This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

The tax reform we need

The pliable instructions Jesus gives for paying taxes leave plenty of room for interpretation: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). Context — then and now — is key to interpretation. But more often than not, the Christian who pays taxes and gives to godly causes will come to an ironclad conclusion that supports whatever he or she wanted to do in the first place.

While it’s nice that the U.S. tax laws ushered in by Republicans will send fewer coins Caesar’s way, it’s unfortunate that the biggest cuts went to the wealthiest earners, heirs and corporations — and that surviving loopholes don’t do more to encourage charitable donations.

Federal income taxes are often considered more loathsome than local fare because they fund more distant causes. The growth of income taxation has always been closely linked to military pursuits. Congress imposed the first income tax in 1861 to pay for the Civil War. After lapsing in 1872, the income tax returned permanently in 1913, ramping up dramatically to pay for World War I and still higher for World War II. The military and tax expansion never subsided.

For better or worse, today’s federal tax plan has been settled, reducing estimated income over the next decade by $1.5 trillion. The next battle will be over spending. Congressional leaders are already eyeing slashes to safety-net programs like Social Security and Medicare.

It would be more appropriate, and improve the lives of more Americans, to look instead to federal income taxation’s roots and reduce military spending.

Rather than deterring terrorism, American military incursions are the biggest recruiting tool for extremist groups. North Korea has not been dissuaded from developing stronger weapons; if anything, it feels a nuclear option is needed now more than ever.

Not counting about $93 billion in veterans and nuclear security costs, proposed 2018 military spending grew last month beyond budget caps to $700 billion. Abandoning his populist campaign charade, President Trump last year asked for $30 billion more in military spending, in spite of the Department of Defense’s desire to cut costs by consolidating bases.

We’d prefer the U.S. government render to the Pentagon what little should be the Pentagon’s and give the people a tax break for rendering to charities that do God’s work.

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