For land value taxation is
not just a fiscal measure (although it
is a fiscal measure, and a sound one);
not just a method of urban
redevelopment (although it is a method of urban redevelopment, and an
not just a means of stimulating business (although it
is a means of stimulating business, and a wholesome one);
not just an
answer to unemployment (although it is an answer to unemployment, and
a powerful one),
not just a way to better housing (although it is a
way to better housing, and a proven one);
not just an approach to
rational land use (although it is an approach to rational land use,
and a non-bureaucratic one).
It is all of these things, but it is
also something infinitely more: it is the affirmation, prosaic though
it be, of a fundamental spiritual principle — that "the earth is
the Lord's, and the fulness thereof."
It is the affirmation of the same principle
to which Moses gave embodiment in the institution of the Jubilee, and in
against removing ancient landmarks, and in the decree that the land
shall not be sold forever. It is the affirmation of the same
principle to which the prophets of old gave utterance when they
inveighed against those who lay field to field, and who use their
neighbor's service without wages. It is the affirmation of the same
principle to which Koheleth gave voice when he asserted in the fifth
chapter of Ecclesiastes that "the profit of the earth is for
The earth is the Lord's! Consider what this means.
It means that
our God is not a pale abstraction.
Our God is not a remote being who
sits enthroned on some ethereal height, absorbed in the contemplation
of his own perfection, oblivious to this grubby realm in which we
Our God is concerned with the tangible, with the mundane, with
what goes on in the field, in the factory, in the courthouse, in the
Our God is the maker of a material world — a
world of eating and sleeping and working and begetting, a world he
much that he himself became flesh and blood for its salvation. In
this sense, then,
our God is eminently materialistic, and nowhere is
this more clearly recognized than in the Bible, which, for that very
reason, has always been a stumbling-block and an offense to those
Gnostics, past and present, whose delicacy is embarrassed by the fact
that they inhabit bodies, and for whom religion is essentially the
effort to escape from or deny that fact.
Our God is not a dainty aesthete who considers politics and
economics subjects too crass or sordid for his notice.
Neither is he
a capricious tyrant who has enjoined an order of distribution that
condemns retirees after a lifetime of toil to subsist on cat food
while parasitic sybarites titillate palates jaded by the most refined
achievements of the haute cuisine.
It is men who have enjoined this
order in denial of his sovereignty, in defiance of his righteous
This is what it comes down to: How can a person
be "unhindered in
the fulfilment of duty to God" if he be denied, on the one hand, fair
access to nature, the raw material without which there can be no
wealth; and on the other, the full and free ownership of his own
labor and its earnings? ... Read
the whole article
a synopsis of Robert V. Andelson and James M. Dawsey: From
Wasteland to Promised land:
Liberation Theology for a Post-Marxist World
The Judeo-Christian meaning of
liberation is clarified by some
attention to Baal, the most
active "foreign god" of the Canaanite pantheon. To the Canaanites,
fertility depended upon sexual union between Baal and his sister and
consort, Anath. Baal worship consisted in reenacting the mating of the
gods in orgiastic rites with temple prostitutes. Beyond maintaining natural fertility and
harmony, Baal religion was used by the aristocracy to uphold the social
order. Canaanite tenants worked as dispossessed farmers on estates
owned by magnates, the temple, and the king. They worshiped the
landowners, the baals, who held dominion over both the land and the
peasants themselves. Old Testament exhortations against Baalism
emphasize the proper way to
worship Yahweh: by acting with mercy and justice towards one's fellow
Because justice does not prevail when
some, like the baals, claim the land and its bounty while others are
excluded from these privileges, Hosea denounces Israel for
betraying its covenant to recognize God as the true owner of the earth.
referring to the greed for possessing the land and its fruits, said God
is angered by those "who trample upon the needy, and bring the poor of
the land to an end" (Amos 8:4). Amos'
indictment of Israel mentions oppression of the poor and cultic
prostitution as if they were one (Amos 2:6-8). This seems strange until
one recognizes that the link between these two sins is a wrongful
concept of land ownership. Recall that Baal-worship and its
sexual rites glorified inequitable land possession and control. In
Prophets, the role of land is crucial in the divine providential
scheme, and the flouting of just principles of land possession has
grave consequences. Human beings are caretakers, not the owners, of
Amos and Hosea underscored that
a caretaker of the earth, while defining people's relationship to the
land, also defined people's relationship to one another. Being a
caretaker meant loving justice and doing mercy, letting go of selfish
possession and the desire for power over others by usurping their means
of livelihood, and instead becoming, like God, compassionate. Consider
what a revolutionary break this represents from Baal worship, which
idolized control of the soil and deified the landowners! ...
Claiming the Promised Land: A
Jubilee for a New World
In the book of Joshua, we find that although the Promised Land
gift from God, it is a gift that has to be claimed. Even before the
actual conquest of the Promised Land, the Mosaic Law prescribed a
method whereby possession of land was to be rendered pleasing in God's
sight. The Canaanites' claim was forfeited by their idolatry, with
human sacrifice and temple prostitution, and by their exploitive,
monopolistic social order. By contrast, Israel, to make good its claim,
had to institute a social order that would guard against the
desecration, pollution, and injustices of which its predecessors were
guilty, and would secure to each family and to every generation within
the Hebrew commonwealth the equal right to the use of the land, of
which the Lord was recognized as the sole absolute owner. Read the whole synopsis
Lindy Davies: Land
We were talking about the tendency for landowners
to use land as an investment — a
sensible thing to do — not to use it now if they don't need to, but
to think in terms of enjoying its increase in value over time. We even
identified that as the key to the problem of poverty. But — good
heavens, what can we do about that? Isn't that just how the economy
works? Isn't the private ownership of land a basic part of a modern
can we do without such an important institution?
Or in other words — won't the poor
always be with us?
Not necessarily. It has been plain, since
very earliest days of civil society, that the private ownership of land
leads to exploitation and great
extremes of wealth and poverty. And, since the time of the Book of
Leviticus, we have had a pretty good idea of what to do about it. In
that book were
recorded the words "The land shall not be sold for ever, for
the land is Mine, for ye are strangers and sojourners with me."
This ideal was codified into a remarkable three-stage program for economic
justice and social harmony: the land laws of Leviticus. The stages were:
1. The Sabbath. Every seventh day was the Lord's day;
people were enjoined to keep it holy and refrain from work. Now, we were
told in Sunday school that this was all about going to church, but, as
so often happens, our teachers missed the deeper significance. Kids who
try to get out of, say, taking out the garbage on the Sabbath realized
that the prohibition was really against gainful work; folks were still
allowed to weed the garden and stuff.
What the Sabbath did was to force people to focus on things that
had meaning beyond striving and striving to get ahead. Indeed,
if one did work on the
Sabbath, while one's neighbors did not, one could become wealthier,
at their expense — which was why the Sabbath was a very big
deal: one of the ten commandments.
2. The Sabbatical. Every seventh year, the fields
were to lie fallow — thus recognizing the right of the
earth itself to be protected against depletion and misuse. And,
in the sabbatical
year, debts were to be forgiven. A debt that could not be paid
off after six years was well on the way to becoming a usurious
a guaranteed flow from the labors of one into the coffers of
another. The canceling of debts in the seventh year was designed
to ensure that
nobody got too far ahead, or too far behind.
3. The Jubilee. Even seven times seven years
(actually, every 50th year), each family could return to its
or heritage, of land — even if it had been sold in the meantime.
Under biblical law, then, land could not be sold for ever — never
for more than a single generation.
Now it is interesting to note that the economic
vision presented in the bible is not a precursor of communism. Two of
the ten commandments explicitly
support the institution of private property, and the prophets consistently
railed against landlords and rulers who robbed the people of the
fruits of their labor. The laws of Leviticus, which Jesus said he "came not
to destroy but to fulfill," envisioned a community in which everyone
was secure in his own home and property, "beneath his vine and fig
(Incidentally, the quote on the American
Liberty Bell, from Leviticus, chapter 25, was a direct reference to these
principles : "Proclaim
liberty throughout the land and to all the people thereof." It
was a reference to the Jubilee, and the freedom it provided was
from debt and
The division is clear: there is to be a sacred right of private property
in the things that are made by people. But people were not to own the things
that were made by God. The 7th commandment sums up both principles in 4
words: Thou shalt not steal.
Modern society has looked away from these
principles, calling them quaint, naive, inapplicable to the complexities
of our time — yet, modern
society finds itself mired in chronic economic and social problems for
which it can find no solutions — and which threaten to pull down
all the advances of civilization into a dark age — occasioned
by some combination of war, financial implosion or ecological collapse.
If there is any way out of this dark future, it can only come by way
of solving the problem of land and justice.
Fortunately, there exists a plan for that.
This plan takes the shape of a "fiscal reform", because it
applies a definition of the relationship between the individual and the
society that is consistent with both economic efficiency and moral law.
It calls for us to respect the right of labor to create and to save wealth,
and we acknowledge that the value of land is created not by its “owners”,
but by the entire community.
Therefore, we will abolish all taxes on income,
products and sales — and
collect the full rental value of land and other natural resources
for public revenue. ... read
the whole speech
A University of Alabama School of Law Professor has asked God's forgiveness
for the years she lived in the sin of ignorance about tax injustice. Susan
Pace Hamill, a tax expert, business consultant, and dedicated United Methodist
church goer, thought there was a misprint when she first read that personal
incomes as low as $4,600 for a family of four were being taxed by the state,
while timber owners holding 71% of the land of Alabama were paying less
than $1 per acre in property taxes. Two hours later she found out there
had been no mistake and that Alabama has the most regressive tax code in
the country. Her righteous rage spawned a tax crusade that has reverberated
onto the national scene. ...
While resoundingly condemning the current system (she uses words like "horrific" and "monstrous
injustice") Hamill clearly articulates a tax reform approach which
shifts taxes off of low wage earners and onto large land owners. Through
of her own reasoning, caring heart, and inherent sense of justice and
a thorough investigation of Judeo-Christian ethics, Hamill arrived
at a tax
policy approach which bears remarkable similarities to the economic
justice crusades of 19th
century reformer, Henry George.
Her appeal is to the 93 percent of Alabama residents who call themselves Christians.
Hamill challenges them to put their faith into practice. Her message fell on
many already listening ears. The state's two largest denominations, United Methodists
and Southern Baptists, had passed resolutions favoring tax reform in 2000. In
2001 the state's Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Catholics approved similar
calls. The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and the Business Council
of Alabama had long clamored for tax change. In fact, tax reform is now supported
by most of the state's religious organizations, according to Charles Durham,
pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Tuscaloosa.
What makes Hamill's work so compelling is her deep grasp of the Alabama tax
code combined with her thorough documentation of the scriptural bases for
justice. She quotes chapters and verses which proclaim that the poor should
not be oppressed and that society should create conditions for their advance.
her favorites are Jesus'
words in Matthew 25:45: "Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these,
you did not do for me." Luke 16:19-31 is a parable of a rich man sent to hell
because of his indifference to the disadvantaged and
in Jeremiah 22:15-16, "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so
all went well."
While Hamill suspected she would be opposed by special interest groups like
the Alabama Farmers Federation which represents big timber and agribusiness
she was not prepared for the attacks and underhanded tactics of the Alabama
Christian Coalition under the leadership of President John Giles. While Giles
to the less fortunate "is a noble thing" he says the care of the poor is the
duty of private charity not of government and staunchly opposes tax increases.
He tried to damage the Hamill campaign by smearing her personal integrity, pointing
to her signing of a pro-choice petition as evidence that she therefore could
not be a moral authority on tax
reform. Opposing forces also called her a "Yankee carpetbagger" detailing
her work history at two New York law firms. They said (wrongly so) that her
would bring huge property increases
on the average home and business.
Bob Blalock, editorial page editor for The Birmingham News, says that
the "real question about legitimacy should be aimed at the Christian Coalition.
For whom does it speak when it attacks Hamill? Christians, many of whom would
benefit from a fairer tax system, even one that raised more money? Or powerful
special-interest groups (timber? agribusiness?) that want to protect their obscene
tax breaks?" Blalock says there is no way to know because the law does not require
Christian Coalition to disclose what individuals or groups fund it. "When an
organization places itself in the center of the debate over tax reform, citizens
deserve to know who's funding its point of view." (3/14/03)
Hamill's conservative theology school responded to the attacks by firmly
backing her stance. Faculty at Beeson Divinity School of Samford University
passed a unanimous resolution endorsing her
efforts. "We think what she has proposed is worthy support from the Christian
community and we think it is in keeping with the evangelical
community," said the school's dean, Timothy George (Anniston Star,
Frank Thielman, Presbyterian Professor of Divinity at Beeson had this to
say about their resolution: "Personally, I hope it does encourage dramatic tax reform
that helps to relieve the burden of the poor. The reason I'm hopeful is because
of my commitment as a Christian and my Christian vision. That is a vision that
the poor should be dealt with equitably and fairly and that is a very biblical
vision. It's because of my Christian commitment and the Bible and the word of
God that I
hope tax reform efforts succeed." (Anniston Star, 3/11/03) ... read
the whole article