Rebuilding society and the tax protest movement:
A Biblical Opinion and Strategy By Jack Kettler
I have sympathy and am grateful that many tax protestors are concerned enough with the unjust tax system to educate themselves beyond the great majority of their fellow citizens. Nevertheless, I disagree with many of the tax protest arguments and strategies. As this article proceeds I will raise questions along the way that the tax protestor is morally obliged to answer. These questions are intended to provoke thought and challenge assumptions that have not been carefully thought out. Interspersed throughout the article I will touch on issues that are related to the high level of taxation and the resulting loss of freedom, along with thoughts on a strategy to regain freedom in our society. My comments in this article should make it abundantly clear that I do not favor the present level of taxation or the system itself. The present tax system needs to be completely repudiated and done away with. Accomplishing this depends upon a biblical strategy. Departure from or rejection of Scriptural teaching will ensure further loss of freedom and defeat.
We will look at several important biblical texts and survey some historical research and commentary materials that are relevant to the topic of taxation and the citizen's duty to government. I especially hope to challenge those tax protestors of Christian convictions. More importantly, I hope to provide a general course of action that is biblically based and faithful to the reformation tradition. Hopefully, my numerous comments along the way will serve to accomplish this. My philosophy towards a government and society, which have become deformed, is one of reclaiming and rebuilding under Christ's lordship. This requires a biblical optimistic view of history. Contrary to this would be despair, apathy, or a Luddite policy of destruction towards government.
It seems to me that when given the option we should pick our battles carefully, i.e., count the costs. See Luke 14:28-32. Christ has instructed us to be wise. See Matt. 10:16. Do we have sufficient means to win the battle? If we lose the battle, what will be the consequences? What will be the consequences it we ignore certain battles? What are our priorities? It is true that taxes and regulations are now at an all time high. This puts a tremendous burden on Christian families. As a consequence, wives have entered the work place to make ends meet. Christians have been forced to put their children in the hands of non-believers for education in the government schools. Lower taxes would certainly produce freedom to choose other alternatives for educating our children. The current government program for raising the village's children has been an unmitigated disaster from a Christian perspective.
Socialists and other proponents of the tax-welfare-state like uneducated populations, or people who have been given a sub-standard education in the government schools. Uneducated people are easy to control because they fall prey to specious arguments and the malignant agenda of socialism. Socialism reflects man's fallen nature by enticing people to use the power of the group to steal other people's property and wealth. When considering Scriptural passages such as Exodus 20:15 which forbids stealing, socialism can best be described as organized crime, or collective evil. Thievery and covetousness are bound up in the hearts of fallen men. Many debased citizens are only too glad to use the power of government to steal from their neighbors. Inheritance and property taxes are two examples of how this happens. Government stealing is always done in the name of good things, such as "the children."
Should Christians be involved in the tax protest movement? The definition of a tax protestor utilized in this article is one who has stopped filing and refuses to pay taxes. Is the tax protest movement a solution? Criticizing the government tax system and refusing to pay taxes are two entirely different things. If refusing to pay taxes is contrary to Scripture, will God honor those involved in the tax protest movement? What battles will help further the cause of Christ and the gospel? The reconstruction of society will not take place without a reformation of the individual and church first. This does not mean that we have to sit back and wait. The reconstruction of the individual, church and society can happen simultaneously.
We value and prize the Constitution of our country. While not being perfect, it is, in the words of R.J. Rushdoony, "a good procedural manual."1 The Constitution was a product of a time when the Judeo-Christian world view was dominant. At numerous points the Constitution reflects the teaching of Scripture. We should appeal to it in much the same way that Paul used his Roman citizenship. Ultimately, we must recognize the Constitution is the word of man. The Christian receives God's revelation in the Bible as absolute truth. We are therefore obligated to proceed biblically. How does the reconstruction of society happen? Are tax revolts the answer? Rushdoony comments on this:
The reconstruction of society comes not by tax revolts
or any kind of revolution but by regeneration.2
God directs His people to pray and repent. See II Chronicles 7:14. This action on our part constitutes the first matter of importance. Jesus commands His servants to "Occupy till I come" (Luke 19:13). Occupy can mean to engage, which carries a connotation of conquering, or taking over. Consequently, this passage is relevant to the Christian's active involvement in society. Christ in another place instructs us to be the salt and light within society (Matt. 5:13-16). Salt has a preservative quality, and darkness disappears when there is light. These passages from the gospels are relevant to what is called the cultural mandate. Societal reformation is the result of Christian faithfulness to this mandate, which requires an unequivocal engagement in society.
Numerous books such as Good-Bye April 15th by Boston Tea Party3 have been written attempting to convince people that they are under no obligation to pay federal income taxes. Boston Tea Party is a Common Law Trademark of Javelin Press. This book in particular deals with the question of lawful jurisdiction and taxation, or the "nature of government argument." Adherents to this line of thinking believe the federal government has no jurisdiction to levy taxes upon citizens of the individual states. Proponents of this viewpoint believe that the claims of the federal tax revenuers are nothing more than de facto claims made by those who have overstepped their lawful constitutional authority. Followers of this view sometimes refer to themselves as "State Sovereign Citizens." It should be noted that the wording "State Sovereign Citizen" does not appear in the Constitution.
Irwin Schiff, the "grand daddy" of present day tax protestors, has written books allegedly showing the loopholes in the tax code. Followers of this approach just stop filing and paying income taxes because supposedly the IRS code says that it is voluntary. Schiff's latest book is The Federal Mafia-How it Illegally Imposes And Unlawfully Collects Income Taxes.4 Other arguments advanced by tax protestors deal with moral arguments used to justify not paying taxes. Some tax protest arguments may be properly classified as "moronic." Protestors within this group, when in trouble with the tax court, plead ignorance of the law. There is considerable disagreement among tax protestors on the correct strategy of escaping the federal income tax. Many of the tax protest books and arguments leave the theoretical and actually suggest that their readers drop out of the tax system. This course of action is reckless, because courts and juries have on a consistent basis, excepting for clear cases of government abuse, ruled against tax protestors. In many cases tax protestors have gone to jail.
It could be argued that the courts of today are rarely interpreting the Constitution's "original intent." Historically speaking, it could be argued that a de jure government would recognize the right use of law and rule according to the original intent of the framers of the Constitution. A strict constructionist may argue that constitutionally speaking, we have a de facto or a government without lawful constitutional authority. Historically and constitutionally our Constitution is a fixed document. The courts are charged with interpreting the Constitution. The court today is interpreting constitutional law with a different mindset or world view than at an earlier time in our history. This should not surprise us. All evidence is interpreted within the framework of a world view. The courts have ruled our present system to be de jure. Congress has put its stamp of approval on our current system. The nature of our constitutional republic has been changed. The majority of people believe our government is a democracy.
There have been a number of amendments added to the Constitution that have inadvertently or otherwise subverted the original intent of the founders. The Supreme Court, for example, has in effect abrogated the Tenth Amendment with its interpretation of the Commerce and the General Welfare clauses in the Constitution. We should disagree with recent actions of the courts and take lawful steps to correct the situation. In addition, the general effect of the Fourteenth, Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments have been to empower the federal government at the expense of states' rights.
Do the Fourteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Amendments violate the intent of the founders? If so, then there is a real conflict between the original intent of the founding fathers and these amendments. It is this writer's opinion that this is what has happened, and that these amendments should be repealed. Where do we go from here? How do we regain freedom? Repealing the Fourteenth Amendment would remove the federal government from interfering in the state's business. Repealing the Sixteenth Amendment would de-fund the federal government. De-funding and de-centralizing the federal government is always a good strategy.
Repealing the Seventeenth Amendment would return the job of appointing U.S. Senators to the state legislators, and out of the hands of the "mob." The "mob" has discovered numerous ways to vote themselves handouts from the federal government. This is accomplished through their popularly elected representatives and senators who promise new and ever expanding entitlements to win votes. The whole system appears to be degenerating into a massive vote-buying scam. Unprincipled men will promise the electorate seemingly almost anything in exchange for votes.
Relevant to the validity of Schiff's and the jurisdictional arguments mentioned above, the subsequent comments should be noted. The Sixteenth Amendment authorizes the uniform collection of taxes in the fifty states by the federal government. This amendment was properly ratified according to Thomas R. Eddlem, the research director for The New American magazine. 5 Eddlem's article "Patriot Beware!" in which he defends this thesis should be required reading for those in the tax protest movement. Eddlem demolishes much of the mythology that is so prevalent today among tax protestors and the larger "patriot" community. There have been a number of challenges to the Sixteenth Amendment since its ratification in 1913. The Supreme Court and lower courts have consistently upheld the constitutionality of this amendment. See attorney James Lanting's article "A Memorandum Regarding Income Tax Protests" for a survey of the major challenges to the Sixteenth Amendment.6 The lower courts, through case law and precedent, have solidified and strengthened the judicial standing of the Sixteenth Amendment. In addition, the federal courts have the authorization of our elected representatives. Congress approves the appointment of federal judges. They also approve funding for the courts and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This puts their stamp of approval on the courts, tax system, and collection agency (IRS).
Does the present-day intrusion of the federal government into nearly every aspect of our lives and the accompanying all-time high tax rates represent freedom? Of course not! How do we repair the situation? Do we fight in the courts using arguments that are true but not recognized? This may be a necessary course of action. Are we financially prepared for this course of action? It should be remembered that "original intent" arguments are ridiculed and have been for all practical purposes thrown out of many present day constitutional debates. What is the reaction of the press or members of the Senate when asked to confirm the nomination of a judge who holds to "original intent?" Remember Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork? Our representatives are themselves the product of a dumbed down educational system. We must challenge the prevailing ignorance with serious biblical and constitutional arguments based upon sound research.
Questions concerning the morality of high taxation are not new. There have been many times throughout history that taxes have reached oppressive levels. At the time of Christ, the Roman government ruled Palestine. It could have been argued, and it was, that God was the King of Israel and that the Roman government was a de facto tyranny. Consider the imposition of taxes in Israel during the bitter foreign occupation by the Roman government:
The tax itself was looked upon as an inherent religious wrong, as well as civil imposition, and by many the payment of it was considered a sinful act of disloyalty to God.7
Alfred Edersheim in his book Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the days of Christ adds to this:
But the Roman taxation, which bore upon Israel with such crushing weight, was quite of its own kind ? systematic, cruel, relentless, and utterly regardless.8
The modern individual does not comprehend or fathom the depravity of Rome. Taxes during this time in history were severe and arbitrarily collected, and went to support the following:
1. war, conquest, imperialism, destruction and devastation 2. incredible extravagance of the Roman authorities (from emperors to senators, to lesser procurators, magistrates, etc.) Tiberius supported a colony of 300 homosexual boys on the island of Capri for his indulgence; Nero married a homosexual in a public ceremony; others gambled away millions of dollars in one night; drunkenness, sexual immorality, assassination, waste was the rule rather than the exception. 3. building pagan temples and the support of an idolatrous priesthood (involving sexual perversion and demonology) 4. building huge, complex, expensive gladiatorial arenas and the payment of all expenses for games at which thousands of animals and humans were slaughtered [including Christians] 5. a large welfare "dole" in massive proportions that resulted in a huge class of citizens with nothing to do but mischief 6. foreign aid to keep in power "puppet" officials (like the Herods) who were brutal and corrupt 7. support of an empire that arbitrarily and without compassion enslaved large portions of nations and cultures it defeated in war (there were more slaves in first century Rome than free citizens).9
The old Roman Republic had long since been corrupted. Against this background of massive corruption and moral perversion, and by what could be argued was nothing more than a de facto imperial tyrannical government, Jesus said in Matt 22:19-21 regarding the hated Roman poll tax, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's?." Jesus said this because according to the outworking of God's sovereign plan, the Roman government was a God ordained de jure government. Christ's people were to subject themselves to this very government. It should be noted that Caesar was a military dictator who had the approval of the "mob," not a leader produced by a republican form of government. In addition, there was the cult of Caesar. Caesar was viewed as divine. Paying taxes was a form of submission to Caesar. The Roman government as shown above was far worse than the present U.S. government.
Carl F. Henry has written in his book Aspects of Christian Social Ethics about the first three hundred years of Christianity in the Roman Empire:
During the three hundred years when the Roman emperors
declared Christianity an illegal religion, Christians were
marked as criminals by civil law simply because they were
Christian. Against such government the Christian
movement generated no revolutionary temper, and to such a
government Christian believers pledged their prayers and paid their taxes.10
Christianity conquered the Roman Empire by the third century. A tax revolt or revolution did not accomplish this. The Christians followed Christ's example in the area of taxation. This example should not be minimized. In Matthew 17:24-27 we read about Christ's encounter with the Herodians and Pharisees concerning the temple tax. Surely, as Lord of the temple, Christ was immune from this tax. Yet, Jesus paid this tax. Christ's actions have enormous implications for those who call Him Lord. If Jesus instructed His people to pay taxes to Rome, (Matt. 22:19-21) how much more should we be careful to obey present day laws? If Christ is our Lord we should follow His example.
Romans 13:1-7 are verses dealing with the extent of the Christian's duty to civil government. These passages deal with paying taxes and other important directives for Christians. They do not deal with every conceivable question concerning taxation, but nevertheless provide binding principles for the godly. Consider Robert Haldane's comments concerning the Christian's obligation to pay taxes, Romans 13:7, to "the higher powers" or "the powers that be" in 13:1:
It is here explicitly taught that taxes stand by the law of God on the same footing as private debts, which every man is therefore under an equal obligation to discharge.11
Many people today are not familiar with this concept of taxes and private debts having the same standing before the law of God. Noted reformed theologian, Charles Hodge, explains who the type of rulers are we owe these debts to in his commentary on this section of Scripture:
It is clear that this passage [Ro. 13:1,2] is applicable to men living under every form of government?it is the powers that be, the de facto government, that is to be regarded as, for the time being, ordained of God.12
End of part one
Endnotes Part one
1. Rousas John Rushdoony, interview with Bill Moyers, God And Politics On Earth As It Is In Heaven, (Alexandria, VA: PBS, Dec. 23, 1987).
2. Rousas John Rushdoony, Law And Society, Volume Two of the Institutes of Biblical Law, (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1982), p. 264.
3. Boston Tea Party, Good-Bye April 15th, (Cedar City, Utah: Javelin Press, 1992).
4. Irwin Schiff, The Federal Mafia: How it Illegally Imposes and Unlawfully Collects Income Taxes, (Las Vegas, NV: Freedom Books, 1992).
5. Thomas R. Eddlem, The New American, (Appleton, WI: American Opinion Publishing Inc, 1997), p. 27, 28.
6. Attorney James Lanting, "A Memorandum Regarding Income Tax Protests" in the Ordained Servant, (Carson, ND: Pleroma Press, 1995), Volume Four, Number Four, p. 82.
7. James Orr, General Editor, The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Volume Four, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1986), p. 2920.
8. Alfred Edersheim, Sketches Of Jewish Social life in the days of Jesus, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1988), p. 53.
9. Paul T. Butler, What The Bible Says About Civil Government, (Joplin, Missouri: College Press, 1990), p. 294, 295.
10. Carl F. Henry, Aspects of Christian Social Ethics, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1980), p. 180.
11. Robert Haldane, An Exposition of Romans, (McLean, Virginia: MacDonald Publishing Company, 1958), p. 586.
12. Charles Hodge, Commentary On The Epistle To The Romans, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1980), p. 407.
Mr. Kettler is an ordained Presbyterian Elder and the owner of Undergroundnotes.com where his theological, philosophical and political articles can be read. He has worked in corporate America for over 25 years and is now realizing his dreams as a successful home business entrepreneur. Mr. Kettler can be reached through his business site at: http://www.internationalhomebusinessonline.com. Permission is hereby granted to reprint this article as long as my web site is retained in the biographical information.