Faith may be in action, but is the mind of Christ? Social gospel left demands higher taxes in Illinois

Posted on April 29, 2014 by


Pity the poor people of Illinois.  They have perhaps the worst government policies in the nation, and have less than 43 cents on the dollar funded of their pension liabilities for the large public sector.  The state settled with the SEC in March after it was charged with securities violations in fraudulent reporting of its pension liabilities.   The state Democratic machine seems unable to fix the problem,

After lawmakers adjourned in May without fixing the problem, the state’s credit rating was slashed, raising future borrowing costs. This summer, Gov. Pat Quinn used a budget line-item veto to freeze lawmakers’ salaries effective August. In response, the Illinois House speaker and Senate president hauled Quinn into court to get their pay restored. In October, a Circuit Court ordered the paychecks re-instated, with interest. The state Supreme Court is reviewing an appeal.

And as the WSJ reports, the state is constantly in a state of chaos with corrupt leaders,

Four of the past seven governors, most recently Rod Blagojevich, have been sent to prison.

So what to do when problems appear greater than man’s ability to solve?  A great choice  is to fall on our faces before God and appeal for his mercy.  So did that happen…not exactly.  The “faith community” got together, not to appeal to God for mercy and deliverance from corrupt leaders, but to call on the state to give Illinois higher taxes.  As the WSJ reported:

Donning orange T-shirts reading “Faith in Action,” a coalition of religious groups flooded the state capitol in Springfield, singing hymns, shouting “Hallelujah,” and praying for higher taxes on the rich. Their goal: replacing the state’s long-standing flat income tax with a new, progressive “Fair Tax.”

As two of the marchers said,

“The gospel tells us that ‘For everyone to whom much is given, much will be required,’ ” Rev. Jason Coulter, a Chicago pastor and board member of the Community Renewal Society (which organized Faith in Action) told me. “I’m called by my faith tradition to speak truth to power when I see injustice being done. And a flat tax is an injustice.”  “This is a moral imperative,” said Rev. C.J. Hawking, executive director of Arise Chicago, a workers’ rights group. “There are over 400 passages in the Bible that talk about God’s special concern for the poor. Our current tax system, which favors the wealthy, is so off kilter, so skewed, and so contrary to the vision God has set before us.”

I should be grading macro papers right now, but reviewing this article is a welcome break during finals week.  When I go off to teach class, I often kid my colleagues that I’m off to fight another battle in the never-ending war against economic ignorance.  And when I see stories like this, I see the same never-ending war against bad theology.  Given that our greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, and mind, there is no excuse for not exercising discernment in the expression of our religious faith.  So just a few questions for the “faith in action” community.  If the flat tax is an injustice, why did God call for a flat tithe?  Why did he not call for a progressive tithe?  And while I agree that God does have a special concern for the vulnerable, does that mean that God wants us to have our tax system treat people differently?  For a specific hypothetical example, if I make $150k, and am taxed at the state level at 5%, why should someone that makes $151k (if 150k is the break in the tax bracket) have to pay more?  Certainly God does not have special concern over my poverty.  And those making under $150k don’t on average consume less government resources than those slightly above the line.

As anyone familiar with flat (or proportional) taxation is aware, the poor are usually given a generous exclusion so that they don’t pay tax anyway–but Illinois does not seem to have this.  So there may be a case to modify Illinois plan–but that in no way requires a progressive tax. With a flat tax, once you are not in this special protection class, we’re all treated the same.  That seems to me to be inherently biblical, after all, God does not show partiality, so why should our tax system?  I’m not sure the bible does call for a specific tax system, but if anything, it would seem to call for a proportional flat tax over a progressive tax.  We see many biblical examples of proportional “taxation” (and in some cases, regressive taxation in the sacrificial system).  Yet we never see a call for progressive taxation.  While there were exceptions for the very poor for some sacrifices, once you were not in this category, everyone was treated the same.

The other important consideration is despite the calls for government spending to help the poor, most government spending does not help the poor.  Gwartney & Stroup, in their best selling micro textbook, state that only about 1/6 of income transfers are means tested (for the poor).  There is a reason why the two richest counties in America border Washington DC–much of government spending is welfare for the rich.  So let’s not dress it up as concern for the poor.  Milton Friedman used to say that every coalition was composed as having two parts, the public face of some concern, and the special interest group behind them.

Let me give you a very simple example – take the minimum wage law. Its well-meaning sponsors– there are always in these cases two groups of sponsors – there are the well-meaning sponsors and there are the special interests, who are using the well-meaning sponsors as front men. You almost always when you have bad programs have an unholy coalition of the do-gooders on the one hand, and the special interest on the other. The minimum wage law is as clear a case as you could want.  The special interests are of course the trade unions – the monopolistic trade craft unions.

My suspicion is that you’ll find the public employees unions behind this, as Heather Wilhelm reports:

Not coincidentally, high-profile members of public-employee unions like the Illinois SEIU are actively engaged—some as “faith leaders”—in the fight for a progressive tax….Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, noted that “some faith communities are being propelled into this debate to provide moral cover in order to raise more revenue for state programs.

It looks like Christ and the gospel are being hijacked–that envy is being dressed up as morality, as it is so often in these class-warfare themes.  Or as Catholic Vote President Brian Burch puts it:

 “They’re substituting the state for God.”

So if faith is in action, what is this faith in?