When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. (Deuteronomy 26:12 )
As you will be aware, one of the repeated refrains throughout the whole of the scriptures is an emphasis on our responsibility to care for four particular groups: the poor, the widow, the orphan and the immigrant. In different verses, three or four of these groups frequently appear in combination (Ps 146:9, Isa 1:17, Mal 3:5, Zech 7:10, James 1:27). In the Deuteronomic verse, the emphasis is on our responsibility to care by paying our tithe, the equivalent some might say of our current tax system. What many commentators have pointed out however is that what links these four groups is not so much their economic plight - their material poverty as such - but rather their vulnerability. They lacked social status, and it is that relative powerlessness that made them vulnerable to the exploitation of others. This for me is a reminder that a fairer tax system is not just about generating resources to meet a particular need (thought it is that), but it is also about fostering genuine social equality. It is about empowering people so that they are not vulnerable to the exploitation of others. It is about justice.
When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:9,10)
I love this painting, The Gleaners, by Millet from 1857. In it he depicts three rural peasant women collecting the leftoversfrom the harvest. In the distance, you can see the sheaves of corn ready to be transported, and an overseersitting proudly on horseback. But in the centre of the picture are the three women, working hard, collecting what they can. When it was painted, the wealthier parts of French society disliked it because it threatened one of the narratives of wealth and poverty that we still hear today - namely the myth of the hardworking wealthy and the undeserving, lazy poor. The painting though has obvious biblical overtones. The passage from Leviticus 19 makesits instruction clear, and it is a reminder that extracting every bit of profit is not what we should be about. This is what is meant by a Sabbath Economics. While a pure capitalist economics mightsay that profit maximization is the only game in town, a sabbath economics encourages usto pursue an economy of enough and an economy of redistribution. Leaving the gleanings may not be the kindest or most appropriate way to redistribute, but it is at least one way, and as a symbol it challenges the profit only mindset that characterises far too much of our present society. The question for each of us is in what way are we redistributing our wealth to others who need it more
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
Being created in the image of God may not immediately generate any resonances with the concept of tax justice, but actually this central theological idea lies at the root of all that we do. For centuries, theologians have debated precisely what it means to be made in God’s image, but there’s a growing consensus that it reflects the ancient near east practice of describing the King as the one who bears the image of the gods. In this way, the ruler was the functional representative of the gods on earth. If this is the relevant background, then for the Hebraic God to declare all of humanity as being in his image indicated a remarkable equality agenda. If everyone from the king to the lowest slave bore the divine image, then everyone from the king to the slave represented God on earth. This includes both women and men, children and adults, those with disabilities and those without and so on. And this is where the link to tax justice occurs. Tax Justice is about ending the inherent unfairness in our tax system – an unfairness that leads to some having to beg for food while others throw it away, an unfairness that means some have access to high quality education while others do not. The message of the image of God is that we are all equal – every one of us – and therefore all of us should be treated with equity, having the same rights, responsibilities and opportunities according to our gifts and abilities. The equality agenda didn’t begin in the modern era, it began in the pages of Genesis and campaigning for Tax Justice is part of that agenda.
The Bible And Tax - Revd David Haslam's in-depth exploration of the Biblical precedents for the Tax Justice Campaign with reference to both the Old and New Testaments and to theologian Ched Myers' ideas of 'Sabbath Economics'. Physical copies can be purchased at a cost of £1 per copy, £5 for 6 or £10 for 12. Email us at mail (at) catj.org.uk for more information..