Faith and taxes – a forbidden topic in many houses of faith – was the focus on the Baptist Center for Ethics’ annual luncheon during the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s 2012 General Assembly.

Held in Fort Worth, Texas, the luncheon was sponsored by BCE and the Christian Life Commission (CLC) of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

For the second year in a row, the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board (MMBB) was the corporate sponsor of the luncheon.

Suzii Paynter, director of the CLC, and Stephen Reeves, the CLC’s legislative counsel, presented the commission’s Horizon Award to Texas Sen. Wendy Davis.

Paynter praised Davis for her consistent and committed work during the state’s 82nd legislative session to reign in the payday and auto title loan industry, which inflicts considerable damage on the financial lives of vulnerable Texans to the tune of huge annual profits.

Davis said she was “proud to work with Suzii and Stephen, to bring solution-making to an insidious problem.”

She thanked the CLC for providing support in the ongoing fight for the victims of such predatory loans against a powerful, well-lobbied industry.

The role of the CLC, and of Texas churches in general, she said, is vital in combating this problem.

Jim Cook, MMBB’s national outreach manager, thanked BCE for is partnership.

Before viewing a 21-minute portion of the documentary, “Sacred Texts, Social Duty,” Robert Parham, BCE’s executive director, described the process of producing the documentary that had been scheduled to air on ABC-TV in October 2010.

Parham noted that ABC objected to the original title of the documentary that used the word “taxes.”

“ABC objected to a 10-minute portion of the documentary in which people of faith made the moral argument for a tax system that protects the poor,” said Parham. “ABC objected to faith statements about the lottery as predatory.”

Because BCE would not water down moral statements on taxation, ABC did not approve the documentary for broadcast.

The documentary explores how members of the Abrahamic faith traditions (Jews, Christians and Muslims) think about taxation.

Noting the minimal time spent preaching and discussing taxation in houses of faith, the documentary interviewees agreed both that taxes play a pivotal role in the social responsibility of their respective traditions and that talking about them in the context of religion is generally considered taboo.

Interviewee Wayne Flynt, distinguished professor emeritus in history of Auburn University, expressed concern over the fact that congregations often wield power over what subject matter is considered acceptable in the pulpit.

“A preacher who dares to violate that tradition in the congregational church is without a church,” Flynt said.

“Taxation is a forbidden topic in congregations,” added another interviewee.

However, those featured in “Sacred Texts, Social Duty” agreed that faith leaders must be ready to face the challenges of discussing taxation and, if “everything blows up, be willing to manage that and use it as a teachable moment.”

Margaret Mitchell, dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School, summarized in the film the role the faithful must play: “I think that Christian ministry needs to take command of the lexicon. It needs not to be afraid of labels being flung. It needs to make its own labels, and make them stick, and put some meaning behind them, and also put some action behind them.”

Following the screening, Paynter and Parham took questions from the audience.

Of particular interest was a suggestion that churches use one Sunday, close to April 15, to preach about and discuss taxation, specifically.

Molly Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, noted that churches had made progress on behalf of women in ministry using a similar strategy.

Paynter addressed questions about the role of charity in relation to taxes and accountability in government. With regard to charity, it was agreed that churches should be in conversation about how to manage charitable giving, and examine the amount of church budget devoted to those in need.

Concerning government accountability, Paynter reminded the audience that many official measures are on the table that will largely restrict government spending and encourage a conservative financial approach.

“That conversation is happening,” she said.

Some 350 individuals attended the luncheon.

The 2012 luncheon was the fourth consecutive luncheon in which documentaries have been screened.

In 2011, attendees viewed a rough cut of “Gospel Without Borders,” a documentary on faith and immigration. In 2010, luncheon participants watched “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims,” a documentary that aired on more than 130 ABC-TV stations in January and February 2010. In 2009, “Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism” was screened.

Jye Schafer is an intern with the Christian Life Commission.

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