After I wrote my piece on religion and taxes, I emailed the link to my priest, Father Kirk Berlenbach, at St. Timothys because I thought he might have some interesting perspective. He responded by posting a fairly lengthy comment which I thought deserved its own post. Here’s what he has to say… I welcome your responses!
I know I am joining this late but felt compelled to weigh in.
I am Kelly’s priest and she invited me to take a look at this post in particular.
I was intrigued by what she (and all of you) have written thus far.
Let me begin by saying that I absolutely agree that we cannot allow any one religion or denomination to control our goverment or its policies. However, as individuals, we all have a obligation to try to make sure that our goverment creates policies that allow for equity, justice and opportuinty for all… IOW policies that are moral and good. Naturally, there will be a wide range of opinion as to how best to create that enviornment and even over what defines “moral” and “good.” So I can only speak for myself.
As a liberal Christian, it is essential that we all recognize that God is interested in many more aspects of human behavior and morality than just what we do with our genitals. That includes economics. Jesus speaks about sex only a handful of times (and in fact never once mentions homosexuality). YET – he talks more about money and economic justice than any other subject. So it is an unavoidable conclusion that what we do with our money, both as indivudals and as a society, matters a great deal to God. This is entirely different than the “prooftexting” practice that both Dobbs and Miki cite. In fact I would agree that one cannot simply pull verses willy-nilly and come up with a sound argument. But when one finds a theme, something that is discussed over and over, at great length, then I think it is fair to begin to draw some conclusions.
So, it is more than fair to say that Jesus and the economic system of the Old Testament alike were very concerned with the poor and disadvantaged (strangers, aliens, widows and orphans). In fact, the biblical economic system has ways both of providing for the needs of the poor- both tithing and leaving the gleanings which could be considered very much like a welfare system. Next, the practice of charging interest (albeit to fellow Jews only) was forbidden. Furthermore there was the once a decade practice of canceling all debt and freeing slaves. Finally there was the every 50 year practice of the Year of Jubilee in which land was returned to its original owners. Both of these occasional practices were designed to keep the playing field level and to minimize the reality of there being a permanent under-class.
By making sure that no one was forever enslaved to their debts and that everyone had the chance to earn a living, God offered a system that was both fair and equitable. One could earn profit… one could become rich through hard work… one could leave one’s wealth to one’s children but one also had an obligation to look out for the poor and to make practical and real contributions to their care and their needs. This is a system which has elements of both Capitalism and Marxism.
Anyway, as to the specific issue of “moral” tax code… I would agree with Hamill that we need to scrutinize and confront systems which are clearly designed to keep the rich rich at the expense of the poor. By no standard is this either just or moral. In fact the only people you will find arguing for it are those who benefit from it and are thereby trying to protect their own interests. Now this is an entirely understandable and human thing to do… one always looks to protect one’s own… if I have money then I will be included to vote for laws and legislators that promise to protect or increase my wealth.
What we must all understand is that human beings are fundamentally interdependent and connected. When one of us suffers, it impacts us all. So we have an obligation to look out for one another and when we have more than what we need, we need to make sure that we are sharing our abundance with those who do not have enough. This is entirely in keeping with the practices of the early church (see Acts). Yet one need not be a Christian, nor even a theist of any kind to see the truth of it. So long as we exploit the poor (who lack both voice and power to effect change within the confines of the system) to our own benefit (assuming that everyone in this conversation is middle-class or higher), then we fail on our moral duty to care of one another. Sadly, this has consequences not only for the poor, but also for us.
One day we, or our children or our children’s children will pay the price for our neglect, our greed, or our indifference. Indeed we pay it now… only a mile from where I sit in my warm office in Philadelphia there are neighborhoods of my city that are ruled by poverty… I could not walk there safely (nor can the residents thanks to the drug dealers)… this profound contrast in economics and justice hurts not only the residents of that neighborhood… it hurts me and it hurts my children. How so you ask? By perpetuating the evil myth that all people are NOT created equal.. that people live like that because they are lazy or stupid… that they are somehow deserving of their fate… so long as such racial and economic prejudice exists, we will never live in the truly free and equal society that was the vision of the Founding Fathers of these United States.
For more info please read, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald J Sider.
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