A podcast listener named Kevin writes in to ask this: “Pastor John, in light of everything happening with Planned Parenthood, how do I faithfully give to Caesar what is Caesar’s when that money is clearly being used to kill babies? We make our disapproval known by speaking out and calling for the end of abortion, but what about our tax dollars that continue to fund abortions?”
Let me mention a principle that guides me and then, secondly, my practice and why, and, third, an uncertainty that I have.
1. My Principle
The principle is that responsibility for sharing in another person’s sin, like the government, rises and falls with how much we know and intend to be part of the cause of that sin. So, if you are a janitor in a giant corporation of 10,000 employees and the CEO and the upper level management team have been found to have cheated customers for the last five years in an elaborate scheme of deception, then you in your role as janitor would, I think, not bear any guilt for that action, even though you are contributing to the existence of that company. But if you are an administrative assistant to one of those upper level managers and you figured out what they were doing along the way and said nothing, you would be guilty.
The Bible makes a distinction, I think, between intentional evil and accidental or unknowing participation in evil. For example, Moses writes about these refugee cities, cities of refuge. He says, “If anyone kills his neighbor unintentionally without having hated him in the past—as when someone goes into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and his hand swings the axe to cut down a tree, and the head slips from the handle and strikes his neighbor so that he dies—he may flee to one of these cities and live” (Deuteronomy 19:4–5).
So the innocent man was not intending to kill his friend. In fact, he had no intention to sin at all. And in that sense, he had no plan and was ignorant of the harm that was about to happen. And that lack of knowledge and lack of intention is morally significant. That is my principle. So my principle is not identical to that, but it is built on that. If you have no intention to participate in a sin and if your part in causing it is so remote, like this janitor, and so distant as to be negligible, then you are not guilty. So there is the principle.
2. My Practice
Now here is my practice and why. I pay my taxes to the American government — I have now for 40–50 years. And my reason is first, the Bible says that this is one of the rights of the state to collect taxes to fund its duties. Romans 13:1 and 4 say, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. . . . He is God’s servant for your good.” Verses 6–7: “For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”
So I think it is fair to say that when this was written the Roman Caesar did not use all of that money for actions Christians would have approved of. So that is my first reason for why I pay taxes to a government that has lots of policies that I would probably change.
A second reason I think we should keep on paying taxes whether we approve of all of the expenditures or not is because we are giving to a general fund and we are not able to put our taxes into specific purposes or funds. If we were — if that were the situation in which we lived — I can give an abortion tax, I can give a social security tax, I can give a military tax, I can give a welfare tax, and so on. Then I think we would be bound to withhold the money from the abortion tax.
But we don’t. It is not operated like that. Tax dollars are spent according to how the government wishes, and we don’t get to determine that directly. So we would pursue — and I think God would hold us accountable to pursue — other ways to change the government’s decisions about where to spend the money. So my practice is: Yes, I keep on giving money to government that is funding abortion.
3. My Uncertainty
Now here is my uncertainty. When does a government forfeit its rightful claim to fulfill what God says is his purpose for government; namely, to punish those who do evil and reward those who do good (1 Peter 2:14)? There are two issues here: One is when it might be right to simply withhold your support, and the other, more aggressively, is when it might be right to overthrow the government, like America did with the tyranny of Britain.
And that is my uncertainty. I am not sure where that line is. In fact, I tremble at the possible necessity of making that decision someday. There are so many factors it seems to me that would go into such a choice, just as there a lot of factors that go into determining what a just war is. So I would encourage Kevin and all of us to immerse ourselves in God’s word and think about these things and pray earnestly for our nation and for ourselves. We don’t know what is coming.
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