Jeremiah instructs those being sent into exile: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you…for in its welfare you will find your welfare (29:7). Surely this is a statement of prophetic imagination; even while displaced, the people of God can work for the common good. Somehow the word “welfare” has come to be a distasteful, highly politicized term that describes a rung of society more interested in subsistence than work. The term actually has a much more venerable and noble history. For Christians, the Jewish root of welfare grounds our understanding. It is a form of justice (tzedakah). The poor are entitled to charity or welfare as a matter of right rather than benevolence.
Cliff Vaughn and Robert Parham of EthicsDaily.com recently invited me to provide an endorsement of the important new documentary, “Sacred Texts, Social Duty,” they produced. Here’s what I wrote: With keen insight into the social context of persons of faith in America, representative leaders from the Abrahamic traditions speak of the moral responsibility of taxes. The significant message of the documentary is that individual and congregational charity cannot resolve the urgent needs of those in poverty. Only public morality through constructive, progressive tax policies can address the common good and move toward justice. Viewing the responsibility of taxes through the lenses of sacred texts re-frames the issue and provides a timely public service. The unequivocal teaching of the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and Qur’an is that almsgiving demonstrates compassion and faith in God. These scriptures also advocate for participation in the larger social contract of taxation.
Seeking the welfare of the city in our day takes the form of generosity of heart when paying taxes, not the vigorous complaint too often voiced by those running for office. We all benefit by a tax system that protects the most vulnerable and requires those with greater resources to live justly. Hopefully persons of faith will offer leadership in this realm of social responsibility.
Molly T. Marshall
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