Should Christians Pay Taxes? The Morality and Authority Dilemma
April 23, 2012 13 Comments
Each mature thinking person must, at some point in his life, determine where the foundation for his innate sense of right and wrong comes from. The source is normally identified as one religion or another, or the lack thereof.
As Christians, the basis for internal conscience is garnered from Scripture.
For those who decide there is no supernatural power and thus no basis for a moral standard, it becomes difficult to argue any subject line regarding right from wrong, good or evil. In contrast, as Christians, we abide by certain specific moral standards, revealed and laid out in the Bible.
And as Christians, we must often make real-world decisions based upon those moral standards by which we attempt to adhere.
Hiding the full truth from young children to keep them sheltered from lewd or violent information or climbing over the “No Trespassing” sign in order to save the person drowning in a pond on the other side are both examples of instances where one moral good (not lying, obeying trespassing laws) is easily betrayed in favor of another.
For a politically aware Christian, it could and should be a moral dilemma to pay taxes to a government that, among other wasteful and immoral activity, funds Planned Parenthood, the leading provider of abortions in the United States.
The question becomes: at what point does paying taxes (an accepted moral obligation), become more immoral than refusing to pay them because of what they support?
Consider that Jesus instructed in Mark 12:17 “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” This is generally interpreted and accepted as an order to pay to the government what is asked. In addition, it can be extracted that it coincides with Romans 13:1 as an obligation to submit to the authority that governs over us. Those are, at first notion, rather simple and clear cut. Pay your taxes. Don’t break laws. Obey the governing authorities.
The waters, however, become murky quite rapidly.
Looking at the overriding issue of obeying authority (since taxes necessarily fall under that moniker), several questions arise. There are many authority figures in life – government, police, parents, teachers; what if they contradict each other? And, more importantly, what if their authority contradicts one or more aspects of God’s Word?
The latter question must be split into two sub-questions: Do we continue to obey an immoral authority when the authorities themselves contradict the Bible’s teachings? And, if so, do we continue doing so even if the immoral authority is now requiring us to contradict the Lord’s teachings as well?
The obvious answer to these questions is no, Christians should not blindly obey all authority all of the time. Most would agree that rebellion against Hitler, an immense authority figure, was both noble and necessary. For a biblical precedent, consider the story in Daniel chapters 1-3 of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They would not bow before another god, thus defying the governing authority. They chose to serve God’s will, instead of the will of men who had power over them at that specific time. If nothing else, this at least creates a precedent that decisions must sometimes be made regarding which authorities to obey.
Christians would hold that God is the overriding authority, and His instruction is where we must first bring our moral dilemmas. But, from the “Give unto Caesar” example, we know that sometimes humans are required to violate one of God’s commandments in order to obey another.
For instance, we are called to protect life, but would we lie to do so? Most of us would say yes. We would have no problem lying to the SS Gestapo soldier who proclaimed he would shoot any Jews we were hiding. In so doing, we have made the determination that protecting those lives is a greater moral good than refusing to tell a lie.
The tough question, to which an answer is hard found, is the precise point on which the line lies between usurping authority to maintain moral obligation.
For the most part, American Christians pay their taxes and obey the laws of this nation, so one might consider that the line lies somewhere between our current government and Hitler (assuming we would agree to rebel against Hitler’s requirements).
But where? At what point does paying taxes and funding immensely immoral activities like abortion become less moral than refusing to do so?
The Bible tells us we are to be good stewards of our resources, yet our taxes go to a governing body that is not. Are we disobeying one command to keep another? It would seem that this is indeed the case.
It is a difficult proposition.
The answer may be different for everyone. While that notion walks a fine line with moral relativity, perhaps some grace may be extended in this area. We have all determined that the line is not “I will not have one dime of my money funding abortion!” For we all pay our taxes, thus betraying that commitment.
The question then becomes for each of us: how much is too much? At what point do we, as Christians, put the proverbial foot down and refuse to further aid in the immorality of killing babies and being poor stewards?
Where do we draw the line? When do we say, “No. I cannot, in good conscience, support this activity.” If we lived in 1940′s Germany, when would we say no? When do we say no in 21st century America?