With the inauguration of Robert Bentley as Alabama’s 53rd governor, one thing we can look forward to is more of the same – “no new taxes.” It is the mantra of the political right in our state and in our nation: no taxes, no taxes, no taxes. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says, their response is the same. It’s like some perverted liturgy.
The worship leader intones, “Our schools are faltering because of cruel under-funding.” The conservative congregation responds, “No taxes.”
“We are not providing adequately for our elderly and our ill.” Response: “No taxes.”
“If we don’t raise additional revenue we will trap another whole generation of children in poverty and despair.” Response: “No taxes.”
This dogged commitment to “no taxes” doesn’t make any sense. It has no bearing whatsoever on the facts of our situation. It does not take into account the harsh economic realities we are facing in this state. Every credible source available has warned us that without additional revenue we are facing major failures of basic state services.
The no-tax mantra is also seemingly devoid of compassion. The no-tax position ignores warnings that thousands of seniors could be forced from nursing homes. The no-tax position seems unconcerned that hundreds of thousands of Medicaid recipients could lose access to health care. This no-tax creed, in the words of Emerson, is a “foolish consistency” that will eventually wreck our state.
It is also difficult to understand how a region so impacted by Judeo-Christian teaching can hold such a position. There is nothing in the Gospel to support the single-minded call of “no tax.”
Jesus said “render unto Caesar” and it was taxes he was talking about. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Pay taxes to whom taxes are due.” Clearly the Bible does not support the idea of not paying taxes as some particular Christian virtue.
On the other hand, the Bible leaves little doubt about what God expects from us in regard to the “least of these” in our midst. Jesus, in concert with Old Testament prophets, made it clear that God is not pleased when the rich prosper and the poor go lacking.
Jesus put it this way: “To whom much is given much will be required.” The words of Jesus also remind us, “Blessed are the poor,” and warns us, “Woe to you who are rich.”
Amazingly, some Christian leaders have warned their constituency not to allow emotion to get in the way of maintaining the no-tax course. In other words, don’t let the plight of a bunch of poor people keep us from getting what we want.
But in promoting such a position, these leaders violate the very motivation called for in Scripture. The Bible teaches us to have compassion for the poor and to work for justice on their behalf. The Bible says we are to open our heart and our hands to the needy.
To finish the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”
In other words, staking out a single-minded position and holding on to it regardless of the outcome is a decision not to deal with reality. Living in the real world means using the brains God gave us to think about what is happening. It also means having enough heart to consider the impact our choices will have on the weak and poor who are our neighbors.
Sometimes no taxes is the right choice. But not now.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.