We are more than taxpayers
Taxes can be a positive way for Christians to fulfill our calling to do public justice.
These days Canadians are more likely to hear ourselves referred to as “taxpayers” than “citizens.” What if we viewed ourselves as citizens first? We might stop asking “what’s in it for me?” and begin to ask “what’s in it for everyone?”
If our approach to public life is deeply rooted in our faith, we will consider not only our own personal rights, but the responsibilities we have to one another.
Christians can use citizenship as a tool for justice. We can love our neighbour through political means, we can use the tools of advocacy and press our politicians to follow through with their commitments, and we can vote. As citizens, we can also pay our taxes.
Taxes are a way to pool our resources and develop common infrastructure that can have a positive impact on us all. Taxes build our roads and bridges, pay for our police and firefighters, offer support for raising children, provide income security and housing for the poor, contribute to foreign aid, and help to ensure our environment is clean and safe. All of these things are much cheaper and effective when we pay for them collectively.
Various governments and individuals have promoted lower taxes as the solution to all social problems without mentioning the risks. They leave out the good and potential of programs paid for with tax dollars. We often forget the fact that we are the ones who benefit from the services and infrastructure that tax dollars provide. Experts suggest that more than two-thirds of Canadians receive a benefit from public services greater than 50 per cent of their average incomes.
As Christians, we are called to pay our taxes. Luke 20:25 includes the command to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Taxes are about giving back, and contributing to the common good. We recognize that we are not solely responsible for the wealth that we generate, nor does it belong to us alone. We share a portion of the income that we have received as an expression of our gratitude and a contribution towards our community and collective care for creation.
Taxes are also a part of caring for the poor. The Bible holds more than 2,000 references to poverty and is very clear on our role to care for the afflicted, the destitute, the weak and the needy (Psalm 82:3,4). Christians, as citizens, have a role in pressing for justice and measures that prevent the causes of poverty. Part of that responsibility means encouraging government to promote justice and fairness, recognizing that preventing poverty is more charitable that alleviating it. We should question if our government budgets and tax system reflects these priorities.
Recognizing the good that taxes can do is not to suggest that we be naive about their misuse. Taxes should not be used to line the pockets of any kind of political elite or merely benefit the wealthy. Taxes should not burden the poor. The use of our common purse must be transparent and there must be open and honest debate about its use. This requires accountability; active citizenship includes ensuring that government is doing the work it should be doing.
You know what they say (usually with a sigh): nothing is certain but death and taxes. But perhaps the negative assumptions behind this common saying deserve some second thought. Taxes can be a positive way for us to fulfill our Christian calling to do public justice. It’s time to expand the conversation on taxes and consider it within the context of citizenship.
Citizens for Public Justice will release a series of fact sheets on taxes this spring. Check out www.cpj.ca for more information.
Janelle Vandergrift is a Policy Analyst with Citizens for Public Justice in Ottawa, Ontario.
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