While the Bible is certainly not a "textbook" on how to vote, I believe it has clear ethical standards that are worthy of our attention when going into the voting booth. Whether you're voting for a candidate or an issue there are always moral implications that go along with how you cast your ballot.
Of course one blog post won't suffice for all the different situations; but I think it's doable and relevant to lay down some practical considerations in the area of levies regarding property taxes. These generally appear on many local election ballots, and I believe the Bible has some clear principles and implications for this that are at least worth considering prior to next Tuesday...
In thinking through Biblically how to use our voting power under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, I think it's pertinent to understand three main issues regarding what our vote is and does when it comes to levies and property taxes.
I think most people (at least from talking to people "most" is the sense I get) simply ask themselves the question, "Am I willing to pay this levy for such-and-such?" and that's the end of it. Yet there is much, much more when it comes to voting on levies. And I think we would do well to consider that.
In order to consider it, I've divided this brief post in the following three sections: What is a levy? What does my vote do regarding a levy? What then is my Christian obligation with my voting power?
So let's move on to that first question...
What Is a Levy?
A levy is simply a tax imposed on citizens (usually property owning citizens in the form of a property tax). What this means is that through the passing of a levy, the government has the authorization to force citizens into giving up a calculated sum of their money that they otherwise would get to keep for themselves. This force is called coercion because the government is in effect saying, "Give me x amount of dollars, or I'll [fill in the blank] (throw you in jail, fine you more money, etc.).
Now, if you personally go to your next door neighbor and say, "Give me x amount of dollars or I'll kidnap you or take what I'm asking for and even more money on top of that," you would go to jail(1) because you would be robbing someone (stealing via coercion).
However, when the government (being the authorized civil ruler) does the same thing, it's not called robbery; it's called collecting a tax. There is a lot more to be said here in regard to taxing, but it will have to wait for either the other two sections or perhaps another post altogether.(2) Suffice it to say for now, the main point to understand about a levy is that it is a tax, enforced on all property owning citizens whereby the government is authorized to collect that tax through a form of coercion.
That is what a levy is.
Knowing that then, here is the next main question to consider before going into that voting booth.
What Does My Vote Do Regarding a Levy?
The obvious answer is that if you vote yes for a levy, you're authorizing the government to collect that tax; and if you vote no, you're voicing your desire for the government not to have that authorization. But in light of the above understanding of what a levy is, there other things to take into consideration before voting yes or no on a levy.
Most importantly, when you vote for a levy, it's not as if you're merely saying, "I'm OK with paying that money." You're in effect saying, "I'm OK with forcing my property owning neighbors to pay that money whether they want to or not."
And that's the main thing I think many voters don't really think about. It's one thing to consider whether or not you yourself are willing to pay for something. It's another to consider whether or not you're willing to force your neighbors to pay for something regardless if they themselves want to pay for it.
But that's exactly what a vote for a levy does. A majority vote for a levy authorizes the government to take money (by coercion) from all property owners - whether or not they voted for that authorization.
Is that godly? Is that loving your neighbor? I'm not saying one way or the other right here (although if you read my footnotes you'll know where I stand); I'm just asking the question. This of course is a question of ethics or morality, which takes us to the third and final main question to consider before going into that voting booth next week.
What Then is My Christian Obligation with My Voting Power?
Now, as referenced in footnote (2) below, there is legitimate debate (from a Biblical standpoint) between what the government actually should be authorized to collect. But you see - you, as the Christian voter, now have a moral responsibility to figure out just what that is.
Because if it's not right for the government to collect taxes for something like schools or parks or libraries or healthcare facilities, etc., and you vote to authorize the government to do just that...you're in effect authorizing the government to rob your neighbor.(3)
Considering how important the command to love our neighbor is (Mt. 22:36-38, 39-40; Gal. 5:14), I'd say robbing him is not a good idea (an understatement for sure - Ex. 20:15).
Am I saying vote "no" to all property taxes? I'm saying that when you vote to authorize the government to collect something that God has not Himself authorized them to have, you're voting to steal from your neighbor. Where that line is drawn I'm not going to say in the main text of this post. But it's something I think all Christians should at least consider before casting their ballot.
In practical terms, think of it this way. Let's say there's a levy on the ballot to raise revenue for the city to put up a brand new dog park. You may think to yourself, "This would be great! We'd have a nice place to meet like-minded dog lovers; it'd be fun for the kids; the dogs would have a terrific time."
You may very well find the idea of a brand new dog park appealing - so appealing in fact, you're willing to pay for it. But the question at the voting booth is not whether you're willing to pay for it yourself. The question at the voting booth is, are you willing to force your neighbors who do not want to pay for a dog park to pay for it anyway; and in conjunction with that, is building a dog park something that God has authorized the civil government to do (and to pay for via coercive taxation)?(4)
And therein lies the root of how to vote for levies. Are there actual levies authorized by God's word? If there are, you have a legitimate reason to call on the government to force your neighbors (and you) to pay them. If they're not authorized by God's word, then voting for levies is simply the democratic way to steal and rob.
Whatever the "Issue" on the ballot in your area, make sure not only to think of yourself, but also your neighbor (Phil. 2:4) - and how living under the Lordship of Christ should govern how you vote for any tax situations that are up for authorization. Because with your vote you're not simply voicing what you're willing to pay; you're voicing what you think the government should force all citizens to pay. That's no small matter; all the more to think through it Biblically (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
(1) On the whole, jail is entirely another issue - one of cruel and unusual punishment that should never be considered justice for a committed, convicted crime. But we'll have to leave that for a separate post. Jail is nevertheless what is on the books for now. So if you don't pay your taxes, you generally either get fined or sent to jail/prison.
(2) Regarding what the Bible says about taxes is difficult to sort out. Obviously we're to endure them at the least (Mt. 22:21; Rom. 13:7). Some theology/government scholars view all taxes as ungodly, while others see a legitimate purpose for certain taxes (Rom. 13:6). For the time being I fall into that second camp. I think Paul's statement in Romans 13:6 is clear that there are legitimate taxes owed to the government - though in my view those legitimate purposes are only related to restraining civil evil, promoting civil good, and ensuring civil justice (as defined here). But that too is for another time (and yes, I'm still teachable in that area). :)
(3) If you find Biblical warrant for the government to have legitimate taxing power for schools, parks, libraries, healthcare facilities, etc., then stick to the Word of God and vote according to your conscience. It's not voting for the government to rob or steal from someone if God Himself has authorized the government to tax its citizens for such reasons.
I do encourage you strongly though to truly have a Biblical reason for such things. For myself, I find no reasons to tax other than mentioned in footnote (2) above.
Regardless I think it's prudent to bear in mind the wisdom literature:
"By justice a king builds up the land, but he who taxes heavily tears it down" (Prv. 29:4).
(4) You see, if building a dog park is not authorized by God's Word (i.e. authorized for government to fund through coercive taxation), which is to say not authorized by God Himself; then what happens when 51% of the population are dog owners and they pass the levy?
What happens is that the 49% of people who did not want to pay for a dog park (in this scenario, because they don't have dogs) are forced to pay for it anyway. Those people are going to have less of their money because 51% of the population decided two things at the voting booth: they decided that (1) they themselves wanted a dog park, and that (2) they themselves did not want to fund the entire thing by themselves.
In this scenario (assuming that there are no legitimate principles in God's Word that allow the government to be in the business of building a dog park - which I hope we would all agree), voting for that levy would simply be stealing from 49% of the population so that 51% can have something they want.
The Biblical alternative of course is that the 51% of people who want a dog park enter into a voluntary association with each other where they pledge the necessary funds in order to build the dog park and maintain it. This avoids stealing from their neighbors (Ex. 20:15).
**Disclaimer: No, there is no levy for a dog park on my local ballot this year, nor on any ballots of which I'm aware. It was simply an example that popped into my head. Any similarities to your own ballots are purely coincidental. ;)