Alabama has the “sorriest tax structure in the country,” says a law professor who advocates fair taxation on biblical grounds.
Speaking at a recent citizenship conference sponsored by the Baptist General Convention of Texas Christian Life Commission, Susan Pace Hamill, a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law, decried a “trend toward unfair taxation,” where people who make less money carry more of the tax burden.
Hamill, who in 2003 tried to rally an effort to reform the state’s regressive tax code, said Christians tend to get excited about hot-button issues if they don’t have to sacrifice. “We want to ignore the issues that require sacrifice because we’re greedy,” she said. “We are all tainted with the sin of greed to some degree.”
But Hamill said Christians living in a democracy have a God-given responsibility to make sure people are taxed fairly by the government. “Our laws are a reflection of who we really are spiritually,” she said.
Hamill credited Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, an evangelical Christian, with attempting to bring more justice to that state’s tax system. But “it failed at the polls by more than a two-to-one margin,” she said, reflecting the state’s “peculiar history” in which generations of poor, undereducated and repressed people have been fooled into voting against their own tax relief.
Hamill defined taxation as a “compulsory payment for community needs.” Since it is required, she said, “justice comes into play,” and justice “speaks to how we treat everybody.”
“Pharisees of today” talk about the evil of taxes and say that taxation is a form of theft, the professor said. But Jesus did not condemn taxation. He accepted it as a fact of life.
Hamill, a former New York corporate tax lawyer and Internal Revenue Service employee who also holds a theology degree from Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., said there is a theological reason that explains why taxes are needed–the sinful fall of mankind that is related in the Old Testament book of Genesis. “The fall makes us greedy,” Hamill said.
That fact makes concepts of law and justice critically important, she said, citing two fundamental principles of justice: do not oppress “the least of these,” and everyone has a God-given right for justice.
“There is no justice without fair taxation,” she said, and “without fair taxes we are doomed.”
While labeling Alabama as the worst offender in unfair taxation, Hamill warned her Austin audience that Texas is “close to being right in the mud with us.”
Another speaker at the conference, former Texas Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, warned against political groups that “hijack” Christian identity by presenting themselves as advocating Christian ideals while supporting causes that are “inconsistent with our Christian faith.”
Ratliff, a retired Republican state senator from Mt. Pleasant, Texas, said many conservative Christians are rightly concerned about political issues because of strongly held religious beliefs.
But some groups, he said, espouse “Christian” positions on issues like school calendars and the number of election dates that, while they may be good ideas, are probably not “really a subject of concern” to Jesus.
One such group in Texas says the Legislature should not expand the state’s franchise tax to fund public education and that property tax appraisal increases should be capped at 5 percent.
“I seem to recall an instance in the Gospel where a group of men attempted to trick Jesus into taking a position on taxes, and Jesus deferred by saying they should render unto Caesar that which was Caesar’s,” Ratliff said. “That doesn’t seem to square with these groups’ supposedly Christian position on taxes.”
But the identity theft goes even further, he said, when religion-based groups oppose early childhood and Head Start public education programs for children from underprivileged homes.
“I wonder how Christ would have viewed this position,” he said. “Perhaps he would consider a modification to his admonition to ‘suffer the little children to come unto me.'”
On the matter of funding social services, Ratliff said some groups “see no inconsistency in their willingness to sacrifice the health and welfare of underprivileged children and elderly citizens on the altar of low taxes.”
“Texas is one of the two or three lowest tax states in the nation, and yet there are those flying under the Christian banner who say we must eliminate children’s health insurance for hundreds of thousands of poor Texas children rather than having all businesses pay their fair share of taxes,” he said.
The quality of nursing homes and child protective services also are being undermined by “Christian” groups, he said.
This “misrepresentation” of the Christian faith is causing “many good people in government,” including those with a deep faith, to “cringe at the thought of a visit from the Christians,” he said.
Across this broad sweep of issues, Christians are “represented as agreeing with these positions and these outrageous political tactics without our knowledge or consent,” Ratliff said.
It is up to Christians to “take back our banner,” Ratliff said. “We must gather fellow Christians and let the world know that our Christian positions are those which we believe Christ would have endorsed.”
Ratliff said people “certainly have the right to advocate for other issues, but they should not be allowed to do so while hiding behind the Christian faith.”
Ferrell Foster is director of news and information for the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Ferrell Foster is Content Specialist for Care and Communication for Prosper Waco.