Is the Christian Liberal the true Christian? Part 1: Taxes
Having many friends from different walks of life and different places in the political spectrum have my share of friends who consider themselves a Christian and adopt a certain political view. I have met Christian conservatives and plenty of those who would consider themselves a Christian progressive or a Christian liberal. As we all often do as Christians, unintentionally or otherwise, the Christian liberal has the tendency to use the bible as a reference for their political views. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though I have mixed views. It is a topic worth exploring. Should a true Christian consider themselves a Christian liberal? Personally, I don’t think there’s a requirement to adopt any American political viewpoint. Every individual should decide.
I tend to have conflicting views when it comes to the discussion of religion and politics whether with Christian liberals or anyone else. They are both sensitive subjects. While I am not a Christian liberal myself, by modern definition at least, I do sympathize with their point of view. I have even enjoyed many posts from the Patheos blog, Freelance Christianity, which offers some very interesting and thought-provoking perspectives from a Christian progressive view.
Still, on one hand I prefer to keep politics separate from religion as much as I like to see the state separate from the church, oddly enough the latter being a view I sometimes share with the Christian liberal. The two don’t tend to meld well and can often lead to the initiation of more violence and force from one side or the other on the debate. On the other hand, I cannot deny that my faith has influenced my political views to some extent or another. It has not happened issue by issue but in terms of my overall philosophy. Many people are surprised when I tell them I am a libertarian because I am a Christian. I have also written before on whether not a Christian is required to submit to state rule in all circumstances. I suppose you could describe me as somewhat of a “Christian liberal” in that my views fall somewhere between that of a moderate minarchist and a classical liberal, however, the word has changed in meaning. Primarily, I align myself with libertarian principles because I believe in nonaggression and respect the freedoms of individuals. With those freedoms, I believe, come individual responsibilities.
Today though, I’ll discuss the question of whether the true Christian should be the socialist Christian, the Christian liberal. To clarify I say “Christian liberal” in terms of our modern understanding, though I admit a “Christian progressive” may be a more appropriate term, but there we delve into semantics and I digress.
The belief of the Christian liberal is that every Christian should adopt the view that embraces the welfare state based on the bible’s commands to be charitable in our giving. The bible is full of examples of Jesus providing food and healing to the poor for free, and indeed he commands everyone, rich and poor to do the same. The New Testament church operated this way in that all of its members were provided for. If somebody needed something the church came together and they provided. In the same way, should we as Christian liberals readily accept that some of us may have to pay more taxes to provide for the poor? How can anyone be a good Christian and allow the poor to go hungry, the young to go without education, and the sick to die without treatment?
The problem with these questions is that the Christian liberal seems to be suggesting that only the government can or should provide these things. But what does the bible have to say about that matter?
Should Christians Pay Taxes?
First and foremost is the matter of taxes. The Christian libertarian says that taxation is a system of theft that is supported by violence, something that Jesus repeatedly opposed throughout the New Testament. He even went so far as to say “Whoever lives by the sword will die by the sword” suggesting a government sustaining itself through a violent system is doomed to succumb to violent ends. The law seems to hold true as this has happened with every great empire in history. The libertarian will therefore say “Taxation is theft. You are taking my money by violent force without my consent and even worse you are mismanaging it and most of it is spent on unjust wars, which I am being forced to support.”
The Christian liberal may say “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society. We enjoy the safety and civil order government provides, we should pay for it. We should also be willing to pay our fair share to help the poor, as Christ has commanded us.” So who is right?
On one hand I will agree that as Christians we should probably pay taxes. It was excessive taxation (more notably without representation) that started The Revolution of 1776, but as a Christian I tend to believe that violence must be a last resort. Refusal to pay taxes on a scale that may lead to a violent revolt, while arguably justifiable, is not necessarily the best route to ending a problem that could be dealt with peacefully and is not the Christian response. Jesus did in fact say “Render to Caesar what is Caesars” (Mark 12:17) as Christian Liberals often cite the passage but let’s look at the story in context.
A group of people among the religious elite who Jesus was often at odds with when delivering his teachings, knew they couldn’t touch him because the common Hebrew people loved him. They came up with a clever way to set him up in a public forum. It was a hopeful “gotcha” moment when they asked Jesus if they should be paying not taxes, as Christian liberals interpret plainly, but the Imperial Tax, a tax levied by Rome on conquered non-citizens.
If Jesus said no he would be guilty of insurrection by encouraging his large following to refuse to pay taxes to the Roman government. They’d have to crucify him. If he said yes the common people would be outraged and dismiss him as a mouthpiece of Rome. Instead, Jesus dismisses the value of money altogether. He points out the currency they’re discussing is Roman currency, AND that God’s kingdom is more important than any empire or sovereign nation here on earth. Money is of this world, and as Jesus also pointed out “No man can serve both God and money”
Jesus wasn’t saying “Pay your taxes because it’s your civic duty” he was saying, “Stop being so concerned with matters of money. Give the kings of this world what’s theirs and focus on what’s important, by living for God and giving him what’s His, primarily yourself. By providing a spiritual answer to a political question, Jesus avoided falling into their trap and taught his disciples and followers a valuable lesson every Christian, liberal or otherwise, can appreciate.
The Bible also tell us “God loves a cheerful giver”, in fact in full context 2 Corinthians 9:7 says:
“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
This tells us that the giving we do engage in should be out of love. It should not come from force or fear, but because we willingly choose to give out of the goodness of our hearts, which should be in us as Christians. We should give because we love God not because we’re afraid of being locked in a prison cell by our government. Giving should not be forced by violence, but voluntary and out of a heart that loves God and therefore loves to give, as He commanded.
What The Parable of Talents Can Teach Us
Jesus also shows an example of someone who was both wise in his giving, and stingy when need be in a parable I will discuss more than once, the Parable of the Talents found in Matthew 25 starting at verse 14. The bible tells us that the master distributed the talents (a form and measure of currency) to each person according to their ability. Essentially, he knew what he could trust them with. This might contradict the Christian liberal view of egalitarianism in terms of equal pay and benefits, even for less productive members, but we’ll get to that one later.
To one servant he entrusted 5 talents, to one he entrusted 2, and to one he entrusted only 1. The servant who received 5 talents returned with 10, a hearty return on the master’s investment, whereas the second servant returned to double his 2 as well, making a total of 4. The man with only 1 talent was neither a bold nor savvy investor or entrepreneur it would seem. He returned with only the one, which he had hoarded in the ground. Had he some competence, the master pointed out, he at least could have deposited it into a bank and returned it with interest, but nothing.
He then took the only small talent he gave to his servant, who failed to produce and deliver results, and gave it to the man who had doubled his 5. In other words, when the master saw that his investment had been mismanaged, he placed it in more capable hands. Keep in mind the poor servant at very least didn’t mess up to the point of losing any money, but he remained unproductive and not worth the master’s time.
Looking at the current state of things this leads me to ask the Christian liberal an interesting question. The man in that story received but 1 talent and would come back to for a return of exactly 1 talent. How much money have we given over the years to the federal government for a return of negative 22 trillion dollars? Secondly, how much should we continue to give for an even worse return as deficits continue to grow? Just as the master practiced good stewardship by placing money in more capable hands, it seems to me that we as Christians, liberal or otherwise, should also be giving to more responsible stewards.