Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sacred Texts, Social Duty (DVD) -- Review


SACRED TEXTS, SOCIAL DUTY:  A Documentary by Ethics Daily.  (DVD)  Robert Parham and Cliff Vaughn, Co-Producers/Directors.  Nashville:  EthicsDaily.Com, 2010. 58 minutes.

            We know that people don’t like to pay taxes; that is clear from the political rhetoric of the day.   Who can forget the famous words of George H. W. Bush, who said so very clearly:  “Read my lips:  No new taxes.”  It was a promise that he couldn’t keep, but the blowback was so great that today it would seem un-American to suggest that taxes should be raised.  Although we like public services, such as roads, schools, police, fire departments, ambulances, libraries, and the like, we’d rather not pay for them.   And don’t get me started on those entitlement programs like Medicaid and welfare; though Medicare and Social Security seem sacrosanct in many quarters (remember that senior citizens do vote).   Our anti-tax mentality, when accompanied by an inability to figure out exactly where the fat is that can be trimmed, has lead to ever increasing budget deficits.   

Questions of taxation would seem to be political issues upon which the faith community would appear to have little to say, which may be why there are so few sermons on the subject.  After all, politics doesn’t belong in the pulpit.  Still, is it really true that our sacred texts don’t have anything to say about this issue?  Is there no word that can be spoken from a faith perspective on this issue, especially at this critical moment in the nation’s history?  These are the kinds of questions that are addressed in a splendid but challenging documentary from the people at Ethics Daily, who graciously provided me a copy of Sacred Texts, Social Duty to preview.  

The premise of this documentary is that the sacred texts of the three Abrahamic traditions do offer important guidance on the matter of taxation.   It’s not that God has a specific tax policy or method of taxation, but the sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam do speak of the need for funds to be gathered for the common good.  Consider that Moses levied a half shekel tax on the people of Israel for support of the community (Exodus 30:13).  Malachi even suggested that failure to pay the tithe should be considered robbing God.  As for Jesus, he consistently called for those who had funds to share them with those who did not, and he is famous for saying “Give to Caesar, that which is Caesar’s, and give to God that which belongs to God” (Mark 12:13-17); while hanging around with tax collectors.  Yes, he called on them to do their job justly, but he didn’t condemn the profession.  Paul, of course, called for submission to the authorities, whom God had placed in their positions for the common good (Romans 13:1-7).  And, according to the Qur’an, zakat, alms given for the provision of care to the poor is a pillar of Islam.   So, the question is:  do our sacred texts simply commend charity – that is voluntary giving – or do they encourage or allow for what we would call taxation?  

The documentary is divided into four segments – “Social Duty in the States”; “Social Duty in the Sacred Traditions”; “Social Duty in the Square”; and “Social Duty and the Pulpit.”  Contributors to the discussion come from all parts of the three Abrahamic traditions, and are drawn from North and South, East and West.  All are in agreement that in one form or another; the Scriptures allow for and encourage the gathering of funds for the common good.  Indeed, as Presbyterian Tami Sober puts it:  “Taxes are what we pay for the common good.” 

At the heart of the conversation is a matter of justice.  The scriptures of all three traditions are clear – God is concerned about justice.  Historian and Baptist Sunday School Teacher Wayne Flynt reminds us that Matthew 25 speaks not just about charity, but about justice.  He says in the film that “What we’ve done is sever ethics from social morality and reduce ethics to personal morality.  Also what we’ve done is say that justice is about charity.”  Rabbi Ben Romer of Virginia reminds us that in the Jewish tradition, government is charged with preserving justice for the entire community, therefore, he says that:

“The American government has the responsibility, as the government of the people, to provide for the needs of the people.  And certainly the synagogue and the mosque and the church has a responsibility beyond the government, but not in place of the government.”
             If taxes are appropriate way of providing for the common good from a faith perspective, then the next question concerns the kind of taxes that Scripture would deem appropriate.  Again, even though no particular tax method is outlined in Scripture, principles of justice would assume that the tax burdens not fall on those least able to pay.  That is, tax policy should be progressive not regressive.  As all the scriptures of all three traditions put it – those to whom much is given, much is expected.  Even Adam Smith agrees with this principle – as pointed out in the documentary, Smith wrote in the Wealth of Nations:   
 “The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state.”   
A progressive tax is one that doesn’t fall heaviest upon those least able to pay – making sales taxes more regressive than income taxes, since often sales taxes fall even on essentials such as food.  Lotteries are also regressive forms of taxation, in fact they can be considered, as Baptist pastor David Wheeler puts it, “tax evasion.” 

            The assumptions that lie behind the film are that most people of faith want to do the right thing, and that the Scriptures of all three traditions call on governments, as well as individuals, to pursue justice and the common good.  It would appear that taxes are essential to this process, for services need to be paid for – something that seems lost on so many American today.  They decry the deficit, but want their taxes to reduced even as they demand more services.  Unfortunately, those who need help the most, too often don’t have the power to speak out for themselves, and thus they end up bearing the burden.    

The value of this documentary is that it raises important questions that people of faith need to wrestle with.  This film, therefore, is an excellent piece to be used in congregations to start that discussion, and fortunately a discussion guide can be found on the web site.  Congregations may want to divide the video curriculum into four parts, making for a month long study, or it could be used in one sitting, but the participants need to be ready to engage for a lengthy period of time.     As to why we would want to do this, perhaps Methodist pastor Philip Blackwell makes the best the case:
“If the public system of taxation as well as the delivery of services doesn’t reflect how it is that we are to care for one another, then it is the religious community’s responsibility not only to point that out, but to advocate and to organize in order to make sure that there is a kind of common care for people.”
Some might call this politics, but as the participants in this conversation are apt to point out, it is really a matter of a sacred duty, for God is concerned for justice and the common good.  And that, as they say, is preachable! And this DVD an insightful and important contributor to a conversation that needs to be undertaken.

37 comments:

David said...
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Gary said...

Is there a socialist who is not also a fag enabler? They seem to go together.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Gary,

Political positions are no guarantee of how they respond to the question of homosexuality. Both Communist and Fascist leaders have been anti-homosexual. There are liberals who are homophobic and Conservatives who are welcoming. So, you see there is no guarantee of any position!

And, just to be clear, I'm not a socialist and neither is the current President.

Gary said...

I disagree Cornwall, I think you are a socialist, as is Hussein Obama. Both of you love big government and trust politicians and bureaucrats, and detest the freedoms that are inherant in private property and private enterprise. You have no qualms about taking the property of others, by force of law, in order to achieve what is important to you.

And, you're also a hypocrite. You claim that you are trying to do God's will by enacting your governmental policies of taxation and redistribution, but when conservatives want to outlaw abortion, or limit marriage to a man and a woman, both of which are in accord with God's commandments, your crowd contends that violates the separation of church and state!
Well, if it does, then so do your redistributionist plans.

David said...
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David said...
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Gary said...

David the Fag Enabler,

Where in the New Testament could I read where Jesus said for the government to take the property of someone and give it to someone else?

Uneducated socialists believe that those who have property got it illegitimately. Educated socialists understand that they are simply trying to steal the property of others by using government force.

Gary said...

David the Fag Enabler,

You're a liar. You don't even love your own daughter, much less anyone else.

I doubt if there are any sodomites in my church, but if there are, they regularly hear the gospel, and occasionally hear homosexuality preached against.

David said...
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Colby Cheese said...

Gary,

You have my sympathy.

There is no intellectual or spiritual reason for your hatred and prejudice against gays. For what are you trying to compensate? To what in your life are you reacting when you strike out in such a mean-spirited way?

If you are only a troll, you still have my sympathy. I grieve for whatever has wounded you or fractured you or left you feeling incomplete - and causes you to lash out in anger and in hurtful and wasteful ways.

I love you, Gary. Just do not confuse my love for blindness or stupidity. Those of us who lived through the 60s know hatred and prejudice when we see it - whether it be directed toward blacks or gays.

Your personal needs are beyond by capabilities to provide your need for professional help. I am not sure anyone can help until you value love over hate and mutual relationships of equality over prejudice.

May the peace of Christ be with you, my fellow child of God.

Doug Sloan

Gary said...

Doug,

You might be able to fool some of these idiots here with your phony religion, but I've seen enough of your posts to know what you are.

David said...
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Colby Cheese said...

Gary,

We are the same - mortal and imperfect children of God.

I offer the unrelenting love and unconditional grace of God.

Will you accept the love and grace of God?

If you reject the unrelenting love and unconditional grace of God, what will you accept and what do you offer in place of it?

Peace,
Doug Sloan

Gary said...

Colby Cheeze Head,

Real Christians believe the Bible, and you have shown that you don't. Your "Christianity" is fake.

Colby Cheese said...

Gary,

So far, you offer only name-calling insults and empty accusations.

Again - If you reject the unrelenting love and unconditional grace of God, what will you accept and what do you offer in place of it?

The question is the same whether you are disagreeing or trolling.

...and I still love you.

Peace,
Doug

John said...

Hi Gary,

Missed you. You sound fully recharged and ready to do verbal violence with any and all who fail to embrace the truth you tell.

Doesn't it get old, and don't you ever entertain doubt? I mean, dont you think that a God who preaches and practices unconditional love must have a very difficult time rejecting everyone who fails to agree with Gary? Accordign to you, the god you describe must spend a lot of time rejecting those who take the notion of unconditional love to be more than words, those self-proclaimed Chrisitans who appear to be more unconditionally loving than the god Gary describes.

Are you sanguine with the circumstance that humans are really more adept at compassion than your god?

John

David said...
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Colby Cheese said...

David,

When I talk about worshipping a God of unrelenting love and unconditional grace, I am not talking in jest or discussing a hypothetical situation or proposing a philosophical construct to satisfy a primal need.

God is real. God is the ultimate reality. The Good News is that we can have an intimate relationship with God without priests and temples. The Good News is that we can be and of the Kingdom of God here and now. The Good News is that resurrection and transformation is available to all of us without exception and without qualification.

Whether literalist or troll or fictional construct, the person who is Gary or whom Gary represents is a child of God and is loved and cherished by God. I do not know what unmet need or fracture or wound motivates the responses of Gary - and it does not matter. For whatever reason, Gary has not met the God of love and grace - and will not if we respond with hate and vengeance.

If you wish to pursue this, here are two links I offer for your consideration:

RECLAIMING THE GOOD NEWS - an epistle

http://dmergent.org/2010/08/05/reclaiming-the-good-news-an-epistle/



RECLAIMING FORGIVENESS - it's personal

http://dmergent.org/2010/08/19/reclaiming-forgiveness-its-personal/

Peace,
Doug Sloan

David said...
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Gary said...

The god of John, David, and Doug is not the God of the Bible. Believing God is something other than what He has revealed Himself to be is the foundation of heresy.

David, since you don't love your own daughter, your claim of loving anyone else is unbelievable.

David said...
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Colby Cheese said...

Gary,

In my Bible, I find a God of love and grace. What God do you find?

If you reject the unrelenting love and unconditional grace of God, what will you accept and what do you offer in place of it?

Peace,
Doug

John said...

Gary,

How do you square your hostility with this command from 1 Peter 3:15-16 "Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence."

Isn't there some way to assert your point and its defenses without going on the attack?

John

David said...
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Colby Cheese said...

There are times when I am almost convinced that Gary and David are the same person. At times, they seem to have a highly similar style of response:
* mean-spirited and insulting
* a lack of discussion points and counter-points
* an unseemly interest in being controversial and offensive instead of engaging in a dispassionate and reasonable discussion.

John said...

Doug,

Now, now, you are taunting two of my favorite people. I think it's true of both that they have their own styles of discourse, and both empploy and express deep passion about their issues. And I think passion in discourse is as important as a substantial argument.

And Dave's humor, which is not seriously mean spirited, is greatly appreciated by some of us (even though it can sometimes be counter-productive with someone like Gary.

John

John said...

Doug,

I forgot to mention that you too are a,ong my favorite posters.

John

David said...
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Colby Cheese said...

The point I am trying to make is that name-calling and insults and inflammatory rhetoric do nothing to develop a conversation or to move it forward.

So my invitation to you and Gary is: make a positive contribution. If you disagree with someone else's opinion, then offer a counter opinion and reasoning. If you disagree with a paticular theology, then offer what you believe is a better theology.

Someone else making a nasty or angry or insulting comment does not obligate or entitle us to reply in kind.

Peace,
Doug

David said...
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Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Okay, I think I need to step in -- can we lower the temperature of the conversation, which has deviated considerably from an important topic discussed by the video, which is the purpose of taxation.

David said...
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Glenn said...

Having sat this one out thus far to preserve my own mental well being, I would offer these thoughts. The longest comment threads on this blog (and the ones that devolve most quickly) are always those which involve your resident troll. While dissenting opinions are the lifeblood of any good blog, your troll has successfully avoided being banned despite being pathologically aggressive, insulting and off-topic. While his posting history has shown that topics involving homosexuality and muslims will be met with predictable nastiness, he also has proven himself to be quite skilled at hi-jacking almost any topic and turning everyone involved into an unwitting participant in the ensuing chaos (myself included). At this point, it seems that there are a limited number of choices in dealing with him. Either we all make a commitment to not engage him by responding to his provocative attacks and continue the conversation on topic as if he didn't exist or we continue to counter-attack and provide him with what he wanted in the first place, a meaningless conversation in which nobody accomplishes anything other than to get all worked up trying to reason with somebody whose only purpose is to cause unhappiness in others. Unless Gary is banned by Bob, the situation isn't going to change unless we change it.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Glenn,

I appreciate your response. I realize that some of my commenters like engaging with Gary, it doesn't help the overall conversation. So, here is my request. I'd rather not ban Gary, which would require that I delete his comments, I ask you all not to respond to his postings. If you can't abide by this, I'll either have to close comments altogether or selectively delete, as I simply don't wish to have to moderate the conversation -- don't have time.

So, please everyone, help out by refraining from engaging Gary.

David said...
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Colby Cheese said...

Glenn and Bob,

Thank you.

Stay on task - Don't be distracted.

Doug Sloan

David said...
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