A Call for Just Tax Structures
2016 Book of Resolutions, #4063
Biblical and Theological Foundation
The Law of Moses expresses God’s expectation that society should care for its most vulnerable members both by refraining from exploiting them and by providing for their basic needs. The prophet Amos reminds the covenant community of God’s expectations and rebukes his society for oppressing, trampling, and even crushing the poor and needy (Amos 2:6-8; 4:1, and 8:4-6). Amos gives voice to God’s demand for just and equitable taxation as he cries out: “Because you crush the weak, / and because you tax their grain, / you have built houses of carved stone … / I know [you who are] afflicting the righteous, / taking money on the side, / turning away the poor who seek help” (Amos 5:11-12).
In the early church, all participants brought their gifts to the community with the understanding that everything should be shared according to everyone’s needs (Acts 4:32-35). While this was voluntary behavior that was not implemented everywhere as the Christian movement expanded, the principle/value remains valid to Christian understanding of living in community with each other.
In today’s world, we recognize and affirm the vital role of governments in ordering society and enabling us to do together that which none of us could do alone. Tax laws enable us to embody our Judeo-Christian values of equal opportunity for all and care for the poor. They are necessary to provide adequate revenue that supports our shared commitment to a just society, including the maintenance of a safety net of services and opportunities for those most in need. (See the work of United Methodist layperson, Susan Pace Hamill, professor of law at the University of Alabama.) Taxation allows us to create systems that prevent our societies from descending to the tempting sin of greed. Unfortunately, current tax structures often have perpetuated rather than addressed economic injustices and have failed to provide sufficient revenue for the health, safety, educational, and welfare needs of our communities. Recent economic research ties unregulated market forces to increased inequality, justifying government tax interventions to more equitably distribute economic gains (Thomas Picketty,Capital in the Twenty-First Century).
The gap between the rich and poor continues to widen world-wide. The eighty-five richest people in the world control as much wealth as the poorest half of the world (source: Oxfam). As our Companion Litany to Our Social Creed states: “God cries with the masses of starving people, despises growing disparity between rich and poor… . And so shall we.”
The challenges of establishing fair and just tax systems are global. While some nations offer stronger social safety nets funded through more equitable tax systems, everywhere the forces of power and privilege seek to change structures to their benefit, oftentimes at the expense of our poorest and most vulnerable brothers and sisters. In our world economy, too often those individuals and corporations with the most wealth are most able to avoid the social responsibility of taxes by finding exemptions in local tax law or by using varied nations’ tax regulations.
Given the clear injustice of many tax structures and growing disparity between rich and poor, we affirm the need to reform these tax structures. Our Social Principles state our support for “efforts to revise tax structures and to eliminate governmental support programs that now benefit the wealthy at the expense of other persons” (¶ 163).
Principles for Tax Reform
The United Methodist Church calls for changes to current tax systems to better embody the following faithful principles:
Protecting the Poor and Vulnerable: All tax decisions must be judged by their impact on children, low-income families, the elderly, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable populations. Taxes should be applied to a market activity that causes cost upon others or upon a public good (for example, clean air). Additional taxes should be levied on products that are damaging, such as tobacco, alcohol, and weapons.
Community: Systems should strengthen and uphold values of our common life together. Any nation’s well-being is dependent on that of all its members. Tax and revenue systems enable governments to provide for the needs of the common good and should not give privilege to wealth earned through investment over wealth earned by labor.
Justice: Each government should ensure that both the burdens and the benefits of a nation’s common life are shared equitably and proportionally among its citizens. Laws should address inequalities not institutionalize them.
We call for a global treaty to prevent transnational avoidance of taxation.
See Social Principles, ¶ 163.
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Copyright © 2016, The United Methodist Publishing House, used by permission