April 5, 2023 at 10:51 a.m.

Taxes and our duty as Christians

How taxes impact our community and our faith
Deacon Walter Ayres
Deacon Walter Ayres

By Deacon Walter Ayres | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Taxes and our duty as Christians

We all know Jesus’ admonition to “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” but how many of us have considered what happens when we do not follow this teaching? We need look no further than the federal budget for an answer.

But let’s start at the beginning.

Jesus’ statement is contained in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Jesus was being tested by the Jewish leaders (the scribes and chief priests in Luke; the Pharisees and Herodians in Matthew and Mark). They asked if it was legal to pay the census tax.

Jesus responded by requesting a Roman coin and then asking whose image is on it. When they responded that the image is Caesar’s, he gave his famous reply.

St. Paul confirms this approach in his Letter to the Romans, in which he writes, “Pay to all their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, toll to whom toll is due.” (Rom 13:7)

In the New Dictionary of Catholic Social Thought, the entry on taxes notes that “most contemporary Catholic thinkers maintain there is a moral obligation to pay just taxes based on social or legal justice.”

And this brings us to the federal budget.

This past October, the IRS released a report that the amount of taxes owed but not paid to the government is increasing. According to an article in The Hill, “The shortfall, known as the ‘tax gap,’ is measured every three years. The latest numbers show that it went up by $58 billion to $496 billion.”

We should ask ourselves: how many bridges are not being repaired because of that shortfall? How many children go to bed hungry for lack of school lunches?

Two years ago, Natasha Sarin, deputy assistant secretary for Economic Policy at the Treasury Department, discussed this “tax gap,” calling it “a major source of inequity.” She went on to say, “Today’s tax code contains two sets of rules: one for regular wage and salary workers who report virtually all the income they earn, and another for wealthy taxpayers, who are often able to avoid a large share of the taxes they owe.”

Those wealthy taxpayers often use opaque income sources such as partnership income and proprietorship income that are not reported to the IRS by means of W2 forms or other means that apply to ordinary filers.

She then noted what this means for the nation. “These unpaid taxes mean policymakers must choose between rising deficits, lower spending on important priorities, or further tax increase to compensate for lost revenue — which will only be borne by compliant taxpayers.”

None of this is by accident. For years, Congress has starved the IRS, which now struggles with technology built before the first moon landing. Lack of staff leads to long wait times for people who call the IRS for assistance, with only about 11 percent reaching a human to pick up the telephone. And, of course, fewer audits of people who seek to avoid paying the taxes they owe.

One goal of last year’s Inflation Reduction Act is to help the IRS crack down on tax cheats and provide better service to taxpayers. Let us pray that it works.

If we are a nation where all people are (or should be) treated equally, then we need to collect taxes from everyone who owes them. It is our responsibility as Americans and our duty as Christians.

Deacon Walter Ayres is director of Catholic Charities Commission on Peace and Justice.


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