The Morality of Paying Taxes….

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As we continue in the discussion of taxes on this blog, I must respond to some points made by the author of this post.  His post is in response to my previous post which can be found here.  He said

Regarding the distinction between evading a tax and avoiding a tax – I will concede a legal difference between the two words.  But a moral difference is much harder to discern.  Vice President-Elect Joe Biden’s reference to the patriotic nature of paying one’s taxes addressed the moral dimension of each citizen’s obligation to support his or her country’s many fiscal responsibilities.  A good church member would not spend time figuring out how to avoid tithing.  He would support his church’s mission because it would be the right thing to do.  Why should one’s government deserve less?

He brings up the question of morality in relation to paying taxes.  I will agree with the assertion that there is a moral component involved in paying taxes.  The extent of that obligation, however, is debatable.

We are morally obligated to obey our government in all things that do not directly conflict with the commands of God because governments are instituted by God (see Romans 13:1-7).  As such, we are obligated to pay the amount in taxes that our government says we owe.  Anyone who fails to do so has disobeyed God and broken the law and should be prosecuted.  Now we must determine the amount we owe.  We do not have a flat tax (which would be an improvement over our current tax structure) so it is not as simple as multiplying the tax rate by your income and sending the government a check.

Our government has established an entire bureaucratic entity (the KGB IRS) to help us determine what we owe.  They have set aside Section 26 of the United States Code to contain the Internal Revenue Code which tells us all we need to know about calculating the amount we owe.  The tax code contains all the information on what to include in income, when to include it and how to report it.  The tax code also contains what can be deducted and what can’t.  It includes when, how, and how much we can deduct.  The IRS has establish dozens of forms, instructions, and manuals to help us comply with the tax code and calculate what we owe.  An entire profession / industry (Public Accounting and tax preparation) has developed to help us comply with the Internal Revenue Code and calculate the amount of taxes we owe. I could go on but as you can see, calculating what we owe is not a simple matter.

As I have stated in a previous post, the deductions in the Internal Revenue Code have been passed by the Congress and are legal deductions.  We can debate these at another time but the point remains that they are allowable under the Internal Revenue Code.  As such I would argue that it is advisable to take advantage of every possible deduction in calculating the taxes we owe.  This is good stewardship.  We have a responsibility to our family, or stockholders in the case of businesses, to see that the resources we have are used in the most efficient manner possible and as we can all attest to, government can never be accused of being efficient.  I would also point out that nobody is required to use every deduction they are entitled to.  We can pay more than we owe if we so choose.  Since we are not breaking any laws by taking the legal deductions and since we are not being disobedient to God in any way, I cannot see how anyone can claim it is immoral for business or individuals to use every legal deduction when calculating the taxes they owe.

I also want to address the comparison of tithing to pay taxes.  The analogy fails in many ways.  First, we must understand that tithing is a command of God and is only placed on believers.  Taxes are imposed on everybody although many end up not owing anything in any given year.  Second, the main purpose of tithing is not to provided churches funds to operate.  It is to mold the heart of the believer into that of someone who is willing to share with those in need some of the resources God has given them.  The sole purpose of taxes is to fund the various expenditures that our leaders have obligated us to.  Thirdly, if a person chooses not to tithe the church has no enforcement authority.  It is between the believer and God.  If a person chooses not to pay their taxes, the government can forcibly take it from them and put them in jail.  Just ask Wesley Snipes.  Lastly, it is the duty of every good church member to evaluate the way the church uses the money given to it.  If we find a problem we can go directly to the stewardship committee with our concerns and get changes made or a fuller explanation why they are doing what they are doing.  It is also our responsibility to evaluate the way our government handles the money it forcibly takes from us.  The difference is that we can’t go to Washington or Nashville and sit down with the appropriate people and get things changed.  Our only recourse is at the ballot box.  It is our job oppose poor fiscal responsibility in our elected leaders.  Their fiduciary responsibility to us in the way they spend our money should be one of, if not, the primary concern they have.  James Madison said it this way:

“There is not a more important and fundamental principle in legislation, than that the ways and means ought always to face the public engagements; that our appropriations should ever go hand in hand with our promises. To say that the United States should be answerable for twenty-five millions of dollars without knowing whether the ways and means can be provided, and without knowing whether those who are to succeed us will think with us on the subject, would be rash and unjustifiable. Sir, in my opinion, it would be hazarding the public faith in a manner contrary to every idea of prudence.”

–James Madison, Speech in Congress, 22 April 1790

In conclusion, I agree with the premise that we, as citizens, have a moral obligation to pay the taxes  that we owe.  We have a greater moral obligation to diligently hold our leaders accountable for how they handle the resource that they have taken from us.  When they fail to handle them appropriately we should seek their removal.

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