It was recently reported that a very prominent billionaire paid only $750 in federal taxes in 2016 and 2017. Is it right for Christians to try to reduce their tax burden to a bare minimum?
We all depend upon governmental structures and services—parks, roads, law enforcement, national defense, social security, or unemployment benefits when life throws us a curveball. Such things aren’t free. At the same time, it’s understandable that few of us like to pay taxes. We’d rather use that money for other things. Moreover, the tax code is complex and sometimes infuriating. When we hear about wealthy corporations or individuals paying a smaller percentage of their assets on taxes than less affluent companies or individuals, it’s understandable that we get suspicious about inequities in the system.
We also know that Reformed Christians have varying philosophies toward taxes and the government initiatives they pay for. Some believe that “big government” is inevitably inefficient, creates unhealthy incentives, and siphons money from the more promising arena of private enterprise. Others believe that relying mainly on private enterprise easily ignores problems and needs that can only be addressed effectively at the larger scale of government.
While such disagreements will undoubtedly persist, the Reformed tradition historically has stressed the importance of good government because order is integral to creation and necessary to restrain the effects of sin. We live in community and are responsible not just for ourselves, but also for the common good. The purpose of government is to protect and promote the common good.
With taxes, our motives are important. Do I strive to reduce my tax obligation because of genuine beliefs about the superiority of the private sector (including the church) helping the needy and promoting the common good—and do my giving and spending patterns reflect that? Or is it rooted mainly in a desire to keep more for my own private benefit?
One way to love our neighbors as ourselves is to cheerfully pay our fair share of taxes for the common good while encouraging those funds to be spent wisely, efficiently, and effectively.
About the Author
Matt Lundberg is the director of the de Vries Institute for Global Faculty Development at Calvin University. He and his family are members of Boston Square Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.