November 9 – Of Taxes, Tithing and Democracy

I have not been a Californian for nearly thirty years, but my former home state still fascinates me. On Election Day Californians approved their Proposition 30 by a 54%-46% margin. They decided to raise the taxes that every single one of them pays. Prop 30 had a provision for an income tax surcharge on those earning more than $250,000 per year, but the measure also raises the state sales tax meaning that every person who pays for goods or services in California will be paying more as soon as the election results are certified. According to the new law, they will be paying for the state’s schools. They hope to raise $6 billion a year.

That’s about all I know. I don’t vote in California, so I didn’t need to know much more.

And, yes, California fascinates me. In an era of “read my lips” opposition to any and all taxes which can, at times, be born of nothing more than libertarian meanness, the passage of Proposition 30 is interesting, even important. Whether or not the bureaucrats will use the money wisely, whether or not the children of California will be well served or well taught is another very important issue to be considered by Californians as they pay a penny more for their Starbucks latte or $600 more for their new Prius. But I am not a Californian.

A couple of hundred years ago, contrary to their European cousins, Americans decided that taxes are a bad way to pay for religion. The churches were on their own to figure out how to pay their pastors, send their missionaries, buy their Bibles, feed the hungry and house the homeless. It was a good decision. All in all the American church has done well at doing what God has called it to do.

This coming Sunday is pledge dedication Sunday at LPC. Like many, though certainly not all churches, we use a system that asks the members and friends of the congregation to make a promise before God and to the church as to what kind of financial support they hope to offer to the mission and ministry of the congregation in the coming year. We have pastors to pay, missionaries to send, Bibles to buy, hungry neighbors to feed and homeless folks to house. All in all, I think we do a pretty good job.

The more of us who pledge and give the better we’ll do at supporting the work God has called us to do. Note: “the work God has called us to do” not “the work God has called us to pay others to do.” Treasure is just one of the legs on three-legged stool of time, talent and treasure.

So, if you are a member of friend of LPC who is being asked to dedicate a pledge, make a promise, this week, I’d ask you to do just that. Remember, the Biblical norm is:

  • Cheerful (2 Corinthians 9:7)
  • Generous (Psalm 37:21)
  • Thankful (2 Corinthians 9:11)
  • Sacrificial (Philippians 4:18)
  • A Full Tithe (Malachi 3:10)

Of course, not all of us are going to be, or at this point can be, five point cheerful, generous, thankful, sacrificial, full tithe givers. Give anyway. Giving itself has an ability to create cheer, generosity, thanksgiving, self-sacrifice and a longing to move to an over-full tithe. Work on the points you can. Work at being more cheerful and we’ll probably find ourselves being more generous. Generosity is a marvelous producer of thanksgiving and thanks tends to move us out of self-concern to sacrificial self-giving. And that tithe? 10%, really? If you don’t now tithe and are unable to tithe in 2013, please just take one step towards a tithe, one step in a ten-year plan to get to a tithe. It is worth the journey.

In California 46% of the people did not think Proposition 30 was a good idea. But they will be paying more taxes as soon as the vote of the 54% majority is certified. That’s how a democracy works.

In the church, in the Kingdom, giving is always voluntary. We don’t have to give of our treasure for the sake of the Kingdom, but we should. God didn’t have to give his Son for our sake, but he did.

Give what God is calling and enabling to give, but please don’t refuse to give out of some libertarian meanness. We’ll go ahead and pay the pastor, send our missionaries, buy some Bibles, feed the hungry and house the homeless with whatever we receive. It would be good if 100% of us gave, whether it was just enough for a Starbucks latte or more than enough to buy a new car.