A Gathering Voices post by Adam Copeland
The Obamas and Bidens released their tax returns this week. If you were wondering, President Obama made $1.7 million, well down from last year (I guess e-book sales really are hurting authors these days). The Bidens’ income was $379,000, though their charitable giving of 1.4% of their income is pretty poor if you ask me (including, by the way, $1000 to Westminster Presbyterian Church). In any case, the President and Vice President’s tax returns are now public.
In Norway, all tax returns are published online. All of them -- not just those of public officials. I grew up the son of a pastor whose annual salary was posted on the bulletin board in the main hallway of the church. When I was hired as a pastor in Hallock, my salary was approved by the congregation and the presbytery. Openness. Accountability. Transparency.
Though some public positions require one’s salary to be posted for all to see, the general practice in the US is to be very tight-lipped about one’s salary. It’s fine to complain generally about paying too many taxes, but one doesn’t get too specific. In fact, even as a pastor whose salary is pretty darn public, I can’t recall ever having had a conversation with a friend about how much money we make.
With my peers it’s ok to complain about student loans. I’ve playfully fought over who should pay many a bar tab, but talking specifics of salary, charitable donations, retirement savings and that sort of thing. Well, we just wouldn’t do that.
I wish it were different.
I wish we had more open and honest conversations about money, giving, spending, and debt.
I wish we were like those in some spiritual communities who meet annually to hold each other accountable, spending included.
I wish we all posted our salaries on a public bulletin board, or online.
And I wish, when we did that, we might come to understand salvation comes from God not money.
I know it's not particularly helpful to simply complain and wish for pie-in-the-sky happenings, but I find it difficult to do more when it comes to US conversations about money. Take this CNN poll that recently found Americans so far off in their estimations of US government expenditures that, upon reading the results, you either have to laugh or crawl up in a ball crying.
According to the poll, on average Americans think we spend 10% of the budget on foriegn aid -- the actual number is close to 1%. They think we spend 5% on public broacasting while the real percentage is a tenth of 1%. They also mistakenly assume we spend many more times the actual dollar on low income housing and food programs.
So what is a thoughtful Christian to do? Well, first of all, one could check out the cool Federal Tax Receipt program at the White House website. Put in how much you paid in taxes this year and out pops the proportion of what went where. Pretty spiffy, really.
After posting the tax recepit calculator to my Facebook page this week, a pastor friend commented wondering if congregations should make similar recepts for stewardship campaign season. I thought that was a brilliant ideal. I'll add it to my list of wishes. How much to buy three?
image by brainloc
Additional Resources from www.TheThoughtfulChristian.com
"Should Churches Pay Taxes?" by Edward Leroy Long Jr. (Adult Study)
"Why We Pay Taxes," by Brent Waters (Adult Study)
"The Tea Party Movement: A Return to Basic American Principles or a Radical Departure?" by Aaron Hoffmann (Adult Study)