Taxes and Charity

We Need Both

Some say that there are two certainties in life: Death and taxes. Let me add a third: election-year battles over taxes.


Chuck  Colson

This week’s biggest political story was Republican candidate Mitt Romney releasing his federal income taxes.

Immediately, something hit the fan. Over the past two years, Romney’s income was around 42.5 million dollars. He paid some 6.2 million in taxes, roughly 14 percent.

The media, and it seems your average American, wasn’t pleased that so wealthy a man paid so little, percentage-wise, in taxes.

Let’s get a few basic points out of the way. First, no one likes to pay taxes, and everyone wants everyone else to pay their fair share of the burden. Second, Romney’s returns raise all kinds of issues when it comes to tax reform. His rate was lower because most of his income came from investments and capital gains. Is that fair? That’s a fair question, but I don’t want to get into that right now.

What I do want to get into is this: Left largely out of the discussion, or mentioned mainly as an afterthought, is the fact that Romney gave more than 15 percent of his income—7 million dollars–to charity over those same two years.

Now, I’m not here to praise or condemn Romney, and I want to steer very clear of partisan politics. But the whole issue raises this question in my mind: What would America look like if every citizen gave more to charity than he or she paid in taxes?

Please do not misunderstand me. We must pay our taxes in return for the services and security provided by our government.

But there is a reason government allows us to deduct money we give to charity: These charities, these intermediate structures in society — Churches, faith communities, civic groups and associations–do things that government simply cannot do.

Now, I’m the CEO of Prison Fellowship. Let me tell you, we work with amazingly competent, dedicated, and often under-resourced corrections officials. But we can raise an army of volunteers to mentor and educate prisoners and help them reconcile with their families in ways that corrections just can’t.

Or think of the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, medical charities, crisis pregnancy centers, churches, hunger relief organizations—is it possible that the dollar you give to one of those charities would accomplish more than an extra dollar to government?

If you’ve listened to BreakPoint and to Chuck for any length of time, you’ve probably heard him talk about the 19th-century Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville, who so wonderfully described an American people who took it upon themselves to care for their communities. They banded together to build schools, churches, hospitals, and benevolent societies. They did not look first to government to care for their neighbors in need.

Times have changed, and so have Americans. Government-run safety nets developed for a reason.

But in the midst of a heated political campaign, with all the talk about taxes and who’s paying their fair-share, let’s not forget that charitable contributions are critical for promoting the general welfare and making our communities strong.


Further Reading and Information

Mitt Romney taxes show ‘very high’ charitable giving tied to Mormon church
Ron Scherer | Christian Science Monitor | January 24, 2012

Gates donates $750 million to fight AIDS, TB and malaria
Irene Chapple | CNN | January 26, 2012


Today’s ‘Little Platoons’
Chuck Colson | | April 18, 1994


Social Justice, Institutions, and Communities
Adam J. MacLeod | Public Discourse | January 27, 2012

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