I keep a few little google-birds flying about keeping an eye on the internet and coming back to chirp at me when they overhear from the eaves someone discussing tax resistance. And so yesterday I dropped in on Mere Discipleship Discussion to listen in on a few people who are trying to be disciples of Christ as they discuss whether taxpaying or tax resistance is more appropriate for such a disciple.
Tony Arnold started things off by quoting from a recent news article about phone tax resistance and then asking:
How many laws and taxes are legacies about which citizens have no idea of their motive and use — taxes and laws that may impinge on the moral and ethical beliefs of an individual? Moreover, when does a disciple render unto Caesar and when does he or she cross over into civil disobedience as part of moral conviction?
Arnold then quoted some of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s thoughts on that question, and then concluded by asking:
[D]oes a disciple who is morally opposed to the war have a valid reason, even an obligation, to participate in the civil disobedience of withholding taxes? … ¶ One thing that bothers me is that I would love to express my displeasure by participating in not paying the Federal Excise Tax on my phone bill. However, I do fear reprisal by the IRS. Am I a moral coward putting my fear ahead of my discipleship?
Commenters wrestled with the question, weighing the legendary (if usually merely legendary) ruthlessness of the IRS, the humble real-world effects of withholding a few dollars from a multi-billion dollar war machine, and what sort of guidance the Bible provides on the issue.
On one hand, one commentator wrote, “Now that we know that this action [war tax resistance] is available to take, can a disciple be justified in not taking it?” And on the other hand, wrote the same commentator later, Paul (in Romans 13) counsels obedience to government, with the reasoning that the powers-that-be wouldn’t be in power if God didn’t want it that way, and besides, the real king worth worrying about is the King of Kings:
I hate to pay taxes as much as anyone, but if I withhold the telephone tax because it goes to pay for war, then should I begin to withhold other taxes because they pay for other activities that a disciple would consider against the spirit of Christ?
[Lee] Camp* says: “God can and does in his sovereignty use even the rebellious powers, often manifested by emperors and kings and governments, for his purposes” (81). If we believe this, then when we obey the government (which God put in place), and that government uses our tax money for evil, God’s plan will still be achieved.
If we disagree with a tax or any other law, we can contact our representatives and petition that the law be changed. It doesn’t get fast results, and it may get no result, but it is legal and it obeys what Jesus and Paul said about it.
This is where I discovered the conversation, and I couldn’t resist putting in my two cents and trying to solve their dilemma (or aggravate it, depending on your perspective): “There is a way to both avoid paying for the war and to avoid risking the wrath of the IRS. You can live under the tax line. It’s not that hard; I’ve been doing it .”
This was met by much more enthusiasm than usually meets my attempts to butt in on blogs where I’ve never before made an appearance. The author of the original post wrote of my suggestion:
That is very radical and very much a disciple response.… ¶ The great thing is this does not have to be a resistance choice, it is what we are called to do anyway. You avoid greed, materialism, power, supporting corporations whose investments might cause one moral dilemmas, etc.
I feel a little out of my depth here as a non-believer, but I appreciated the sincerity and depth of concern shown by the people who took up this issue on Mere Discipleship Discussion, and by the honest and personal way they wrestled with it, and so I wanted to bring attention to it here.
* Lee Camp is the author of the book Mere Discipleship, from which the aforementioned blog gets its name. He is much inspired by the Mennonite theologian and tax resister John Howard Yoder, though Camp himself is from the Church of Christ I believe.