February 13, 2012
This opinion editorial by Rick Dunham was originally published in The Philadelphia Inquirer and on their website, Philly.com. It is reposted here by permission.
Rick Dunham is the president of Dunham+Co., which advises charities, and the author of Secure: Discovering True Security in Turbulent Financial Times
In a rather bizarre line of reasoning, President Obama claimed at the recent National Prayer Breakfast that Jesus would favor his plan to increase taxes on the rich. His logic is based on two passages in the Bible:
“To whom much has been given, much is required” (Luke 12:48)
“Love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39)
There’s no doubt that Jesus cared for the down and out. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, and poured his life out for the outcasts of society. And his teaching was filled with challenges to his followers to do the same. Obama is right; Jesus does want us to love our neighbor as ourselves.
But that raises the question of who exactly is our neighbor. Evidently, Obama, who releases his proposed budget Monday, believes it is the bloated government bureaucracy that is massively in debt. Actually, I don’t believe Jesus had the government in mind when he said “neighbor.”
In Luke 10, Jesus tells us what he meant by neighbor in the story of the Good Samaritan. He makes it clear that it is the person we see in need whom we have the capacity to help. That’s our neighbor, not Uncle Sam.
But what about the rich? How did Jesus view their responsibility? We get an idea in a conversation he had with a very rich man.
The rich man asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus gave him a list of commandments to keep, and in response the rich man said he had kept all the commandments since he was a boy. The passage goes on to say:
“When Jesus heard this, He said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth” (Luke 18:22-23).
The man had come to trust his wealth for his security. Jesus knew money had become his god, so he challenged the man to give it up and come follow him. Jesus wanted the man to place his faith in him rather than the man’s wealth.
And where did Jesus say to give it? He didn’t encourage him to pay more taxes to the government, but to give it to the poor.
If the president really wants to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, he ought to find ways to increase the incentive for the rich to give more to charitable organizations that effectively serve the poor. In fact, in a recent national poll conducted by our company, three out of four Americans indicated they believe that private charities are better at promoting social good than the government.
So, President Obama, if you are truly concerned about the poor and needy, if you really want to see the rich share their wealth more generously to benefit those who are struggling, then not only should you retain the current charitable tax deduction for households making $200,000 or more; you should find new and creative ways to encourage even greater philanthropy to support the charities that do social good.
That’s how you can encourage those to whom much has been given to do even more to love their neighbors as themselves.
More Research from Dunham+Company: “Tax Reform Highly Unlikely to Impact Charitable Giving in 2019”