I’m roughly 260 pages through and so far not impressed. Positvely, however, it is refreshing to hear someone admit that being American and being a Christian are not necessarily part and parcel. That is, as Christians, when there is a conflict between what God says and what the state requires of us, we have a higher responsibility to God than we do to our nation (Acts 5:29). After all, we are first and foremost citizens of a heavenly kingdom which awaits physical establishment in the age to come (Philippians 3:20, John 18:36).
So, while being a Christian and being American are not identical, they are not mutually exclusive either. Actually, when we submit to our government (even when they bear the sword), we are submitting to God. This is where Claiborne frustrates me. When speaking of the famous episode where Jesus says, “Render to Caeser that which be Caesar’s and to God the things which are God’s,” Claiborne says,
It’s hard to know what Jesus would do about paying taxes if he were a citizen of the ole US of A, where nearly half of every tax dollar (the same dollars that say “In God We Trust”) goes to the war machine. And yet the more you look at the similarities between the Roman Empire and the American Empire, the more you get some idea of what he might do. Like the Roman Empire, the American Empire is loved by some and hated by others, but feared by everyone. And scholars estimate that Rome’s military expenditures, like the US’s, were also around 50 percent of the budget. So if the IRS came to Jesus, what would he do? Pull the money out of a fish’s mouth? What if we can’t pull that one off (or don’t have a lake nearby)?…the idea of war tax resistance has emerged in fresh ways in this era of military building. One of our favorite approaches to taxes, which is employed by many Christians in the US, is to send a letter to the IRS along with a check for a portion of of the taxes owed and a receipt showing that the sender has donated the amount that would have gone toward weapons to a nonprofit doing the work of the kingdom of God. Usually such letters applaud the use of tax money to benefit the poor and the common good (which is about half of all tax receipts) but lets the government know that as people of the gospel, we are peacemakers and cannot contribute to the destruction of life.
This troubles me for a number of reasons.
1. Why would Shane go to pains to paint the parallel between our government and the Roman empire at the time of Christ, if in the next few sentences, he applauds Christians taking a completely different stand than Christ did? Even if Jesus placed the coin in the mouth of the fish and didn’t spend his own money (that’s an ironic thought as everything is his anyway), He still ended up giving the Roman government the funds they demanded.
2. His endorsement of Christians only giving the IRS a portion of their tax dollars seems to directly contradict the teaching of Paul. He claims the money is going to a “war machine.” He even admits the parallel between the US and the Roman government. The question arises: what about Romans 13:1-7? Do we ignore it?
1Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. 7Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
Shane endorses resisting the government. Paul says that we ought not to resist the government; when we resist the government, we resist God and bring damnation upon ourselves. Our role is to submit…and in this context it means paying our full taxes.
Honestly, the book has been pretty boring so far…