Cliff Vaughn and I crisscrossed the United States over the past year interviewing members of three Abrahamic faith traditions for a documentary about how they read their sacred texts and apply those moral teachings in the public square to taxation.
Ralph Martire, a Catholic layman who heads up the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability in Chicago, is one of the people featured in the new EthicsDaily.com documentary, "Sacred Texts, Social Duty."
Yes, we tackled the most forbidden topic in houses of faith, the topic about which few speak. And yes, we grabbed one of the most contentious topics in the public square, the topic about which everyone speaks often with incivility. And yes, we sought the opinions of Jews, Christians and Muslims.
We have stories to tell and statements to share. Some of the stories didn't make it into the final cut of the documentary "Sacred Texts, Social Duty." Some made it only as extras on the DVD.
The Richmond, Va., interview with Rabbi Ben Romer and Imam Ammar Amonette – friends with congregations only a few miles apart – made the documentary. We interviewed them first in Romer's office and then in Amonette's office. Both talked about the need for a good tax system to ensure a quality public education – education being core values in both faiths.
In Chicago, we heard Philip Blackwell, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Chicago, say that the "reliance upon the lottery and upon casinos is the cowardly way out of running a government."
In Portland, Ore., we heard David Wheeler, pastor of the historic First Baptist Church, also criticize the state lottery.
Lotteries "are pure and simple tax evasion. I think it's morally reprehensible that we shift funding of basic public services from a fair taxation correlated to what people can afford and put it off on these most vulnerable people instead of paying our own fair share," said Wheeler.
We interviewed a Catholic layman, Ralph Martire, who heads up the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. Sitting in his Chicago office, Martire advocated for a progressive tax system with a supportive citation from Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, and a quote from his Grandma Tussio, who said, "Everybody do better when everybody do better."
One story that made the DVD as an extra was a Tea Party rally in Birmingham in which an interviewee, an independent Baptist church member, said that if God can make it on 10 percent then the American government can. She also said that President Obama wasn't born in America and that he was a Muslim.
A story that made neither the documentary nor the DVD as an extra was the interview with the quirky and likable Revolutionary War re-enactor William Temple. We met him at a Tea Party convention in Nashville.
Temple's basic argument was the wealthy should not be compelled through taxation to care for the poor. He said that churches and synagogues ought to do charity, not the government.
Wayne Flynt, however, had a different perspective. In a DVD extra, Flynt, the "conscience of Alabama" – a retired history professor twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize – recalled what happened when he started making speeches about a just tax system that would help Alabama's 740,000 poor people. Folk accused him of being a socialist and wanting government to solve all the problems.
He responded, "OK, I accept your argument. There are 10,000 communities of faith – Muslim, Jewish, Baptist, Baha'i, Buddhist, Shintoist – in Alabama... Let's divide 10,000 communities of faith into the 740,000 people and how many does your church get?"
Noting that many of these communities of faith have less than 100 members, Flynt said each house of faith would get roughly 50 to 100 poor people for whom it would be responsible.
"We won't have to have Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, taxes of any kind... We can abolish taxes. We can abolish the IRS. And all you have to do is for your congregation to adopt 50 to 100 poor people, and mentor them, and love them, and educate them, and nurture them," said Flynt.
How do you think Flynt assessed the likelihood of houses of faith adopting 50 to 100 poor people in order to do away with taxes?
You will have to watch the DVD to learn the answer! You'll also have to view the documentary to become a morally informed person about faith and taxes.
"Sacred Texts, Social Duty" is a breakthrough documentary that connects a forbidden topic in houses of faith with a contentious topic in the public square. It is a singularly innovative moral resource with compelling practicality.
Our hope is that houses of faith, seminaries, university schools of religion and interfaith groups will use "Sacred Texts, Social Duty" to enrich their moral discernment and to deepen their resolve to advance the common good.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.
Editor's note: To order "Sacred Texts, Social Duty," click here.