Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Unfortunately many people tend to think of the world in either/or ways.  That is people see events in the world and acts by others as good vs. bad.  Life is never so simple.  
My wife hates seafood of any kind.  I love it.  She eats peanut butter.  The very idea of eating peanut butter in any form gives me the shudders.  Of course I am allergic to the stuff.
From the Sunday after Labor Day to Fathers' Day I am expected to wear a robe and either a tie or a clergy shirt.  Over the summer I can wear a dress shirt or a polo shirt.  Colleagues of mine wear polo shirts and jeans all year long.  No robes.
We use traditional worship and traditional hymns.  Others use contemporary worship and contemporary Christian music.
The Session of the congregation I serve chooses to give directly to mission causes.  Others choose to give by general giving through the presbytery.
As a Christian I choose to make my ethical choices according to the Scriptures – or I should say according to the best interpretation of the Scriptures I can do.  I would call this ethics of divine command.  Others, non Christians choose other sources as a basis for ethical decisions.  Atheists may choose a humanist method of ethics.  While the various decisions we make can be good or bad, good or better or bad or bad or even bad or worse the means by which we make the decisions can all be good.  This doesn't mean that I don't think all should be Christians.  It does mean that living the good ethical life is more dependent on particular acts rather than the means by which one comes to a conclusion about which act is good. 
Exercising is good, based on your ability to do so.  (Always consult your doctor first!)  But walking, running, riding a bike, lifting weights, pilates and other means can all be good. 
All good is not equal.  Cutting back on your use of oil is a good.  We’re going to run out of the stuff sooner than most people think.  It should be used for fixing roads, clothing and medicine, not to keep our cars running.  So driving less and buying a more fuel efficient car is good.  Taking public transportation to the extent that it is available better.  Turning the temperature in your house to a lower setting in the winter and wearing sweaters is good.  Putting solar cells on your roof or running a wind mill is better. 
Paying your credit cards bills and all your other bills on time is good.  Taking a look at what you really need as opposed to what you want is better.  If we Americans take a look at what people around the world survive on we in comparison are all rich.  Do you really need that new computer, cell phone, car, suit, shirt, etc., etc.?  Buying less is better no matter what people say about stimulating the economy by going out and buying.
Let's face it we are going to disagree about some of this.  Can fighting in a war ever be good?  Was killing Osama bin Laden good?  But I think there are things we would all agree are good and all agree are bad.  Putting your trash in a trash can and recycling are good.  Throwing your trash on the ground and throwing recyclables away is bad.  Robbing a bank under any circumstances is bad.  Talking things through with someone is good.  Calling the other names or refusing to listen is bad.  Ending arguments when you disagree with the other with politeness is good.  Stabbing the other with a knife or shooting the other is bad.  Rearing you children to respect others is good.  Rearing your children to hate others because of their religion, race or ethnic origins is bad.  Our list could go on and on in this area.
Can two actions be equally bad?  I think so.  Shooting someone in the head as compared to beating the other to death is equally bad.  Failing to feed the hungry yourself or failing to give to organizations that feed the hungry might be equally bad.  I suspect we could make a rather long list of this. 
Some will disagree with me about this.  I think war is always a choice between bad and worse.  I use the just war way of deciding whether it is appropriate for a country to go to war or not.  I believe that there have been very few justified wars of late.  That would include both the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But there can be wars in which choosing to go to war is bad but better than choosing not to go to war.  A war to protect the innocent would be an example.  A war to stop an unprovoked attack on one's country is bad but failing to do so would be worse.
This statement is also going to be controversial.  I believe all abortion is wrong.  Abortion can't be right.  But there are limited instances when abortion is better than not aborting a baby.  The one on which we would all agree is when the baby threatens the life of the mother.
Ethics are a lot more complicated that many people think.  You can hear politicians talk about either/or ethic when running for office.  Curiously the better politicians will switch to a more complicated ethic while ruling.  So let's think things through rather than reacting from our guts.  The sinner you prevent from sinning may be you.

Friday, May 6, 2011


The Federal Tax Code and the codes of those states that have policies that are similar to the federal code are almost impossible to understand.  The IRS when giving advice to taxpayers concerning the code clearly say that if the representative of the IRS who gives advice to a tax payer gives the wrong advice the tax payer is still responsible for payment, interest and penalties if that tax payer follows the advice that representative and the advice proves to be wrong.  I experienced this curious problem when seeking advice from the IRS.  In three different phone calls representatives of the IRS gave three different answers.
However the biggest problem with the current Federal Tax Code is that it penalizes some taxpayers and rewards others.
Here is an example for pastors.  A pastor who owns a house can take a deduction just like anyone else on the interest paid on the mortgage.  But the pastor can also deduct part or the entire amount paid in a housing allowance including the full cost of that same mortgage; both the interest and the principle.  This puts pastors (and members of the military who own their houses) in the curious position of being able to take deductions for the same expense (the interest on mortgages) twice.  Other citizens do not have this benefit.
Large corporations have deductions and credits.  Oil companies, despite their huge profits over the past few years, are allowed tax credits.
The list goes on and on.  One of the reasons it is so difficult to prepare one's own tax reporting is that the Tax Code is so complicated. 
Why does Congress allow such deductions and credits?  Through tax policy Congress seeks to reward certain groups and thus set public policy through deductions and credits.  Further lobbyists for corporations and groups of citizens influence Congress to provide tax relief for the people and corporations that they represent tax relief at the expense of others. This often has the curious result that a person who earns much more in salary, bonuses, investment income and capital gains than a person in the middle class may pay less taxes that that same person in the middle class. 
It is time to stop such social engineering.  If a government is going to be just taxes paid by any individual or corporation must be fair and not benefit one group of people or corporations at the expense of others.  If Christians seek to influence governments to provide justice by law tax law must do the same.  The basis for such Christians attempt to influence governments is based in the attempt by Christian to make this world as much like the Kingdom of God as possible.  In the Kingdom of God there is equality for all people.  Thus for the Christian a tax code must be equitable.  Without an equitable tax code there is no justice
The government has the further problem that the debt owed by the government is astounding and growing every day.  Just as families and most states in the USA have to balance their budgets so should Congress and the IRS.
I therefore submit the following suggestions for equity in taxes equity based on the fairness and justice proposed for the Kingdom of God
1.    That FICA taxes be paid on all income from salaries and bonuses earned by all people.  At the present time those who earn more than a certain amount pay FICA taxes only on a part of their income.  The cap on earned income is currently $106,800.00.  Anyone who earns more than this pays FICA taxes only on this portion of their income.  The given reason for this cap is that those who earn more than this amount will never receive a proportional return on their FICA taxes.  But FICA has never given a specific amount of money to any retired person or couple.  If an individual or both people in a couple die at the relatively young age of 70 neither they nor their heirs will ever receive back all the moneys put into FICA taxes by them or their employers.  Given the current crises in Medicare and Social Security payments on all income and bonuses would go a long way to providing more income to Medicare and Social Security.
2.    Remove all deductions and credits.  Deductions and credits provide lower taxes to a portion of individuals and corporations at the expense of others.  Some of these deductions and credits are encouraged by lobbyists who help members of congress get reelected by encouraging individuals, corporations and unions to give to or support a candidate.  This is a blatant conflict of interest.  Further deductions and credits are attempts at social engineering.  The purpose of taxes is to pay the bills of the federal government not to change society.
3.    After removing all deductions and credits graduated percentages of income would provide more income to the federal government.  Persons and families who earn less than a certain amount should pay less tax.  As income grows so should the percentage of income paid in taxes grow.  Under the current system of deductions and credits the burden of taxes falls proportionately higher on the middle class. 
Tax code should not be so confusing that an individual who has graduated from high school cannot understand how to pay his or her taxes.  Complicated tax code only benefits a particular group of people in a particular business: those who prepare tax returns for others.
Justice required in Scripture demands that taxes be just.  Christians should demand the same.