The Common Good

Taxes and Tithes, Contract and Covenant

We cannot avoid death and taxes. Our own death is an event that we only face once. My faith tells me that it is a sweet transition from a world of flesh and blood and time to a world of spirit and eternity. A realm of pure love. Taxes, however, just keep coming. Taxes are part of the social contract, the explicit and implicit agreements of civil society. We pay taxes because of the governance of law. If we do not pay our taxes, we are subject to prosecution.

Further, we ask the rich to pay more. They pay more because they control most of the wealth of the nation. Income disparity in the United States has grown over the years. They benefit from the value system of a society that values hedge fund managers above auto workers, or athletes and entertainers above teachers. So, to whom much is given, much is required.

Some of us also believe in the tithe, 10 percent of our gross incomes that we give to our faith communities or to an agency that helps the poor. For us, the tithe is an important element of a covenantal relationship with Almighty God. It is dedicated and specific. The Bible instructs that the tithe support widows, orphans, strangers in the land, and the Levites, those who earn their living through priestly responsibilities to the people. However, most faith communities that I know of use the tithe for general expenses. This is a mistake. There is another offering for care of the church building. This means that in good economic times and in bad, God requires believers to give both tithes and offerings. This is a covenant beyond our financial obligations to the state, beyond the social contract.

The principle of subsidiary function tells us that each institution has its own role and responsibilities in a society. The state, our taxes, the governance of law, and the social contract operate our justice system, see to safety and tranquility within the nation, protect us from foreign enemies, provide for the general welfare, and guarantee our liberties. Communities of faith, the tithe, the governance of faith and love, and the covenant have a different role. Their role is an ethics of presence and an ethics of care that touches the least and the last of a society. We side with those the society does not value. We validate the invalid and stand with the marginal. We make the financial leap of faith even in hard economic times, believing that God is true to God's word. God will "throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it" (Malachi 3:10).

We pay taxes because of the social contract and the law. We pay tithes because of the covenant with Almighty God, love of God, self, and neighbor, and because of the blessed assurance that the promises of God are true.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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