Open letter to the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu

Dear Lord Archbishop,

I read with great interest the report of your comments to the BBC on the subject of tax avoidance in the context of morality.

In your interview you said of tax avoidance that, ‘It is sinful, simply because Jesus was very clear; pay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.’  Perhaps, My Lord, you would care to give consideration to the fact that much of our wealth belongs to us and does not belong to today’s Caesar at all?  To accuse individuals and companies of being sinful for finding ways to ensure they only pay the tax for which they are legally liable, is frankly nonsense.

But there is an additional concern here, which is the notion you raise that by only paying the tax for which individuals and corporations are legally liable, they are  ‘not only robbing the poor of what they could be getting, they are actually robbing God, because God says “bring into my store house all the tithes”‘.

This is a disgraceful and outrageous assertion, My Lord.  Government policy throughout the world is far and away a greater cause of poor people being deprived than any other factor.  Your assertions seeks to position government as an absolute force for good, while ignoring the fact so much poverty in the world is caused by government spending decisions.  To lay the blame for poverty and hunger at the door of those people and businesses that do not wish to see the money they have earned squandered on electoral bribes, gerrymandering, servicing vested interests (including at local government level), and feathering the nests of powerful supporters, rather than directed at essential public services and infrastructure, is an appalling inversion of what should be considered as moral.

Where do you see government being ‘just’ or ‘walking humbly’ as it uses taxation as a tool of coercion and takes more than it needs?  Surely, by coveting their neighbour’s goods and taking what they are not owed, it is the government robbing God, the world and my neighbour.  Government has a duty to take only that which is needed, but it refuses to be bound by that covenant and abuses its power.  Why should taxpayers tolerate such abuses at the expense of them and the well-being of their families for who they have responsibility?

The Anglican Church, more than most other institutions, has good reason to doubt the moral credentials of the government, which increasingly interferes in matters of conscience and spirituality and undermines the practice of one’s faith in the pursuit of secular orthodoxy.  It would serve you well to remember that before presenting government as a moral authority only held back from good works because taxpayers strive to retain what is lawfully theirs.

For an educated and intelligent man, your comments point to a naivety and childish simplicity that while it may be touching for some, is profoundly disturbing and results in an articulated ignorance that does more harm than good.

Yours sincerely,


12 Responses to “Open letter to the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu”

  1. 1 permex 17/06/2013 at 9:30 pm

    I have no doubt that the Anglican Church and, by association, other branches of the faith(s) would never dream of protecting that which is rightfully theirs. Their selfless generosity is not a matter which their accountants would proscribe to their detriment…..and, in any case, the gumment is not Caesar, it is Beelzibub incarnate.

  2. 2 Bellevue 18/06/2013 at 7:26 am

    I wonder whether he will reply…… (oooh, was that a piggy flying past the window?)

  3. 3 graham wood 18/06/2013 at 9:28 am

    “Government policy throughout the world is far and away a greater cause of poor people being deprived than any other factor. Your assertions seeks to position government as an absolute force for good, while ignoring the fact so much poverty in the world is caused by government spending decisions. ”

    I am not normally defensive of the Establishment and even less of the C of E, but in this case, and from a Christian viewpoint, Sentamu is absolutely right IMO.
    AM is correct in stating the above, but that is not the point at issue or one which Sentamu was concerned to address. Neither does he assert or assume a position that “government is an absolute force for good”.
    Most Christians know only too well that all governments are a mixture of both good and less good, or even evil, components and policies.

    The point Sentamu is making is that notwithstanding that recognition of weakness of governments, individuals and indeed corporate business have an obligation to pay legitimate taxes to their governments, irrespective of whether they deem to government to be relatively “good”, or “bad”.

    The command for Christians to “render unto Caesar what is Caesars’, and to God what is God’s, is entirely unconditional, and is based on the premise that all government power is a divine ordinance and that government power is but temporary and delegated by God – primarily for the repression of crime and the maintenance of the necessary fabric of society through the levying of taxes. To pay legitimate taxes to the State therefore is tantamount to obedience to God.

  4. 4 StrongUnitedKingdom 18/06/2013 at 10:45 am

    Good article AM..Sentamu’s comments are are as ill thought through as they are irrelevant. Which companies or individuals are going to roll over and empty their coffers for Geroge Osborne after hearing John talk of tax avoidance being immoral?

    However, I look forward to his balancing this waffle with some hard comments about the need for individual self-discipline, abstinence, the avoidance of debt, living within one’s means, working hard, not seeking a career on state handouts, helping others in the community, etc. on the basis that the Lord helps those who help themselves. I won’t hold my breath though on this one though.

  5. 5 john in cheshire 18/06/2013 at 11:31 am

    It seems that the CofE is still riddled with socialists. Will the purge of them ever begin?

  6. 6 PeterMG 18/06/2013 at 12:34 pm

    Well articulated AM. When you try and “moralise” about something that is basically a technical issue you know the argument is lost. Governments have made these rules, and its no good them then seeking to correct their mistakes by invoking “morals”. Just where would it end?

  7. 7 Paul McLaughlan 18/06/2013 at 2:10 pm

    Sorry Graham. I have to disagree with your comment. Jesus didn’t say “render unto Caesar what is Caesars’ – and extra on top” – tax avoidance is not even covered by Jesus and cannot be used to imply an immorality in seeking to minimise your tax bill. (I am a Christian BTW – and I fully appreciate that all authority is put there by God, however, we are obliged to obey the law and pay taxes, from what I can tell tax avoiders – as opposed to evaders – are doing precisely that).

  8. 8 Paul McLaughlan 18/06/2013 at 2:53 pm

    Actually re-reading the BBC article, the BBC are placing the comments in context and he may well be talking of evasion when he quotes Jesus. But clearly the rest is ill thought out tosh.

  9. 9 graham wood 18/06/2013 at 4:37 pm

    Paul wrote: ““render unto Caesar what is Caesars’ – and extra on top”.

    Paul please re-read my post. That is not what I said and it is a distortion of the actual text. I referred to “legitimate taxes” to be paid to government.

  10. 10 Twisted Root 18/06/2013 at 6:39 pm

    I’ll listen to Sentamu moralising on tax when he condemns usuary, a true moral issue.

  11. 11 Paul McLaughlan 19/06/2013 at 1:04 am

    Graham. I didn’t mean to attack you. What concerns me is that Sentamu is not articulating the same argument as you. I agree in the requirement to pay tax. Sentamu appears to state that structuring your affairs to minimise your tax bill is to disobey Jesus’ command. I was trying to emphasise that this is a wrong interpretation of the text and we cannot from that text find any comment on whether tax avoidance is right or wrong. While I am here though how on earth did Sentamu manage to mix up paying taxes and tithing?

  12. 12 graham wood 19/06/2013 at 9:36 am

    Paul. Point taken and I appreciate your comment. On reflection re Sentamu’s comments – perhaps there are far more important issues about which he should be thinking to do with the Gospel and spiritual needs.

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