Hot tip: if you were planning to file your tax return with a note to the ATO saying “God told me I didn’t need to pay tax, kthxbye” then be advised: don’t. It won’t work.
That lesson was just learned by Christian missionaries Fanny Alida Beerepoot and Rembertus Cornelis Beerepoot who have been ordered by the Tasmanian supreme court to pay a bit under $2.3 million in back taxes and other charges.
The couple had stopped paying income tax in 2011, including council rates (which had led to their property being seized by the Meander Valley Council in 2017 over a $3000 debt), but this case was over unpaid income tax from that year, which came to just shy of a million dollars apiece.
And the first thought you might have is “hold on a second, how does one get into the Missionarying game? Because that’s… look, that’s a heck of a tax bill, is what we’re saying.
Anyway: Despite explaining that they’d written to the PM and the Queen explaining that the very idea of tax was invalid and that “Transferring our allegiance from God to the Commonwealth would mean rebelling against God and therefore breaking the first commandment,” Associate Justice Stephen Holt pointed out that there’s no clear basis for the argument since God doesn’t say anything helpful like “Hey, don’t pay tax” anywhere in the Bible.
“I believe the submissions to be honestly and genuinely held beliefs rather than an attempt to avoid tax liabilities,” he explained in his judgement, “but in my view, the Bible effectively said that civil matters and the law of God operate in two different spheres.”
And he has a point because, if anything, Jesus specifically said people should pay tax and in oft-quoted line that accompanies a broader acknowledgement of the authority of secular government.
It’s in Mark 12:17, involving a discussion about whether or not it was right to pay the Roman poll tax, at which point Jesuis picks up a coin with Caesar’s face on it and asks who it is.
When the correct answer is provided, according to the English Standard Version of the Bible, he answers:
Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.
And this might seem awfully convenient, almost as though the Bible’s many, many different authors and editors and translators over centuries might have been pushed by authorities of the time to include or omit specific things that just so happened to support their own interests, but hey: we have to go by what’s in the book.
Mind you, that quote was also foreshadowing the narrative twist where – spoilers! – the Romans crucify Jesus, thereby keeping his body (which, as a prisoner, belonged to the state) and liberating his spiritual essence which was that of God.
Either way, it’s a bad excuse for not paying tax. Maybe say your dog ate it?