On the Church and Society
October 31, 2006
In the middle of October, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, various religious leaders in the Seattle area, including Rev. Robert Taylor of St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, gathered to declare that Washington's estate tax was moral and fair.
There is a November 7 ballot proposition in the state of Washington to repeal the state's estate tax or death tax, as some call it - that was imposed last year by state lawmakers.
Meanwhile, six states Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevadaa, and Ohio have ballot measures that would raise each state's miinimum wage. It's pretty easy to find Christian church bodies and leaders who will espouse enthusiastic support for a minimum wage hike.
Two problems exist here. One has to do with economics, and the second with theology.
First, these churchmen practice bad economics. Death taxes create disincentives for investing and expanding businesses, generate wasteful spending on tax avoidance measures, drain resources from businesses, can force some businesses to close or be sold, and restrain job growth.
As for the minimum wage, this is one of the very few areas where economists are in agreement. Seemingly countless studies have shown that a higher minimum wage reduces job opportunities for inexperienced, low-skilled, young workers. They are simply priced out of the labor market, and entry level jobs where valuable work experience and habits are formed are reduced or eliminated altogether.
Second, this is bad theology. Holy Scripture and traditional Christian theology do not dictate certain positions on taxes or wage policies. Such issues lie beyond the proper purview of the church.
To sum up, many church leaders get seduced by often nice-sounding proclamations about the power of government made by those seeking to raise the minimum wage or increase taxes. But economic reality often turns out to be quite different. In the end, there is no "Christian" position on the minimum wage or the death tax. Christians are free to disagree.
However, there are ballot propositions in various states this year where the Church and church leaders should not be silent. In fact, Holy Scripture, theology and fundamental morality make it imperative that the Church speak out.
Marriage. There are eight states this year -- Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin -- with state constitutional amendments protecting the traditional definition (indeed, the only definition that makes sense) of marriage.
However, it should be noted that while Colorado has a proposition defining marriage as between a man and a woman, voters also will weigh in on a measure that would create a domestic partnership status that would grant the same legal protections and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples.
While many leaders in the Episcopal Church USA might be confused, Christianity makes clear that homosexual activity is sinful, and marriage is between one man and one woman. Holy Scripture allows no wiggle room, and church leaders should instruct accordingly.
Life. Three states have propositions concerning abortion. In South Dakota, a vote in favor of Referred Law 6 would affirm the legislature's decision to make abortion illegal, except when protecting the life of the mother. If passed, it is destined for the courts. And voters in both California and Oregon will vote on instituting parental notification before a minor could have an abortion. According to a Stateline.org report on October 19, thirty-five states already require parental notification, consent or both before a teenage girl may get an abortion, while only six states Oregon, New York, Vermont,
Washington, Connecticut and Hawaii have "no law requiring parentall involvement in a minor's abortion decision."
Meanwhile, Missouri has gained national attention with a controversial stem cell research constitutional amendment. The measure has motivated some Hollywood heavyweights to weigh in from Michael J. Fox in favor too Patricia Heaton and James Caviezel in opposition. The measure allows for human cloning and the destruction of human embryos in embryonic stem cell research.
Whether it is abortion or embryonic stem cell research, the Bible, Christian teachings and tradition always have made clear the moral imperative to protect innocent human life no matter what stage of development.
Rev. Gerald Kieschnick, president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, summed matters up well in an October 20 statement on the Missouri stem cell ballot measure: "On November 7, voters in the State of Missouri are being asked to cast their ballots for or against an amendment to the state constitution titled 'Proposed Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative.' This amendment, if passed, will legalize a form of stem cell research, which necessarily involves the killing of a pre-implanted, living embryo created through a process of cloning called somatic cell nuclear transfer. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod holds ... that the biblically based principle 'always too care, never to kill' applies to human life at all stages of its development including pre-implantation human life. While our church supports stem cell research which does not involve the destruction of another human life, we do not believe that the 'end justifies the means.' The destruction of a living human embryo, even for the noble purpose of seeking a medical remedy for others, is never morally justifiable."
Forget tax policy and the minimum wage, marriage and life issues, like abortion and embryonic stem cell research, are matters where the Church and church leaders must speak out due to a biblical imperative, and do so clearly and with compassion. Rev. Kieschnick's statement serves as an excellent example.
Raymond J. Keating, also a columnist with Newsday, is the editor and publisher of the "On the Church & Society Report."
This column is from the latest issue of the "On the Church & Society Report," which also includes "Campus Atheists and Traditionalists," "The Lutheran Muddle?", and "A Lutheran Take on Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide." To receive a free four-issue trial of "On the Church & Society Report," send an e-mail request to ChurchandSociety@aol.com.