A tax day Bible lesson

Daniel Acker Bloomberg Is paying your taxes a religious duty? Jesus’ famous line on paying taxes is “Render to Caesar … Continued

Daniel Acker


Is paying your taxes a religious duty?

Jesus’ famous line on paying taxes is “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17) What is less well remembered is the reason Jesus called out both the political and the religious leaders who asked him about whether you should pay your taxes: Jesus “knew their hypocrisy.” (Mark 12:15)

There’s nothing more hypocritical today than the kind of political gamesmanship we have about paying taxes. The most vivid example of this is, as Erza Klein so rightly says, the “dumb tax pledges that dominate Washington.” These dumb tax pledges, especially “Grover Norquist’s now-infamous pledge” that Republicans have taken never to raise taxes on anyone for any reason, effectively ended our capacity to have government function properly. Of course, now, as Klein points out, Democrats are being forced into tax pledges of their own, exempting those who earn less than $250,000 per year from having their taxes raised. Dumb and hypocritical.

Taxes happen, friends. Nobody likes them, and yet it is certain they have to be paid. Daniel Defoe, in “The Political History of the Devil,” (1726) coined the famous phrase, “Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believed.” Death and taxes. They’re inevitable.

Taxes happen because taxes are how you fund government and you can’t have a government unless you have revenue.

Of course, the attack on taxes from the political right is an attack on government and its right to even exist. Norquist has said, “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub,” thus, of course, abolishing it.

Government needs to exist and in fact be celebrated. It’s U.S., all of us, and the way we take care of each other. We have a moral responsibility to our fellow citizens, both from a civil and a moral perspective. We are one people. The problem is that some of us, in fact, many of us in this difficult economy are struggling, and we need to help those folks out. Government does that.

The “small government” or even “no government” folks want to say that the churches should pick up the slack on taking care of the poor instead of us paying taxes for a social safety net. Rev. Joel Hunter, a prominent evangelical pastor, has recently noted how unrealistic that view really is in a recent talk with the title, “Government is Not the Enemy.”

Hunter’s church does a huge amount of humanitarian work, but, he says, they can’t do it all without the government:

What is hypocrisy but ‘fooling yourself’? That’s what Jesus is talking about. Don’t be a hypocrite. We need taxes to run the government, and we need government because it does things no individual or even organization can do on its own.

Don’t be a hypocrite. Pay your taxes.

Even the Romans used the taxes they collected to build infrastructure, per Monty Python, the British comedians. Besides, everybody deserves a good laugh on tax day.

An On Faith panelist and former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

  • catatonicjones

    What do I care what you say your god wants me to do regarding taxes? The government can come to my house and steal my property if I don’t pay taxes, what’s your god going to do, put a lien on my bank account?

  • quiensabe

    Susan, do you have any understanding about Jesus at all? You have yet, in at least the year I have read you, to interpret the Bible correctly. The hypocrisy of the the political and the religious leaders who asked him about whether you should pay your taxes had nothing to do with paying taxes. It had to do with Jesus saying He was the Son of God.

    Get with it, Susan, or stop commenting on Jesus. You know nothing about Him.

  • quiensabe

    What are you saying?

  • dadof6

    I think he’s saying that he doesn’t agree with you…albeit in a kind of round about way.

  • quiensabe

    Well, are you saying, one out of three ain’t bad.

    Yea, and, dadof6, he needs to stay on topic of Tom Toles will call him out.

  • dadof6

    The whole discussion is meaningless. It doesn’t matter what God would want if he would even speak to such a mundane subject. As a citizen we pay our taxes or should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. And if a defendent pleads that the act of paying taxes is against their religion in some way then take away their rights as a citizen or deport them. If that philosophy is preached from a pulpit and withholding tax payment is advised by a clergy member then hold the congregation or denomination responsible. For too long we have allowed churches to enter the political arena without holding them responsible for their actions. ie If a group wants to preach, teach, and require voting a specific way of their membership then they should be required to pay taxes (property and corporate). One’s view as to whether or not God would want taxes paid by individuals should matter not one bit

  • quiensabe

    You’re right, dad. But how would you feel if a church did pay taxes and also had a 527 or a PAC? Like Santorum. He came out for Christian values, not a church, and he was still vilified. Is what you really want to say is that religious people, especially Christians, should stay out of politics?

  • catatonicjones

    Santorum didn’t get vilified for coming out for christian values, he was vilified because he wanted the government to enforce them.
    And because he’s a wretch.

    If we didn’t have christians in politics, we wouldn’t have any politicians (scumbags) at all. You have to be a fool and a liar not to know that.

  • Secular1

    Quiensabe, each has different interpretation of them filthy, vile and dumb books called scripture. I know I cannot keep you from believing that garbage. You are at the same time do not have any more credibility to say Susan’s interpretation is invalid. So why don’t you both stop appealing to the stupid scripture and that myhtical JC, start addressing the issues on hand using your brains. Those stupid books have no guidance for anything but to drink kool aid.

    As far as tax policy goes just like we have pay for everything we consume on individual basis, so it is truen on teh collective basis as well. By that I mean we as acountry and society want some collective services, then we as a society tax ourselves to pay for them services.

    I am tired of imbecilical interpretations of imbecelical writings.

  • jjlc125

    “Jesus’ famous line on paying taxes is ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’”

    If folks like Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite have their way, we won’t have anything left to render unto God by the time we get through rendering unto Caesar.

  • Secular1

    You got your sould to give it back to your sky daddy, what more does he want. Isn’t that 100% ROI.

  • quiensabe

    Jesus loves even you, Secular. Today is the day of salvation. Ask Him to save you and come into your life. Ask Him now…

  • ccnl1

    Said passage should read, “Render unto an honest, frugal Caesar that is Caesar’s…….” Unfortunately, that is not the case today!!!!

    But even with the inefficiencies and corruptions of government, there are some easy ways to save not only a lot of tax money but also to save many a “soul”:

    To wit:

    Saving 1.5 billion lost Muslims:
    There never were and never will be any angels i.e. no Gabriel, no Islam and therefore no more koranic-driven acts of horror and terror

    — One trillion dollars over the next several years as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will end.

    — Eighteen billion dollars/yr to Pakistan will stop.

    — Four billion dollars/yr to Egypt will end.

    Saving 2 billion lost Christians including the Mormons:
    There were never any bodily resurrections and there will never be any bodily resurrections i.e. No Easter, no Christianity!!!

    – –The Mormon empire will now become taxable as will all Christian “religions” and evangelical non-profits since there is no longer any claim to being a tax-exempt religion.

    Saving 15.5 million Orthodox followers of Judaism:
    Abraham and Moses never existed.

    – –Four billion dollars/yr to Israel saved.

    — All Jewish sects and non-profits will no longer be tax exempt.

    Now all we need to do is convince these 3.5+ billion global and local citizens (including Susan T) that they have been conned all these centuries Time for a YouTube,Twitter and FaceBook campaign!!!!

  • Kingofkings1


  • Kingofkings1

    in case you have never learned, never ridicule someone’s mama or his religion. That is a sure way to have him not only hold you in contempt, but to make sure that whatever you say goes through one ear, and comes out the other.

  • quiensabe

    Good point, areyousaying.

  • iseasygoing

    Mitt is the new Savior of the 700 club goes MORMON

  • longjohns

    Of course God intended for us to pay taxes. If not why would he create war and poverty and illness that require governments to intervene? Why would he allow there to be cunning people to take advantage of other people?