A few thoughts on the spirituality of taxes … Yes, you read me right: A Baptist preacher proposing that taxes may have spiritual benefit.
Having just returned from the Dallas County Appraisal District office — at which I successfully challenged and lobbied for lowering the considerable increase to my property taxes — I am thankful that the effect of my building a new house last year will not mean I have to sell it in order to eat.
The taxes we pay make the city we live in more livable. We groan and complain about taxes, and we work to elect officials who promise to hold them steady or reduce them — while keeping their promises to do more with less. But we need to step back and ask whether there is godly good that comes from this compulsory contribution to civic well-being.
Many middle- and upper-class taxpayers idealize a world in which government would just go away and allow us all to take care of our own, to watch out for our neighbors, to join the volunteer fire department, and to trust in the goodness and responsibility of people to make the world work. Civil government is partly the result of some breakdown in self-government. But not entirely.
Civil government is the extension of our need and desire to do more together than we can do by ourselves. For example, we could all take turns on neighborhood crime watch patrols, but when something dangerous and tragic unfolds in our sinful world, we want trained and armed police to step in and put our tax dollars to work.
When we have ruined our shocks by driving on streets with potholes unfilled because we couldn’t organize the asphalt brigade to do the work, we would like to add that to the list of things we pay professionals to do for us. When we know that the uninsured cannot get health care because insurance is unaffordable to them, we tend not to think they should die on account of their poverty; and so we fund Parkland to meet their needs.
We could go on and on. And part of the problem is that we do go on and on. We wrestle with where to draw the line. We fear we are giving over too much responsibility to others to do what we should be doing ourselves. We worry that government waste undermines the social contract.
Look at it this way: chemotherapy often makes you sick and sometimes makes your hair fall out, but it can save your life. We know we have to put up with some unwanted and unwelcome collateral effects in order to arrest the cancer. Researchers are always working for ways to minimize the general effects by pinpointing the treatment to the tumor.
In the same way, taxes are meant to address the problems and needs in our community and in our country that most threaten most of us and that cannot be cured by a few of us. To do that, we have to endure some sacrifice for the common good. We can keep working to target taxes and train ourselves to do more with less, but we do not want to go wanting for fear of wasting.
Spiritual communities use voluntary tithes and offerings to sustain their life together and achieve their mission. This works best on a small scale when everyone feels a stake and everyone contributes their fair share. They seldom do. Taxes are the secular and compulsory sibling of voluntary, religious tithes. Both involve love and duty. Both have their place in the spiritual spectrum of how God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
We may grimace when the offering plate is passed or the tax bill comes due, but we ought to grin when we enjoy the benefits each brings to all.