I’ve always found it strange that Christians in America act as if tax exemption were a God-Given right, or that it was somehow commanded in the Bible somewhere. The truth is quite the opposite.
In Matthew 17: 24-27 a group of tax collectors asks Peter if Jesus pays taxes and his answer is, “yes, of course he does.”
Here’s how the rest of that passage goes:
When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?”
“From others,” Peter answered.
“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”
Before I go any further I want to point out that when Jesus asks Peter the question about whether children pay taxes it’s meant to illustrate something Jesus says elsewhere about paying taxes which is simply this: We do not belong to the Empire, we belong to God.
So, the reason why we are taxed is because we are not the children of the Emperor [or the Empire], therefore we should pay our taxes as a way of illustrating that we do not belong to that family.
But, the point of this text is quite clear: Jesus paid his taxes, and his disciples paid their taxes, and if we are not of the Empire, we should pay them what we owe them.
The other, more popular conversation Jesus has about paying taxes is found in Matthew 22:17-21 when the Pharisees try to trap Jesus with this question:
“Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
The Apostle Paul was also a strong advocate for paying taxes, as evidenced in Romans 13:6-7 where he echoes the words of Jesus, saying:
“Pay, then, what you owe them [the State]; pay your personal and property taxes, and show respect and honor for them all.”
So, if Jesus paid taxes, and if his disciples paid taxes, and if the Apostle Paul paid taxes, and also told us to pay our taxes, then why are so many American Christians convinced that their institution is exempt from paying taxes?
Well, the short answer is, American Evangelicals really don’t care what Jesus says. If they did they’d care for the poor, beat their weapons into garden tools, refuse to return evil for evil, care for the sick, love their enemies, avoid entanglement with the State, and pay their taxes.
What the institutional church in America is, more than anything, is “American”, not “Christian.”
American Christians believe that their nation is the greatest nation on earth. They believe God has blessed them more than any other nation. They believe that whatever God is doing in the world it will be done here, in America, or by Americans, or through Americans. God needs America to accomplish God’s ultimate plans for the World. Whatever America does is what God wants, and the US Constitution carries more weight than anything that Jesus or the Apostle Paul has to say…especially if it happens to be something they would really rather not take seriously. You now, like turning the other cheek, caring for immigrants and refugees, feeding the hungry, or paying their taxes.
Now, that might seem counterintuitive at first. I mean, if American Christians are so American, then why not show their support by paying taxes? Well, because, as Jesus puts it: They are true children of the American Empire. Therefore, they should be exempt.
But, another big reason, of course, is that, by not paying taxes, American Churches maintain economic power in our nation.
How much economic power?
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Keith Giles is the best-selling author of the Jesus Un series. He has appeared on CNN, USA Today, BuzzFeed, and John Fugelsang’s “Tell Me Everything.” He hosts the Second Cup with Keith podcast, and co-hosts the Apostates Anonymous podcast, and the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast.
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