In July, at the UN High-level Political Forum on the Sustainable Development Goals, the World Council of Churches officially launched the Zacchaeus Tax Campaign (#ZacTax). The campaign draws on the Zacchaeus story and, in particular, his actions in paying back what he owed to argue that tax justice is not just about fair international tax systems in the present, but also about reparations for past injustices.
“Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount. Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house.” Luke 19:8,9
We often talk about the fact that repentance is not merely a matter of saying ‘sorry’, but represents a change of direction. It is not so much a ‘word’ that we say, but actions that demonstrate we are now heading on a different path. Zacchaeus demonstrates that perfectly.
It’s interesting that Jesus declaration of ‘salvation’ occurs, not when they’re eating together, but when Zacchaeus indicates the nature of his changed behaviour. In his former life, he has cheated, he has stolen, he has collaborated. No doubt many of his actions were ‘legal’, at least in regard to the Roman law of the time, but in meeting Jesus, Zacchaeus realised they were immoral, and so he makes the promise ‘I give half of my possessions to the poor’.
As the WCC and a number of other ecumenical bodies indicate, this story works as a framework for our current international financial architecture and for how we might begin to repair that structure.
In addition, recognising the fact that climate change is largely the result of the West, and yet the current burden is faced by the global south, the WCC are not only calling for progressive green taxes but that part of the reparation activities should be used to address the impact of climate change in poorer nations.
The WCC then challenge the churches specifically:
Dr Justin Thacker is the National Coordinator for Church Action for Tax Justice