I just saw something that disturbed me...hundreds of people, including many Christians, friends of mine, out in the city square protesting taxes and deficit spending and the like. Now, it was odd to me that this was so disturbing, given that, until recently, I would've been among the most eager; heck, a few years ago, if there were a secession movement, I would've jumped on the bandwagon. I think our country's economic policies and deficit spending and all that are on the whole stupid; I think our taxation is ridiculous. I think the government has no right to do 90% of what it does, and I'm not sure about the other 10%. In other words, I agree with all those people who are out there protesting, in terms of all that there is to protest about. But it seems rather wrong to me that they are out there protesting, and it seems to me a bad witness that a lot of them are Christians and from my Church. Now, why? I must figure out why I feel this way. Here are a few ideas.
First of all, it seems to be to be paradoxically exalting that which we want to bring down. As Christians, we know that we are citizens of another kingdom, serving the true King, Christ, and thus unjust governments have no true power over us. If we obey them, it is because loyalty to our King Christ requires it; if we disobey them, it is because loyalty to our King Christ requires it. Either way, we should be above the petty sentiments of fear and anger when we think they are behaving unjustly. Christ is righteous, and Christ will judge them, and our rebellions, passive and active, will never be effectual in fixing the problem. This is not a gospel of quietism--I am not saying that Christ's Kingdom has nothing to do with this world, nothing to say to the kingdoms of this world. It has everything to say to them. But what it says, it says in the language of the gospel, not in the language of secular political activism. If we want to call upon our rulers to end our injustice, we must proclaim the justice of Christ from the pulpit, we must proclaim it by our actions in the world, and we must say to our rulers, "Christ is King, not you, so stop oppressing his people!" When we dress up in the costume of right-wing tax protesters, and say "Keep your hands off our money! Stop deficit spending! Get rid of the Fed!" then we are abandoning the specific, powerful message that we have to offer to our government, and, by adopting the language and methods of modern political activism, we are actually endorsing the political system; we are agreeing to play by our opponent's rules and thus, ironically, investing with power the very power that we wish to protest!
Second, this is not the kind of submission and subjection that Paul asks for in Romans 13. Paul calls upon Christians to subordinate themselves and pay their taxes--again, not because they are subjects of the rulers, but because they are subjects of Christ, and his way of ruling is not violent and self-seeking, but shows love to oppressors. Paul knew that the Roman authorities were oppressive--much more so than ours! That's the whole point--he has just said, "Love your enemies! Do good to those that persecute you!" Why? Because this is how you triumph over them--this is how Christ triumphs over them. Therefore, be subject! Therefore, pay your taxes! If what Paul was saying is, "Yeah...you owe them obedience, so go ahead and give them what you owe, but you can grumble all you want about it," then that would be one thing. But that's not what he's saying!! He's saying, "Overcome them in love! Give them what love requires, even though they don't deserve it, even though they are greedy, even though they are unjust! Heap burning coals on their head! Pay your taxes, and do it with a smile on your face!" Any self-centered pagan can throw a fit about paying taxes--how do these kind of protests proclaim Christ? How do they identify us as Christian? The Christian protester says, "No, I'm protesting because I believe that this is Biblically unjust." But who sees that? Just because that's what you mean by the protest doesn't mean that that's the message you send! Such protest is indistinguishable from the ways of the world. If you really want to proclaim Christ's answer to unjust taxes, then shock everyone and smile and pay and pray and preach!
Finally, as I've posted before (on my Facebook), I think, neither Jesus nor Paul shows much concern at all about paying taxes. It seems like a big deal to us, and it did to the Jews, but Jesus was like..."Eh, sure, you're sons, and you're free, but don't be obnoxious, pay your taxes." The indifference that Jesus showed, and that Paul exhorted the Romans to show, would've shocked the Jews. But Jesus and Paul understood that money is the least of our worries; to make a big stink over money is to lose sight of the important things of the Gospel. If Caesar asks for your children or your worship, then you defy him to his face. If he asks for your money, well, heck, is that really worth fighting over? Do you really want to endanger your Christian witness by throwing a fit about money?
So, going out there and protesting taxes is paradoxically proclaiming that the political powers we are opposing really do have power, it is proclaiming that the ways of politics and violence really do have power, and that money really is as important as the world wants to make it. Rather than proclaiming Christ's stand against the powers of this world, it changes into the uniform of the world and enlists under its banners, simply in order to carry on an argument with other worldlings in the ranks.