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Render Unto Caesar… If You’re Too Dumb Not To

By October 6, 2016 12 Comments

by Kate Kooyman

Christians, I’m confused about what we believe about taxes.

Here’s why: during the Presidential debate, Donald Trump made it clear that he thinks it’s “smart” to take advantage of any loophole possible to avoid paying taxes. And Trump supporters, including the Christians, seemed to agree with fervor.

But I have spent a lot of time in churches over the past few years leading workshops and conversations about immigrants, and I’ve heard many Christians express disdain for undocumented immigrants — expressly because of a belief that they do not pay taxes. I hear people say that one should not benefit from a system that one does not pay into. I hear that paying taxes is part of our social contract. It’s even Biblical.

This has always been my golden opportunity to debunk that myth: undocumented immigrants actually pay tons of taxes. They pay property tax, sales tax, and the majority also have payroll taxes withheld from their paychecks — they pay Social Security and income tax just like the rest of us suckers who haven’t figured out how to play the game as well as Trump has.

This comes as a surprise to lots of Christians who have been lied to about this issue from their favorite TV personality (who is probably also taking advantage of lots of tax breaks). But it’s the truth. Take Social Security alone: the Social Security Administration reports that undocumented immigrants pay billions of dollars into that system each year (and will never receive any benefit in their retirement years).

Many undocumented immigrants pay taxes because they have been advised that it may help their chances of gaining legal status someday. Over the years our political leaders have occasionally dangled a carrot, proposing ideas like allowing a path to legal status for the 12 million people in the U.S. without authorization, but it will come with a few stipulations — one of those being a requirement to pay the taxes they owe. So lots of immigrants, who are praying for immigration reform every day, hope when such a bill passes they’ll be able to pull 15 years of carefully kept paperwork out of their filing cabinet and show they have been paying faithfully since the beginning.

The assumption here, of course, is that paying one’s taxes is the right thing to do. We Christians seem clear on this when we’re picturing a nameless farmworker or a housekeeper. But apparently when we’re picturing someone like Donald Trump, we get fuzzy.

The tragedy is, of course, that these undocumented taxpayers aren’t taking advantage of a loophole to avoid paying taxes, they’re finding a loophole so that they can (google “Individual Tax Identification Number”). They’re paying taxes to a country that doesn’t claim them. They’re doing it because they believe it is the right thing to do, because they believe in an America where everyone contributes, and everyone is valued.

Maybe that’s not “smart” to believe in a world like that. But “smart” doesn’t describe lots of things that are true, or noble, or right, or pure, or lovely, or admirable, or excellent, or praiseworthy. Maybe a “smart” strategy, one which puts one person’s own interests ahead of the interests of the common good, should not be lauded among a community of people who follow Jesus.

Kate Kooyman

Rev. Kate Kooyman is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


  • Gordon says:

    Can we get an AMEN!

  • C William Canaan says:

    Thanks for your calm and reasonable responsible to what has become such a political issue.

  • RH says:

    Just wondering – does making sure that you are documented or legal immigrant, following the rules that any country has for immigration, fall under the mandate “render unto..”? JW

  • Barbara says:

    OTOH if it was truly legal for Trump not to pay those taxes, why would he. Would you? I love your article about illegal immigrants paying taxes big time. I think it makes a powerful point. But I am remembering a tax law that required our family to pay a huge amount of inheritance tax one year. If there had been a legal way not to pay that amount I would have been happy about it. I am not pro Trump but I am trying to be honest about taxes. Everyone feels the squeeze at tax time. However It is Donald’s attitude that sure gets in his way and makes us mad.

    • Sirk says:

      You inherited money that was not yours and paid out of that some tax and in net had a bunch of money that you didn’t have before the person died… I’m sorry for you loss.

      • Emily says:

        I don’t think you empathize or understand the complexity of this. This is a big issue for family businesses and farms that need to pay a large percentage of their whole value (brick & mortar, land, etc) every generational transfer – sometimes this isn’t supportable by cash flow. It is one of the things that creates a push towards the sale of such entities to large national scale and publicly held businesses instead of supporting local ownership of any business that grows in value. The fact that estate tax law shifts radically from year to year makes it doubly difficult to plan. For this reason, and because it is a second ’round’ of taxes on the same earned income, many perceive it as unfair.

        None of this, however, negates what Kate is communicating about an ‘attitude’ toward taxes, or understanding of immigrants.

  • Sue says:

    He pays allllll kinds of taxes, millions and millions in different kinds of taxes. It was law, not a loophole. If he didn’t follow the tax law, he would have been cheating his investors and employees. When you fall for this, you are falling for a cheap Clinton trick. Did you know Hilary did the same thing? She also ‘lost’ 6 billion dollars of tax payer money, yours and mine. Are you employed or is your husband? If so, think about all those who aren’t, record numbers under this administration. They just need someone who knows how to create jobs and it is un Christian to forget about them when we are comfortable and employed.

    • Eric says:

      The tax story is solely about Trump’s personal taxes and has nothing to do with his investors and employees. As far as we can tell from what has been reconstructed from public information, he took on massive debt for his investments, paid back pennies on the dollar to his creditors and contractors (many of whom took huge losses themselves when he didn’t pay…some of whom lost their businesses due to Trump), and then was able to use the business losses for his own personal tax relief. This giant loophole was closed once it got out how people like Trump were able to exploit it. He’s not good at creating jobs…he’s only good at collecting profits while socializing his losses. If it weren’t a trick, Trump wouldn’t have been afraid to release his tax returns all this time.

  • Charles says:

    This only brings me back to having a need for a fair tax code such as the flat tax with no loopholes. Legal loophole allowed this way out of taxes. Should Christians be seeking fairness instead of avoidance of taxation

  • Ted Pawlicki says:

    Like Donald Trump, I take all the tax deductions that I am legally permitted.
    Doing so does not make either of us unpatriotic.
    (“No laws were broken” as Hillary’s supporters have gotten so used to saying.)

  • Rose says:

    Just because it is legal does not make something ethical, right or smart like she said in the last paragraph. Abortion is legal. Many view it as wrong and unethical. Tax loopholes often benefit the wealthy, corporations, the legally married and those with children. Just because there are a big plate of free cookies offered after service on Sunday does not mean I let my ten year old take more than her needed share. Whether she earned or deserves them or not. Taxes/money are not meant to be hoarded. They are meant to be used for things we all need and to be used wisely and justly. Jesus provides what we need. It is on all our consciences what we do with what he provides. He provides often more than we need and it is often not in a monetary form.

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