I received the following email in reference to a statement that I made on my radio show that “taxation is stealing.”
“I was discussing taxes with a person on FaceBook on the issue of the election and he brought up the argument that the government should be allowed to step into society and create social programs to help the people. He then argued that there is nothing wrong with using taxes to give to others.”
Here is what the person he was debating with on FaceBook wrote in response: “You keep calling taxes ‘stealing.’ Where is this idea coming from? I find this particularly odd because this very issue is the one Jesus was addressing when he said, ‘Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.’” He then goes on to discuss his view of the “historical context” of the period. He argues that Jesus summarized any objection to an oppressive government by stating, “‘Pay your taxes!’ So, when you repeatedly call the government’s taxes ‘stealing,’ I have to wonder if you’re thinking biblically OR as one raised in a context espousing conservative political beliefs which are being passed off as ‘biblical.’” I wonder if his call for a “just pay your taxes” policy is really his attempt to espouse liberal political beliefs which are being passed off as “biblical.”
There are several problems this person’s use of Matthew 22:21 to deal with modern-day taxing policy in the United States. First, because governments compel people to pay taxes because they have the power to do so does not mean that what they are doing is legitimate. It’s still stealing even if we as citizens (which most of the Jews living under Caesar were not) are obligated to pay. If someone strikes me, and I’m to turn the other cheek, the person who struck me is still wrong in what he did. In fact, Jesus calls him an “evil person” (Matt. 5:39). Civil officials must also “render to God.”
Second, as citizens of the United States, we do not live under Caesar! This may come as a shock to Christians, but it’s true. In principle we are to render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar only when we define our “Caesar.” We live under the Constitution of the United States at the federal level in which we have multiple freedoms, including the right, according the First Amendment, “to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” That means that we do not have to settle for “pay your taxes.” We can complain, debate, and vote out of office those who are abusing their office and violating the Constitution. The Jews living under political oppression had no way to “redress their grievances” since they did not have a political voice. We do.
Third, the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution informs us that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” This clearly states that the Constitution is a document of delegated limited powers. If legislators enact laws and create programs that they do not have the constitutional right to do, then they are in violation of their oath. If they pass tax laws to pay for these unconstitutional programs, then they are stealing. We still have to pay our taxes, but they are still stealing.
Fourth, the Constitution is a contract that elected officials are bound by oath to follow as the “supreme Law of the Land” (Art. VI, clause 2). The Constitution does not give elected officials carte blanche authority to enact laws because the people want them to create programs that will needed to be funded by taking money from some citizens so other citizens can benefit. Legislators, presidents, and judges can only do what the Constitution specifically states they have the authority to do.
Fifth, our founders understood that a written Constitution (contract) was needed because of human nature. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Kentucky Resolution of 1798: “In questions of power, then, let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” There’s a very good reason why a prohibition against stealing is codified in biblical law. John Eidsmoe makes an excellent summary point:
Knowing the tendency of power to corrupt and aggrandize, [the founders] designed a Constitution that would chain down that dangerous servant and keep it from becoming a fearful master. They accomplished this end by carefully limiting the powers of government; by separating the powers vertically among federal, state and local levels and horizontally among legislative, executive and judicial branches; and by providing checks and balances whereby each branch and level, guarding its own powers against encroachments by the others, would check and balance the other branches and levels and force them to adhere to their constitutional limitations. This constitutional system has made the United States of America a great and free nation for over two centuries.
The majority of Americans are ignorant of these principles. If citizens vote for governmental officials to enact laws and programs that are not supported by the Constitution, then they are involved in theft as well. Just because a voting majority wants a program enacted and funded by tax dollars does not make it a legitimate constitutional expenditure. A majority vote does not overrule the text of the Constitution or nullify an oath to uphold the Constitution.