Will the Bible change Alabama's tax code?
The front page of today's Wall Street Journal reports, "An unlikely force is setting off a tax revolt in Alabama: religious fervor."

An Alabama Law Review article by University of Alabama tax-law professor Susan Hamill has the attention of the state's churches and politicians, and now she's preaching tax reform in pulpits around the state, the Journal reports.

"The injustices perpetuated by Alabama's tax structure are immoral and cannot be defended under any reasonable interpretation of Judeo-Christian ethics, and therefore individuals claiming to be part of the People of God can no longer complacently tolerate Alabama's tax structure as it currently operates," says Hamill's Fall 2002 law review article, titled "An Argument for Tax Reform Based on Judeo-Christian Ethics." (A more readable four-page summary is available here, but a condensed brochure called "The Least of These" doesn't seem to be available online.)

"How could we, in a free society of a bunch of Christians, have the worst, most unjust tax structure that you could ever have dreamed up?" Hamill, a Methodist and former IRS worker, asks the Journal.

And the Journal seems to be on her side. It calls Alabama's tax structure antiquated and lists its injustices: "The Alabama code requires families of four earning as little as $4,600 to pay income tax, the nation's lowest threshold. It charges a higher sales tax on baby formula than on cattle feed and permits timber interests to pay relatively meager property taxes compared with homeowners."

Republican Gov. Bob Riley endorsed Hamill's article on television, and churches have endorsed it too. The state's Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians joined together to call for tax reform, and the Roman Catholic and Jewish officials have called for code changes too. (The Journal makes it seem like all this came only after Hamill's article was published, but the ecumenical "Faith and Fairness: A unified call for tax reform" rally happened more than a year ago.)

Still, other Christians are resisting. The Christian Coalition of Alabama opposes the reforms, saying it would likely lead to higher taxes and legalized gambling. And some pastors say their congregations aren't on board. Some black churchgoers are skeptical that reform will really mean lower taxes, and some wealthier white churchgoers are fine with things are they are.

But in Sunday's The Tuscaloosa News, Hamill says it's not just a rich/poor/black/white thing. "There's a lot of guilt to go around, and I'm the first to say I'm a part of that," she says.

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"As a traditional Methodist, Ms. Hamill at first felt like an outsider among Alabama's large evangelical Christian population," the Journal's Shailagh Murray writes. "She decided to immerse herself in the study of evangelical Christianity during a sabbatical at Samford University's Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham." It was during her studies there that she first heard about several of the tax iniquitous inequities, and she began work on her article. She now has an M.Div. from the school.

Is Africa's Christianity the key to its development?
While we're on the subject of Christian-Judeo concepts of finances, it's worth noting this piece of investment advice from Archie Richards in the Amarillo, Texas, Globe-News:

From an investment point of view, Africa is a comer. Here's why: The Wall Street Journal reported recently that 46 percent of Africans are now Christians, up from only 9 percent in 1900. The fastest growing sects are radical evangelical faiths, such as prevailed in America in the 18th century.
This is great news. Evangelical Christianity is a precursor to capitalism. … When a person believes that he can improve the status of his afterlife, he has the self-confidence to feel that he can improve his status right here on earth. He comes to believe that, through his own efforts, he can become rich. … When a broad-scaled index fund of African stocks becomes available, put 5 percent of your portfolio into it. It'll be a bumpy ride. But in the long run, it will be highly profitable.

Richards needs to brush up on his Weber. It's Protestant virtues, not the fear of hell, that made the "work ethic" so famous. And evangelicals don't believe that you can do anything improve the status of your afterlife. But, hey, invest in Africa anyway.

More articles

War with Iraq:

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Church and state:

  • Yoga in Aspen public schools draws opposition | Some parents and religious leaders are objecting, saying that teaching yoga in school violates the separation of church and state (The New York Times)

  • School prayer gets a boost | Supporters praise new federal guidelines (USA Today)

  • Poetic Licenses | Are "Choose Life" license plates free speech or state-sponsored infomercials? (Dahlia Lithwick, Slate)

  • More church-state entanglement | By accepting federal money to construct buildings that are part church and part state, the religious community will be inviting Caesar to make judgments that should not be his (Editorial, St. Petersburg Times)

Church life:

  • Historic black churches fight to remain alive | Faced with preserving aging buildings and graying congregations, historic houses of worship must search for ways to maintain their relevance in a society that doesn't depend on church as it once did (Courier-Post, Cherry Hill, N.J.)

  • Christian workers share ideas, faith | Almost 1,300 on hand for two-day Christian Workers Conference (Peoria [Ill.] Journal Star)

  • Anglicans backtrack on excommunication | Priest and two others had led a group of church faithful to block the enthronement of Archbishop Benard Malango as head of the diocese (The Nation, Malawi)

Missions and ministry:

  • Missionary zeal brewing at coffee hut | If there's even one cup of justice in the world, this place will make it (Peter Delevett, The Mercury News, San Jose, Calif.)

  • Uganda missionary raising funds for war torn homeland | Bishop John R. Lokwango, who remembers the horrors his country endured under Idi Amin, is visiting area churches to raise money for a church and Bible college in Uganda (The Courier-Tribune, Asheboro, N.C.)

  • Tony Campolo: Misinformed, bad theology | In a speech in Canada recently, Campolo gave a rambling presentation explaining the absolute necessity of creating a new Palestinian state to win over the Muslim world (Joseph Farah, WorldNetDaily)

  • Evangelist sells acreage to Hindu group | Leroy Jenkins has sold his Healing Waters Cathedral north of Columbus and will he will conduct services in a Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel (Associated Press)

  • Minister proves hard to shake | The Rev. Richard Weaver has a knack for eluding security to give spiritual messages to everyone from celebrities to presidents (Los Angeles Times)

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  • Augustine's new worshippers | Last Sunday, the swashbuckling French actor Gerard Depardieu ascended the pulpit of Notre Dame to launch his campaign to remind his countrymen about the greatest African bishop (Editorial, The Daily Telegraph, London)

South Korea:

  • North Korean defectors find Christianity | The Sunday service at Doorae church in southern Seoul is like many others across the country—except that the congregation includes about 20 North Korean defectors (BBC)

  • Thousands support U.S. at S. Korea rally | The demonstrators, mostly Christians, burned a picture of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, waved American flags and prayed for an end to North Korea's nuclear ambitions (Associated Press)

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