Church members in Nashville, Tenn., are watching EthicsDaily.com's latest documentary as they discuss faith and taxes.
A class member at Edgehill United Methodist Church in downtown Nashville, Tenn., watches a segment of EthicsDaily.com's documentary, "Sacred Texts, Social Duty." (Photo: EthicsDaily.com)
Members of the adult Sunday school class at Edgehill United Methodist Church near downtown Nashville are watching "Sacred Texts, Social Duty" as part of a five-week series on the relationship of faith to taxation.
"Sacred Texts, Social Duty" was produced by EthicsDaily.com and released on DVD in October 2010. The hour-long documentary features tax experts and faith leaders from Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions. Interviewees include a Pulitzer-Prize nominee, divinity school dean and think-tank director.
The Edgehill Sunday school class takes on a variety of topics, and it recently decided to take advantage of not only the documentary but also two tax experts in its midst.
Bill Howell is the regional organizer for the Middle Tennessee office of Tennesseans for Fair Taxation (TFT), which works to create a more progressive tax structure that benefits more of the state's residents.
One of TFT's current campaigns involves making sure Amazon.com collects and remits sales taxes in Tennessee. The online retailer is seeking an exemption from the state law as it builds a distribution hub in the Chattanooga area.
Howell is an Edgehill member, as is Dick Williams, the chair of TFT's board of directors.
Howell said showing the documentary in the Sunday school class would give members a better understanding of how their faith connects with doing God's work in the world.
"It relates to a personal embrace of social justice by the congregation," said Howell while setting up projection equipment on the second Sunday of the series.
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Edgehill UMC embraces and prioritizes social justice. The church is situated in a neighborhood surrounded by Vanderbilt and Belmont universities, Music Row and public housing. The location was strategic when the church was founded in 1966.
Howell added that the DVD series and discussion about faith and taxes would bear fruit as class members dealt with their own circle of contacts. Roughly 30 people attended the Sunday morning session on March 20.
The documentary highlights key leaders in four states – Virginia, Alabama, Illinois and Oregon – where the fiscal and moral implications of tax policy come into sharp focus.
Virginia has slashed education spending. Alabama has raised its threshold for taxing low-income citizens. Illinois has a deficit that's half of the entire state budget. And Oregon voters passed two measures in early 2010 raising taxes on individuals and corporations.
The documentary says all that has happened without much moral reflection on taxation from houses of faith.
"During my lifetime, I've never heard a sermon from the pulpit that's advocated for a good tax policy," says Tami Sober, assistant director at the Virginia Education Association, in the documentary.
It's a recurring sentiment in communities of faith across the country: Moral teachings and taxation are seldom connected in pulpits.
"The general public needs to hear this message," said Edgehill member and TFT board chair Williams, "especially those who have some concept of what it means to be faithful to God."
Click here for more information about "Sacred Texts, Social Duty."