Lesson 6: The Tea Party

The responses I received to last week’s lesson all characterized our present situation as fear of losing our way of life. Some spoke of the Christian nation, one of white Protestantism, and another of Roman Catholic culture. It is worth reading Bob’s comment for a fine perspective. I think the high students sensed this way back when the Tea Party appeared on the scene. I misread their interest, thinking it had to do with taxes and the libertarianism associated with Ron Paul, a graduate of our local college. Thinking it was a passing fad, I prepared the following paper for the discussion. As you can see on the first comment, they anticipated what we have seen in the past year and half as this group has controlled our legislative process.

           THE TEA PARTY

The Tea Party claims to be a nonpartisan group interested only in protesting against taxation and big government. It might have originated in Gettysburg College alumnus Ron Paul’s Libertarian presidential campaign. Libertarians believe in complete individual freedom and so speak against any government effort to restrict how I spend my money. That means they are against income taxes, Social Security, Medicare, etc.

The Tea Party first hit the national press in a February 2009 campaign when people mailed their congressmen and senators tea bags to voice opposition to the financial bail out. Their largest demonstration was in April, 2009 when protesters gathered in more than 750 communities. They really got up steam against health care reform, claiming this would inflate the deficit and make us socialist. About 600 people gathered for a national convention in February, gaining attention when they paid Sarah Palin $100,00 to speak.

Obviously they are using the Boston Tea Party which protested “taxation without representation”. That was a quite different affair with a foreign power occupying our nation and sending tax money back to England. Now we are a democracy with our own representatives debating what is good for our society and finding the money to fund that.

The Bible does not offer us a consistent teaching about taxes, primarily because most of the time God’s People were governed by tyrannical foreign powers. Much as during our   American Revolution, alien armies occupied the land enforcing taxation. The rabbis said it was okay to lie to tax collectors, because they were robbers. They also opposed censuses that were used to update tax rolls. This continued into Jesus’ day as you can read in Acts 5: 37 that reports Hebrew leaders being killed when they revolted against a Roman census.

You can see how crucial the issue was when one of the main criticism of Jesus was his friendship with tax collectors and sinners (Mark 2: 15, 26) Most of Jesus’ statements are  shrewd answers to his enemies rather than a permanent Christian teachings. For instance, his “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”. (Mark 12: 13-17) is a dodge. It was in answer to a question about whether you should pay taxes to Rome. If he said “yes” he would take sides with the Sadducees; if he said “no” with the Pharisees. He refused to fall into the trap. On the other hand, seems to claim Jesus paid his taxes, even while criticizing politicians for taking advantage of poor people. (Matthew 17: 24-27)

Paul says pay taxes, because governing officials are servants of God who keep order and punish criminals. (Romans 13: 6, 7), but John in Revelation says not to support Rome in any way, because it is satanic. (Revelation 17, 18)

Any evaluation of the Tea Party has to recognize that democracy is in a crisis when our citizens are making big demands on government without being willing to pay for what they want. Increasingly, politicians turn to gambling and others things we used to regard as vice to raise money. Both of our political parties have greatly raised expenses. Both have granted more powers to the executive branch, weakening former checks and balances. The crisis is made more dangerous, because we have not been able to have a respectful public conversation that debates what is good for our society. Instead we have used inflammatory language that demonizes the opposition.

Questions for discussion could be What is the role of the government? What is the role of the Church? How should Christians regard taxes in a democracy? What does Christianity have to say about Libertarianism?

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1 Enlightened Reply

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  1. Pastor Fritz Foltz says:

    As I mentioned in the lesson, the kids did not really want to talk about taxes or Libertarianism. They were more upset with the demonization of groups that do not agree with you. In general, they do not see the current situation as a threat to their way of life. They see it instead as a threat to their parents’ values. They often claim they like the reading group, because it gives them a chance to hear what people besides their parents think about issues. That does not mean they disagree with their parents. However, they certainly do not like it when their parents take a “my way or the highway” stand. Their approach has proven more insightful than mine as we increasingly have heard calls for a Christian government and accusations that Muslims want to take over. This led the kids to ask for discussion about atheism and secularism.

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