On Taxes, Tithes, and Gifts

I can’t turn on the TV, listen to the radio, look on facebook or twitter as of late without hearing about politics.  With each election cycle or controversial bill that gets passed, I get more and more fired up.  I’m not so much fired up about who people are voting for, or what they’re so passionate about (although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have opinions), here’s what I’m fired up about:

Every big political season I hear statements like this from Christians:

“Government shouldn’t be legislating that, the Church should be taking care of that

That” ranges from welfare to health insurance to food stamps to affordable housing…  you get the picture.

So, if you’re not a Christian, you are *excused from this blog.

If you’ve never said that phrase or one like it, you’re also *excused from this blog.

*By excused I mean, please stay, read, and comment, but I’m not addressing you from my soapbox today.

But if you are a Christian, and you have said something like this in your lifetime, would you humor me and continue reading?

I am all in favor of the Church (Christ-followers) caring for the poor.  The Old Testament is brimming with examples of God caring for the widow, the fatherless, and the foreigners and of God commanding His people to care for them, too.  The New Testament shows countless examples of Jesus caring for the marginalized, the outcast, the sick, and the poor.  The early church looked after the poor within their faith community and outside of their faith community.   Jesus loved the disenfranchised, the down and out, the outcast, and we Christ-followers should, too.  Please hear me when I say I’m with you!  The church SHOULD be taking care of the poor, the homeless, the sick, the depressed, the hungry, the foreigner, and the orphan.

But here’s the kicker, we aren’t.

Well… we are and we aren’t.

Some people of faith and faith communities do this really well.  But some not so well.  And regardless of how well you or I personally care for the poor, there is still great poverty among us.  It’s among us in the US, and it’s among us abroad.

Someone has to do something.  And so the government has stepped in.

The government has stepped into a lot of things.  It’s stepped into outer space, international wars, and fights over fuel, but for some reason, people don’t seem to get nearly as fired up about spending tax dollars outer space and killing people, as they do spending tax dollars to care for the poor.

So here’s what I’ve concluded; if you want the government to back off and stop legislating giving to the poor, here’s what you have to do:  You and I have to give independently to the poor.  Give above and beyond what the government taxes.  I know it sounds crazy, but that’s it.  And here’s the kicker, if the Church was taking such good care of the poor that the government didn’t have to, Christians would have to give much more than is taxed.  You think your taxes are high now? How much do you think it costs to feed those who have no food, house those without homes, provide relocation services for refugees, care for the elderly… etc.

You and I, our small groups,  churches, and our larger faith communities have to give generously to the poor.  Voting for our candidates isn’t going to change government’s involvement in caring for the less fortunate.  Different candidates might change a few decisions and a few tax dollars, but this will continue to be an issue back and forth from one political election to another til Jesus comes back, unless we start radically giving.

I’m not talking about your church and their benevolence program, or giving just enough to get in a lower tax bracket, or a regular tithe to a house of worship, I’m talking about giving til it hurts.

Because here’s the reality – if the church were really caring for the poor, we would all feel it.  The first church in Acts is described as having “everything in common.”  Think for a minute about your small group or your church.  There’s economic disparity, isn’t there?  There are people in your faith community that have less than you, there are people who have more than you, and there are people who have the same as you.  Can you imagine if we all shared amongst ourselves so well that we had “everything in common”?

*  What if we looked around our small group and identified those without health insurance, and we took up an offering and paid for their health insurance annually?

*  What if we looked around our youth group and identified what kids don’t have the money for extracurricular activities and paid for them to go to camps and be on sports teams and play instruments?

*  What if we took another family in vacation with us because they hadn’t been on one in years?  Better yet, what if we skipped a year of vacation to send 2 families on vacation who hadn’t been in years because we get to go on one every year?

*  What if we sold our house and downsized or bought two smaller houses in less prime zip codes so that someone in our church who didn’t have a home could have a home?

And then it goes on to say in Acts 2, that those in the early church “sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”  Gulp.  Am I doing that?  Are you doing that?  When we see a need are we selling our stuff in order to meet it?

Today, I drove by 4 homeless men. I didn’t come home, grab some china and go to a pawn shop to get cash so that I could help them eat a meal. The reality is that before I sold stuff, I would dip into my checking account. or if that was dry, my savings account.  But what if I had already given away what was in my checking and savings account, and all I had left was my china? Would I sell that, too?  That’s what the early Christ-followers did.  Today, I didn’t even stop to buy them a meal from my excess.

Here’s my dilemma: somehow, we American Christians have gotten our theology mixed in our patriotism.  American values promote getting ahead, amassing wealth, giving only leftovers from our well-crafted budgets.  Biblical Christian values promote sacrificial giving and selflessness.

What if I gave so well that someone who used to have less than me had more than me?  Would I be ok with that?

I hope so, because that’s the message of Jesus.  He brings an upside down perspective that says “The more you give, the more you get” not in wealth, but in meaning and understanding of what’s important.

If you want the church to address issues that you don’t think the government should address, then address them.  You are the Church.  If you don’t want the government to legislate caring for the less fortunate because you want to keep more of your money for yourself, then please don’t say that “Government shouldn’t be legislating that, the Church should be taking care of that” because you don’t mean it.

What do you think about this?

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13 thoughts on “On Taxes, Tithes, and Gifts

  1. I completely agree with everything that you said here. The Church in America is as caught up in the pursuit of the “American Dream” as the non-Christians are and because we have allowed ourselves to get sucked into that, we ignore what the Bible says about taking care of others and putting them before ourselves. One thing I pray is that God gets a hold of the Church in America and makes us realize exactly how blessed we are and how we need to use those blessings to help others, even if it hurts our pockets.

    1. AShleigh, it’s hard to know how priveledged we are when all we have known is priviledge. I work in some impoverished communities. I have traveled internationally to impoverished communities. And sometimes, even then I lose track of how much I have. It’s important for us to continually remind each other about how much we have and what our responsibility is in that. I think that’s why community is so important. You’re right, a wake up call, and then a follow up call, and some additional follow up calls are probably needed!

  2. Leave it to you to talk about church, government, taxes, healthcare – I would expect nothing less. 🙂 I think that whole “the church should be taking care of that” is a huge cop-out. Because most times when I hear people say that, they talk about “the church” as though they aren’t even a part of it – although I’ve only heard Christians use that argument. You’re right – it totally comes down to me and to each person. We are the church. We also seem to have no problem with the government providing certain services (particularly ones that will benefit ourselves) like public schools or taking care of the roads, but by caring for the poor they are really infringing on our rights. I don’t think the government is usually the most efficient or effective – but most of the argument comes down to the fact that we don’t want to give that money. We’d rather have the freedom to decide where to give our money. Which makes perfect sense, but if we weren’t paying that money to the government would we really be giving it to the poor? I know very few people who give sacrificially – myself included. It’s easy to give a little when it doesn’t really affect our lifestyle. But to give ’til it hurts, to give much more than we are obliged to, to change our whole life to benefit others – that’s really hard. It’s easy to ignore the need when it is distant from us, when it’s not a little girl we know who is dying without healthcare or the guy we know who lost his job and now his family is homeless – and many of us deliberately separate ourselves from that in our choice of homes, schools, address, churches, friends, transportation…pretty much every area of our lives. So no, the government shouldn’t be taking most of this responsibility. Neither should that vague “Church” over in that other city that you don’t go to. You should and I should.

    1. Ruthie, I agree, it’s on you and me. And us. And it’s on us to remind each other and be ok with being reminded. It’s funny how we have accountability groups for certain issues: sexual stuff, relationship stuff, (certain) addiction stuff… but money is a rather untouchable subject when it comes to Christian accountability. I wonder what would happen if we allowed others to speak into our finances?

  3. Allison,
    I just found your blog today (through Molly’s) – and I enjoyed reading through it a bit. I like the letters to the ‘moms/married’ – important issues to discussed among believers! And I LOVED this post. You said it so clearly why wanting the govt. to draw out of social services is a cop-out, while at the same time challenging us (me) to think beyond just superficial helping and serving of others to really give to meet needs. I like it.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that I found your blog and I enjoyed reading it – and I know what it’s like to have (or be) only a ‘blog stalker’ – but I thought maybe I’d leave a comment instead. 🙂

    I also have a sister living near Nashville, so you seem not so far away!
    bex

    1. Bex,
      Good to hear from you! Thanks for fessing up to being a blog stalker 🙂 Nice to know you have a connection to Nashville. My sister lives here, too, and it was part of the draw to move here.

      Thanks for your thoughts and encouragement. This post was as much a reminder for me as it was a challenge to others to give sacrificially. Sadly, selfishness is our default, not selflessness.

  4. I think you make a good point. To be honest I am not sure that it would really require that much sacrifice if all Christians gave of their abundance. To me, God’s people, acting as a community, in the context of relationships, filling each others needs as well as reaching out to make new relationships of love, which include help and support, is the best ‘solution’ to poverty. Government taking that place is like an orphanage taking the place of parents, sometimes necessary, but never the best.
    One thing I will note is that poverty is very relative. I live and work in Honduras. Most of the people I work with here do not think of themselves as desperately poor. Yet they have much less than people in the impoverished communities I used to work with when I lived in the States.

    I think that maybe, as Christians, we need to change who are heroes and examples are. Instead of being drawn to large names and big programs perhaps we should try to emulate those humble servants who are living a life that gives. They are out there – they just do not have press agents.

    1. Thanks for your input, Will. I’m sure that living in another country has really given you good perspective in America. I know it has for a lot of my friends who have moved abroad.

      I like your take on government, it’s not necessarily the best solution, but at times it’s necessary. I also like your take on who our heroes should be –
      I agree!

      Thanks for wagering in.

  5. Brilliant post. Thank you. I agree 100%. I’ve heard that said by people in our church who never come to an impoverished community five miles from our church to help feed families, tutor children and repair houses. Jesus didn’t say “Find your own loaves and fishes” and neither should we. We should provide loaves, fishes, clothes, friendship and more.

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