From Jerusalem to Jericho: Christian Witness on the Tax-Sustained Road
This compelling 13-page document draws current tax policies into conversation with Scripture passages, Church theologians, and denominational statements.
From the Introduction
Few of us, I imagine, like to pay taxes, whether it’s income tax withheld from your paycheck or a sales tax added on at the cash register. Yet, taxation provides for public services that benefit us all and that contribute to the well-being of communities. Whether public education, safety, roads, mental health care, or agricultural research, we take a lot for granted in a culture that often asserts a “don’t tread on me” ethos, a proclamation that ignores the importance of tax policies while all too often neglecting the most vulnerable voices in our midst.
The title of this resource, From Jerusalem to Jericho: Christian Witness on the Tax-Sustained Road, is drawn from the Good Samaritan parable. On the one hand, we are called to demon- strate acts of love particularly for those in need. On the other hand, the scene takes place on a dangerous, tax-sustained road. Our care for others must go beyond direct service and transform the very systems and structures that keep people along the roadside. As Martin Luther King Jr. stated,
On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be trans- formed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
In a tenuous political climate, various tax policies are being proposed to deal with fiscal constraints. While some states maintain progressive tax policies, there is a continued trend in others, including North Carolina, for taxation to become more regressive. The staggering statistics reveal dramatic inequality and disproportionate burden on low-income individuals and families, particularly in the southern region. As an opinion piece in the New York Times recently explained, “There are many reasons to worry about the growing regional divide. But even leaving aside basic fairness — why should a poor child in the Northeast have greater life chances than one in the South? — the divergence exacerbates poverty itself, driving households deeper into distress and lowering social mobility…The fact is, the more the poor are taxed, the worse off they are, whether they are working or not.”
The Bible will not provide a blueprint for ethical taxation in the 21st century. However, biblical texts call for the sharing of economic resources in order to attend to the well-being of all members of the community. Moreover, scripture’s prophetic voice confronts excessive wealth and challenges the systems and structures that exploit the poor. Likewise, theological thinkers, while not writing extensively on the issue of taxation, have affirmed it as an acceptable practice for the common good that is conditioned by justice and concern for those in need.
This document provides a summary of a report by the Budget and Tax Center, a program of the NC Justice Center, on the state’s progressive personal income tax and regressive sales tax, along with the implications of proposed changes.
It is then divided into three sections intended to provide biblical and theological perspectives related to taxes and economic justice to assist faith communities and their leaders in engaging tax fairness from a Christian perspective.
The first section highlights biblical passages that speak to the issue of taxation, economic injustice, and the economic implications of discipleship. Here, we find the Bible speaks with concern for the common good and particularly the welfare of those situated at the margins, struggling on the roadside between Jerusalem and Jericho.
The second section examines theological perspectives from key figures in the Christian tradition. Though theologians may differ on the relationship between the church and state, their thoughts converge on Christian witness for the common good and its prophetic voice against injustice
The final section of this resource includes official statements from many of the denominations represented in the NC Council of Churches. Many denominations state that tax fairness is a moral issue and nearly all agree that all people should be treated with equality, dignity and respect. In particular, several statements highlight the need for non-regressive tax policies that reduce the tax burden on lower-income folks. We hope that From Jerusalem to Jericho: Christian Witness on the Tax-Sustained Road will help the Christian community focus on tax fairness as an issue of justice and faith, an issue addressed by our scriptures, by our theologians, and by our denominations. We hope this resource acts as a catalyst for further engagement and advocacy for tax fairness that takes seriously those struggling along life’s highway.
-Justin Hubbard, Duke Divinity School Intern