25 July 2012

Romney's Vision of America - Church & State Separate but Equal? When Tax Rates = Tithing

I'm reading Mormon America, a fascinating book, made more so by the fact that we've got about a 50% chance of electing a Mormon in November.

Among other things, it reports that Mormons are expected to tithe 10% of their income, a percentage that generates an estimated $5 billion a year in church revenue. This means that the average Mormon tithes about 3X what members of other churches do. (And might be reason enough for the average Mormon to feel like government taxes are simply too much additional burden.)

Curiously, the basis for tithing was established in the Old Testament, when the 10% was essentially a tax to cover not just the temple and priesthood but any or all costs we'd normally associate with government. 10% was not a religious tax; it was a kingdom tax.

Meanwhile, federal tax rates as a percentage of GDP are below 15% for the first time since Romney or Obama were born. And Romney wants to cut taxes further. He doesn't say what his target is, but it has to be closer to 10% of GDP than 20%.

And if that were to happen, we'd have a terribly curious situation.

The president would be supporting and participating in a 10% tax to pay for religion: church buildings, educational materials, and some charity and missionary work (although the bulk of missionary work is funded by families beyond the 10% tithe).

He'd also be supporting and participating in a 10% tax to support all federal activities, from social security and medicare to defense, health and human services, transportation (for instance, interstate freeways), education, homeland security, federal parks, immigration and naturalization, corps of engineers (think of dikes to protect New Orleans), agriculture programs, energy programs, homeland security, national science foundation (think basic research of the like that might discover Boggs Higson or fusion energy or a cure for cancer), veterans benefits, department of justice (the supreme court is just a fraction of this), small business administration, department of state (think foreign embassies and formulating and executing policy for our dealings with about 200 countries), NASA, national disasters, TARP and other federally insured bank programs, etc. 

That hardly seems balanced to me. I wonder if Mitt is also active in a church group pushing for lower tithing rates in the same way that he's part of a group pushing for lower taxes. As it now stands, separate but (nearly) equal funding for sectors of such differing scope doesn't make sense. 

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