Jun 21, 2012

Should Christians avoid paying taxes

I enjoyed a twitter debate earlier today with a couple of friends on the issue of whether Christians should avoid paying taxes. Here’s my   conclusion:

Should Christians avoid paying tax?

It really depends on what we mean by avoid. In some senses the answer is ‘yes’ in others ‘no’.

1. Yes because the government encourages us to pay less tax by, for example, offering tax-breaks to encourage us to save for retirement through personal pensions and tax-free savings investments such as ISAs.

2. Yes because it raises more money for gospel work. For every pound we give to the church the Government gives back the tax!

3. Yes where expenses are legitimately incurred that are tax deductible

4. No where an unintended tax loop-hole is being exploited to avoid paying tax especially if this is being aggressively exploited to avoid paying any tax.

5. No where we simply don’t like the way our taxes are being spent.

What did Jesus mean when he said “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” in Matthew 22:21?

R.T. France notes that the verb Jesus chooses to use for ‘to give’ is the verb ‘give back’ apodote in v.21b.  It is a different verb from the one his accusers use in v.17.

Jesus’ word ‘give back’ ‘indicates either the return of something borrowed or the payment of what is due. The tax is thus presented not as an arbitrary imposition but as due payment for the benefits received from the imperial government, which they have acknowledged by using the imperial currency.

Craig Blomberg makes the same point about Jesus’ choice of the verb ‘give back’ and his conclusion is that according to Jesus’ teaching  ‘Reasonable taxation is a legitimate function for all governments, even totalitarian regimes; how much more so with more democratic governments!

What does it mean for the Christian to recognise that the state is a servant of God?

It must mean being a dutiful citizen as part of our worship of God. Blomberg argues that Jesus’ teaching makes clear that ‘Christians who avoid taxes, or who avoid paying the full amount of their taxes,sin against God even just as surely as in more obvious ‘moral’ arenas.’

For Montegomery Boice ‘they should obey the speed limits, pay their taxes honestly…’

For the Christian is there then a fundamental distinction between tax avoidance (where unintended but legal loop-holes are exploited) and tax evasion?

It seems to me therefore that Jesus would say (and see also Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17) a deliberate attempt to get around the law and avoid paying taxes –even through legal means – is sinful because it is immoral for two reasons. It is a failure to love God who has put government in place for our good. It is a failure to love our neighbour who has to meet the shortfall in tax created by my dodge.

A deliberate attempt to evade paying taxes – through illegal means – is both a crime against the state and a sin against God.

1 Comment

  • As a Christian I’ve always been very cynical, distrusting, and against the (obviously) corrupt nature of the government(s) of our time.

    In this age of such rampant capitalistic greed whoring, one can’t help but feel excused for having quite an anti-government feeling, and attitude towards ‘the law’ – when one sees so clearly that the reasons behind so many of these laws are just the protection of financial interests of rich, evil corporations lobbying them, or lazy/incompetent management of government resources and finances (like speed ticket revenue raising.)

    I tend to be very independent-minded, and never ‘just accept’ what the law is, but instead always have a mind for *why* this or that a law is in place, and tend to think ‘above’ the law where for example, if I’m driving 10 miles over the speed limit I KNOW it’s not unsafe driving, not even near it, yet, it’s an illegal act and NOT rendering unto Caesor what is Caesar’s.

    So for me it is difficult to accept what Jesus seems to be saying in this verse here. I’ll NEVER be one of those squeaky-clean ‘family-friendly’ ‘goody two shoes’ 100% law abiding never-downloaded-a-copyright-infringing-mp3-in-your-life Christians – it’s just not in my personality’s DNA (for whatever reasons) – I’m still too stuck in the mindset of being critical of the law, critical of the governments, critical of SIN.

    I do not evade tax, and I never will, but I have arrived here because, in all honesty, I don’t like the idea of tax (not necessarily for religious reasons).

    I am thinking it is more important to pay tax just for the reason of *fairness* – you drive on the roads the government builds and maintains, you owe them something in return for that. THAT makes sense to me, but I still can’t help but have the tendency to say, well, OTHERS are paying plenty of tax to the government (and hey, using far more resources themselves that the government has to maintain anyway) – I’ll do what I can to try and pay as little tax to the government as possile – be *as independent of them* as possible (that’s really my idealogical motivation behind this whole ‘tax avoidance’ thing).

    I think the biggest thing to take away from this, is that Jesus was making a point. It’s not just about taxes, taxes is just one example.

    “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”

    I’m not sure this necessarily means, you are to follow every single law that your country dictates, and certainly not one that compromises any biblical doctrine that you are commanded / convicted to hold.

    A lot of things in the bible are not specific, and especially a lot of things Jesus say, again, are to make a point. They’re biblical, discretionable principles, of the New Covenant as brought in by Christ.

    So what is MY point?

    I’m unsure – my conclusion is no reached. I just wanted to share the workings of my mind while I was researching the topic. 😛

Leave a comment

Facebook Twitter RSS Feed