People sitting in church pews with knowledge about complicated social issues but who use it only to enrich themselves are a wasted resource for the Kingdom of God, a former tax lawyer turned fair-tax activist told a Baptist Center for Ethics audience last week.
“I’m a steward of knowledge,” Susan Pace-Hamill, a University of Alabama law professor whose writings prompted Alabama’s governor to push unsuccessfully to reform the state’s regressive tax system in 2003, said Thursday at a luncheon gathering during the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General assembly in Memphis, Tenn.
Hamill, a Methodist, worked for the Internal Revenue Service and a New York law firm before enrolling in Beeson Divinity School at Baptist-affiliated Samford University, where she wrote a thesis arguing that tax laws that disproportionately burden the poor are immoral according to Judeo-Christian standards.
Robert Parham, executive director of the Nashville, Tenn.,-based BCE, introduced Hamill as “law professor who has become a prophetess of social reformation, a tax expert who has become a drum major for social justice” and “a scholar who has become a moral circuit rider.”
Before going to Beeson, Hamill said, “I was just as guilty as everybody else.”
“I like to say at the firm I was on the express train to hell and at the IRS I was on the local train to hell,” she quipped.
Despite being a tax expert for years, she added, “In both of those places I was using my knowledge and expertise in this highly complicated secular area, mostly for my own good and for the good of wealthy, well-paying clients.”
Through careful study of the Bible, Hamill said she came to realize that biblical justice demands that tax laws be structured so that all God’s children have a reasonable opportunity to succeed.
Hamill said why God gave her the ability to understand taxes is a mystery.
“For some reason God gave me an ability and a work drive to figure out this stuff that most people wouldn’t even want to think about for two seconds, much less read about it,” she said. “I used to read tax notes like the comics.”
Hamill said there are others like her in church pews with interests and gifts that are not being used in Christian stewardship.
“There are other stewards of knowledge out there in your pews,” she said, “stewards of knowledge that know something about the mortgage industry and would have something to say biblically how we need to address it. They are just sitting there, just like I did for so many years, using their knowledge mostly for themselves. And there are stewards of knowledge in the healthcare area.”
“Every complicated issue in our world today, there are stewards of knowledge that know a great deal about that area, who are in the pews and are not using their knowledge for Kingdom building,” she said. “They’re using it for Kingdom destruction, just as I did for so many years with my own knowledge.”
Hamill challenged pastors and church leaders to “confront and challenge stewards of knowledge in your midst to start using their God-given knowledge more for God’s purposes.”
“If we do that,” she said, “we’re going to uplift all boats.”
Hamill, who is featured in the Baptist Center for Ethics documentary DVD, “Golden Rule Politics: Reclaiming the Rightful Role of Faith in Politics,” said critics often try to paint her as a radical liberal, but her theological perspective is staunchly conservative and evangelical.
“There are only three styles at Beeson,” she said. “There is conservative, very conservative and super-sized conservative. The moderates are all in the closet at Beeson.”
Despite that, she said her controversial work won full support of the Beeson faculty.
“At Beeson they taught us that the Bible speaks to every issue and concern of human life,” she said. “There is no corner of human life from which the Bible fails to speak to.”
Figuring out what that message is, she said, is sometimes not an easy task.
“There’s no substitute for hard work. In order to truly love Jesus we have to understand his message, and that requires more than reading a few favorite passages out of context,” she said. “It requires real Bible study. For this thick-headed lady, it required going back to school and to seminary to figure it out. I hope that’s not true for most of you. Otherwise we’re in trouble, because the seminaries aren’t big enough to hold everybody.”
She said one reason that American Christians tend to emphasize “low-sacrifice” issues like gay marriage and abortion while minimizing “high sacrifice” issues like just taxation is because they don’t know enough about the Bible.
She challenged pastors to help church members understand the whole gospel message and “how the principles that Jesus laid down for us 2,000 years ago speak to us today.”
“Loving Jesus 2,000 years ago and not applying that love of his message today is not really knowing him,” she said. “But it’s a tough task. Anything that requires work is a tough task. Work and sacrifice put together is usually dead on arrival for most people.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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