Today we feature an article by Shannon Hughes of NETWORK on why Christians should experience joy in participating in Tax Day today. Be sure to check out NETWORK's campaign to show taxpayer pride through these next few weeks.
With Tax Day upon us, a nation of taxpayers is supposed to be grumbling today. Whether grabbing that billion back, or acknowledging the hurt, this is expected to be a difficult day for everyone. But wallowing doesn’t jive with Pope Francis’s joy, or with hundreds of years of Church teaching.
The underlying message in advertisements and tax day reminders is clear: no one wants to pay taxes. Get to that lowest rate, and then find the loopholes!
But in today’s society this message is simply un-Christian. It cries, “This dollar is most valuable in your pocket! Nothing is better than having money for you!” It would be difficult to position yourself in greater opposition to the central teachings of justice in the Gospel.
Jesus calls every person to be a neighbor, responding with compassion to those in need while also working rigorously to dismantle the structures that create injustices like poverty in a land of plenty.
Taxes allow the United States a chance to be the kind of nation it ought to be. Taxes, in a very direct way, connect people to each other and to the community they share. Together, the people of the United States can afford the kind of communities they want – safe places to live with meaningful work and quality education and healthcare.
Some tax-funded programs and places are obviously meant for everyone. This winter, taxes paid for the plows and workers to shovel through all of those snowstorms allowing people to get to work and ambulances to drive safely to hospitals. Taxes pump water through fire hoses and put books on the shelves of public libraries. Taxes bring people together around fountains and swing sets at public parks.
Other taxes seem to answer more directly the Christian call to be the keeper of all brothers and sisters. Taxes allow this nation to protect the most vulnerable in our society from starvation and homelessness. But even those benefits don’t stop there. When the government puts grocery money into the hands of SNAP recipients across the country, real money makes its way to the local grocery story. Cashiers, supervisors, and district managers have work. Corporations realize greater profits.
This tangible ripple of resource is not unlike the joy Pope Francis promises is available to those who seek to answer the challenge of Jesus’s love. He notes, “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.” When such love exists, there must be an Easter celebration.
But Pope Francis also cautions, “Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.”
On tax day, the problem isn’t that tax rates are too high. In the upcoming Easter celebration of all that has been built together, it is difficult not to think of all that could be accomplished with a more just tax code. Right now those people and corporations who benefit most from the economy do not contribute to this community pot like they ought to. The billions that the government might have used to improve public schools, better infrastructure, and create jobs instead are never even collected as people deduct the cost of a yacht as their second home, as national and international corporations slide profits through mammoth loopholes, untaxed. Some of the largest and most profitable corporations even have money returned to them through special-interest backed tax credits.
Disparities in the United States grow and flourish. As the wealthy few move farther and farther away from the rest of the country, the opportunity at the heart of the American dream diminishes. An even older dream, the respect of each person’s dignity, grows dimmer. Pope Francis writes, “Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
Spiritual leaders are not the only ones calling for change. In December, President Obama urged the country to “refocus our energies on building an economy that grows for everybody and gives every child in this country a fair chance at success.” No single person builds an economy or a fair chance at success.
Payers of sales tax and property tax, income tax and payroll tax might consider what it means to contribute to something bigger than what they could build themselves. Though it may take practice, maybe all of us should consider the trade off, and allow the joy of being a neighbor overtake the “lent” of letting go of a few dollars on April 15.
Ready to show your taxpayer pride?
Send in a #TaxPayerPride photo! Just take a picture of yourself enjoying a tax-funded activity, location, or service. Email it to NETWORK at email@example.com and we'll add it to our collection online. Please also share your photo and join the conversation at the hashtag #TaxPayerPride.
But, tax justice won't be built by seflies alone! #TaxPayerPride was inspired by NETWORK's new interfaith curriculum called We the Taxpayers. Join the We the Taxpayers webinar on Thursday, April 24 at 3:30 pm ET.
Or Sign up for a We the Taxpayers e-learning experience. This series of eight weekly emails will spur reflection about how faith values relate to different tax philosophies and policies. The series will include lessons from We the Taxpayers, complete with videos and group facilitation guides.