My sense is that modern Mormons, particularly those who identify with the American right, tend to prioritise the nuclear relationship over all others. Who doesn’t? It is an entirely natural way of living in the world and represents the conservative view that we should protect the goodness that humans already have rather than force them into social utopias unflective of human reality. As a Conservative voter myself, I tend to sympathise with policies which give individuals and families the room to flourish.
We cannot escape the fact, however, that God’s plan has never been solely about the welfare of the family, nor the individual within it. God’s personal covenant with Abraham was also a national one; in Christ, individuals become a people, part of his body. Thus we should be concerned with relationships that go beyond our walls. The food crisis in Africa, to take one example, demands that we see the sufferers as ourselves. Helping such people becomes an imperative.
But how best, in a world of 7 billion people, can I love my neighbour as myself if my neighbour is everyone? One way is to use the state to mediate my relationships with the wider world. My contribution to Britain’s overseas aid budget is one way I can help the African food crisis. Deuteronomy 24 teaches that the farmer should leave his surplus produce for the poor; today, the state collects our taxes (which in a system of fair taxation represents in some senses our surplus produce) and distributes it for the good of all. That is the idea, anyway. Furthermore, in democracies (or, in your case, dear American reader, should that be republics?) such as our own, the state derives its power to do this from the people.
There are likely to be at least two objections to this model: First, that taxation is not voluntary (and forced morality is not morality) and second, that it does not necessarily benefit the poor. The latter objection would seem reasonable except that it is not a criticism of taxation per se but a criticism of government tax policy. The former objection is rooted in a form of libertarianism common to Mormons, which is fine as far as it goes, except that it does not find scriptural support. So, whilst I agree that although taxation is not voluntary in most real senses of that word, neither really was biblical taxation. In other words, it’s not relevant.
You see, it would be wrong to find in biblical injunctions a kind of solely private or religious morality. Biblical law was the law, so when God demands that you divert your surplus to the poor, it is the state demanding the same. Jesus’ acceptance of taxation is well known (‘Render unto Caesar. . .’) and Paul states a similar sentiment (Romans 13:7). Yes, some taxation is seen to be bad, but only in specific instances. For example, we learn from scripture that we are not to tax the poor: ‘You trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain’ (Amos 5:11). Given that the taking of levies is otherwise entirely justified in the biblical world, it would seem that it is the rich who are to carry the burden of taxation, i.e. those who have surplus. This was the beauty of the tithe: You needed at least 10 cows to tithe 1.
None of this is an exercise in prooftexting — taken as a whole, the Bible sees no evil in taxation qua taxation as it is, when done properly, one means to distribute justice. Rather, the prophets despise unjust taxation. It is here where the debate should lie. But let’s also get a final thing straight. For what were biblical taxes levied? For the king and his campaigns yes, but also for the institutions (the temple system in Jerusalem) and as a dole to the poor (Deut 14:29).
N.B. The tithe was a tax.