A few weeks ago, the Senate rejected a new tax initiative to tax the wealthy of the United States. The senate’s rejection on what is being called the Warren Buffet Tax law is stirring up some debate about tax initiatives. The law was inspired by Warren Buffet’s declaration that wealthy individuals are paying lower effective tax rates than the middle and lower classes. With a tax structure that is already designed to tax the wealthy at higher rates, many individuals are asking whether it is fair or right to tax the wealthy more.
Influence of Politics
If not already obvious, one’s perspective on this tax law (or any tax law in general) is largely shaped by one’s political stance. There are many reasons why it is opposed. Many individuals believe that taxing the wealthy more would reverse this sense of capitalism which fuels our economy. In other words, it would encourage them not to earn more money and therefore stimulate the economy. Perhaps even more convincing, many suggest that taxing the wealthy would limit their ability to provide more jobs and/or business for the economy. If the government took more money, they would cause greater expense to them and limit the money they are able to invest in growing sustainable commerce.
On the other perspective of things, it is the wealthy who live comfortably. Despite the recent economic recession, the wealthy were not burdened with the worry about making ends meet as much as the middle and lower class. In the same way that the Widow’s offering. Where, as we learn in the bible, she gave out of her poverty. While the importance of that story is to emphasize that it’s the sacrifice that matters, it also reminds us that it is much more difficult for those with less money to give. Those in favor of the tax bill are also fueled by the fact that Mitt Romney had an effective tax rate of 13.9% on his some 20+ million dollar income in 2010.
Would Jesus Support Higher Taxes on the Wealthy?
In light of the recent debate, I felt it would be interesting to investigate Jesus’ response to the situation. What would Jesus do? I am sure many of you recall the popular WWJD bracelets from the 90’s. They were a popular fad. Many of my friends in high school had them and wore them proudly. Despite the good intentions behind this product, these became more about proclaiming one’s identity as a Christian than asking a genuine question to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
While I don’t want to carry over the negative connotations with these bracelets that many people have in their minds, I do want to ask the question of what Jesus’ response would be – as this will help inform what a Christian response might be. Despite my initial assumption, I have actually come to understand that it isn’t as clear as we would like. Life is never that simple, is it?
Paying the Tax to Caesar
One of the first passages that came to mind when preparing this post was Matthew 22:15-22 – the challenge to Jesus about paying taxes. It reads:
15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”
18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
The first thing to point out about this passage is that the people posing this question, according to Matthew, were trying to trick Jesus. They wanted to limit him to a simple “yes,” or “no,” as they often do in the gospels. Jesus saw through their scheme and does something quite remarkable. Here’s a brief video by Shaine Claiborne, explaining his understanding of this passage.
In other words, Jesus’s response is not trying to place emphasis on making sure to pay your taxes. Instead, he is dismissing their simplistic question by saying taxes don’t matter. In other words, he finds a nice balance between the two extreme positions.
While it may be a healthy question to ask whether Jesus would support this law, we shouldn’t limit Jesus into picking one of two extreme positions. Doing so would greatly limit Jesus’ radical beliefs and actions. Jesus’ primary concern seems to present a way of live that is full of love and lacking mistreatment, injustice, etc. I would suggest that both positions are flawed and we have to use our best judgment to decide between the two options. This is another reason why financial rules of thumb are inadequate.
Do YOU think Jesus would support increasing taxes on the wealthy?