purposes in turn. Insofar as its proper role is being fulfilled and our tax money is being spent to cultivate the conditions for a free and virtuous society, celebrate we must.
But true social justice rests on rightly ordered relationships — across families, churches, institutions, businesses, and governments. Achieving such a balance requires a rightly ordered imagination, and this, we should stop and note, means a proper understanding of where obligations ultimately reside. Allegiance to our local governments becomes part of that broader framework, but we mustn’t pretend that submission to the State’s planning priorities of 2014 is the preferred avenue for expanding our Christian witness.
When we look at those boxes on our W-2s and feel those twinges of pain, we should ask ourselves, is it a healthy pain? The type that so often comes with God-directed service and sacrifice? Or is it a pain of deep and profound regret for what might’ve been? The type that longs for change and transformation of a different, higher variety?
Government has a specific, God-given role. But so do we.
Thus, as we discuss the role of government, the need for taxation, and the scope of various safety nets, let’s keep such discussions in close perspective of the above-and-beyond call of Christians toward obedience, sacrifice, and stewardship across the full realm of Christian discipleship.
If you’re not up for celebrating Caesar, it may be a good day to ask yourself “why?”, considering which needs aren’t currently being met, and, instead of looking to politicians and planners, pondering where the responsibility actually resides.
In his controversial study of America’s giving habits, Arthur C. Brooks shatters stereotypes about charity in America-including the myth that the political Left is more compassionate than the Right.