(Sorry it’s taken so long to post this. I was trying to anticipate certain objections and the responses to them became so complex that I’ve decided not to include them in this post, but to put up a sixth post, shortly, exploring various objections and qualifications)
My emphasis earlier on the subjective dimension of coercion leads me to a distinctively Christian take on all this. “Perfect love casts out fear.” As Christians, we ought to have our desires so reshaped that we are motivated above all by love and become immune to fear–at least to any fear of man. This is of course a point that we will never fully attain to, but it is our calling. If this is true, then this suggests that Christians ought to be un-coerceable, and not merely in the sense that coercion fails to persuade them (e.g., I do not blaspheme when the gun is put to my head), but that, because this is necessarily the case, coercion never enters the picture. If I am committed to love and obey my master as if I am obeying Christ, then the fact that my master could whip me if I disobeyed is simply not relevant to me–it does not have an effect on whether I obey him–in short, he does not coerce me. If I am committed to pay taxes to my government even though I disagree with it because I love Christ and he commands me to love my enemies and pay my taxes, then the fact that I could be jailed for tax evasion is utterly irrelevant, and I am not coerced to pay my taxes–the hypothetical presence of coercion is, so long as I am following Christ, a contrafactual hypothetical.
I am convinced that this is precisely what Romans 12-13 is up to: “‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome with good. Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities….For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain….For because of this you also should pay taxes….Render therefore to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, custom to whom custom is owed, fear to whom fear is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Owe no one anything except to love one another.”
(I opt for the reading on which “fear to whom fear is owed” does not mean that fear is owed to the authorities, but rather, in light of the earlier verses, we are to discern that it is not, and render it only to God.)
In other words, Paul is calling upon the Romans, who would have been paying their taxes out of fear (Roman tax-collectors were not nice guys), and calling upon them to voluntarily render payment to these authorities, recognizing that God had put them in their place. As long as they are acting out of such a spirit of Christian love (which is, in context, what he means by “good works”), they will have no reason to fear the authorities–not, of course, because there is no chance the authorities will do anything bad to them (Paul is not so naive as that!)–but because “perfect love casts out fear.” The “sword” of coercion only enters the picture when love leaves the picture, rebelliousness (what “doing evil” means in context) enters the picture, and so does fear. Taxes therefore must be paid, but joyfully and willingly, as a debt of love, not out of fear.
So I suggest that Christians do nothing but condemn themselves when they rail against the coercive taxation of the government–as Christians, such coercion has no hold on us.
The same principle clearly applies in the economic sphere as well, and is a common motif of Jesus’s teaching in the gospels. Our faith in God should make us immune to worldly fears, which more often than not concern money. Jesus addresses this head-on in one of the most powerful passages in Luke: “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds?… And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Lk. 12:22-24, 29-34) If we are freed from the fear of not having enough money, power, and prestige, we will be set free to give to the poor, and economic coercion will have no power over us. We will not buy simply because we are afraid of not having everything that our peers expect us to have; we will not sell or work out of fear of not making enough money–rather, we will buy, sell, and work out of love for God and neighbor, free from fear and coercion.
As Christians, then, we are called to be un-coerceable. Either we serve willingly, as unto the Lord, and coercion is irrelevant, or else, when faithfulness requires, we refuse fearlessly, and coercion is irrelevant.
This answer, however, is clearly somewhat idealistic, and open to at least three challenges. I will explore these and offer certain qualifications in the following post.
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