Taxes can be a means of grace
I warned readers last month that I would be “talking taxes” in this space in
2009. Some people probably were less than thrilled to hear that, or perhaps
they thought, “Well, that’s one less page to read.” But some people were glad,
given feedback I have received. But it is quite likely that everyone will think that
I’ve gone off the deep end with the headline above. Maybe I have, but hear me
Lutherans have a long history of providing for well-done social ministry. (See “A
Piety of Progress,” page 17.) Such a commitment to engaging the world is one of
the identifying characteristics many non-Lutherans know about Lutherans.
Why is that? Certainly it is not because we think our “works” will get us into
heaven or change God’s mind about us. Our utter fear of “works righteousness”
is probably the other most recognized identifying feature.
No, we don’t do works of mercy for ourselves. We do them because we are God’s
hands in the world. We love the people God shows love to —
especially the vulnerable, the sick, the poor, those identified by Jesus in the
Sermon on the Mount.
But society today is different than earlier ages. We are more complex and
certainly the scale of the problems and dilemmas is larger. So, our responses
must also be.
Yes, we should do creative ministry through hospitals, schools, and adoption
agencies. But we need additional strategies.
A response to emergency needs by government agencies is essential to meeting
the community’s need. Government can match the scale of the problem. And
government can find solutions that provide more anonymity. That means we are
able to provide for the needs of the vulnerable without direct recognition.
Taxes provide an opportunity for people to support their follow citizens through
government programs that don’t highlight the “giver” (taxpayer) as an
individual. Separating the giver from the receiver (and most of us are giver and
recipient of tax benefits at the same time — simul donor et receptor) ensures
that we do not get caught up in our own righteousness. We can be responders
to God’s grace without receiving the recognition that charitable giving often