The Estate Tax: What Would Jesus Do?

While Congress decides whether to repeal the return of the federal estate tax, leaving much needed income to close the growing budget deficit hanging in the balance, some Christian taxpayers are using ethical and theological arguments on opposite sides of the debate.

Here’s one side of the debate:

Gary Dawson, a coal miner in Gilette, Wyo., said the Bible clearly mandates people to help the poor, but paying additional taxes to the government is detrimental to such a call.

“I just think people need to understand that our creator blessed us in different ways,” Dawson said. “I think the government as the great equalizer is equivalent to theft.”

“I want to use my wealth for God’s glory, not to build a swimming pool in my backyard and buy a new pickup,” Dawson said.

Coal miners in his region, he said, have an average annual salary of $70,000 to $80,000. “Once I get the needs of my family taken care of, I take care of extended family, neighbors and friends,” he said.

He said excessive estate tax laws contributed to his family’s financial problems. His parents ran into financial troubles when he was in high school and taxes on his deceased grandfather’s estate contributed to his family’s bankruptcy.

And here’s the other:

Jim Wallis, founder and editor of the progressive evangelical magazine Sojourners, is against a complete repeal of the estate tax. He said reinstating the estate tax is a matter of justice.

“Inequality is a fundamental biblical concern. We have been increasing the gap between rich and poor for a long time,” Wallis said. “The only people affected by the estate tax are the super rich, and the super rich can afford to pay it. They owe it back to society and they should pay it.”

In his book, “Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street and Your Street,” Wallis pointed to the growing disparity in U.S. income levels and, conversely, the shrinking “prosperity sharing” sentiment across the country.

Although he said the Bible is not specific about tax rates and exemption values, Wallis is in favor of a “vigorous” estate tax.

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I wonder what kind of comments this post will get, it’s got Christianity, politics, and money . . . all hot button blog topics.

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