I grew up in a good Republican family, in a wealthy Southern California community, in a ward with lots of good, right-thinking Republican churchmembers. As a youth, I recall occasionally hearing an argument that went something like this: “The Lord asks all his children to pay 10% of their income to his Church, regardless of whether they’re rich or poor. He did so in the days of Malachi, and he does so today. But the government levies a tax on U.S. citizens that rises higher and higher the more money you make. Since we know that the Lord’s ways are just and fair, the government’s ways obviously are not.” In short, the Church’s tithing system was a model that the government should adopt with respect to tax policy. Progressivity in the tax code is unfair, unjust, perhaps even evil.
While there may or may not be compelling policy arguments for a flat tax, I am unconvinced by my fellow churchmembers’ line of reasoning. That is, it isn’t clear to me that tithing’s Biblicalness means that a 10% rate is the epitome of fairness in all times and places. And even if it is in some sense, it isn’t clear to me that a rule designed for God’s kingdom should necessarily apply in other contexts.
Is there an argument — as opposed to a mere assertion — to be made that Christianity’s “flat tithe” suggests the government should abandon its progressive rate structure and impose a “flat tax”?
And for those who support a progressive tax code on fairness grounds, is there an argument to be made in reverse? That is, would you find it religiously appropriate or just if the Church adopted a “progressive tithing” system (in which case, we’d need a new word to replace “tithing” I suppose) in place of the historical, across-the-board 10% rate? Such a change might seem radical, and I have no reason to believe the Church has ever considered making it. But given our Law of Consecration, our rhetoric that “everything belongs to the Lord, yet he only asks us for x%”, and the general commitment we take upon ourselves as churchmembers to support the Kingdom, I personally don’t think its that hard to imagine such a move.