The Christian principle of Distributive Justice: reflecting on the State of the Union’s call to create a fair tax plan

In his 2012 State of the Union Address President Obama touched on a series of political issues. Considering the achievement (or lack thereof) of this congress and administration I cannot help but think that many of these initiatives will become nothing more than lofty goals that if nothing else will serve as campaign rhetoric to attract the various voting interest for this upcoming election. Comprehensive immigration reform and campaign finance reform would be a great achievement for this country, however I have seen these issues come and go so many times in the past. I just don’t think that this year will be the year.

While in some ways I may be one of the cynical voices that the President alluded to in his speech I do have hope that at least some of the moderate programs he proposed will be able to carry enough bipartisan support for this upcoming year.  Certainly I hope that our government takes our education and higher education investment seriously in order to give our young Americans every opportunity to succeed in a globally competitive environment. Updating our national infrastructure makes both economic and ecological sense as we strive to achieve a model of sustainable development.  Essential service programs for veterans, seniors and the poor must be protected, especially in these hard times.

One contentious issue that I believe needs to take center stage is the idea of a fair tax system. A tax system that favors the wealthiest Americans is simply not just, especially when we continue to face the need to make difficult budget cuts in order to reduce the deficit. Calling it the Buffet rule President Obama called on Congress to establish a fair tax code whereby:

If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes…  you shouldn’t get special tax subsidies or deductions. On the other hand, if you make under $250,000 a year, like 98 percent of American families, your taxes shouldn’t go up.

I agree with President Obama, this is a policy of common sense not class warfare. Beyond this being a fair and just economic policy, from a faith perspective this is also a moral policy. Principles like the common good and distributive justice are deeply held Christian ideals long before they became socialist ones, they are rooted in scripture and our tradition. St. Paul the Apostle sites his defense for distributive justice when he challenges the Corinthians to give generously to their poorer brethren.

I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between  your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.  As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” – 2 Corinthians 8: 13-15

Nor is the idea of distributive justice a marginal or vague concept that ranks low within the Christian tradition. It has been defined and defended by theologians who hold titles as Doctors of the Church.       St. Thomas Aquinas defines this principle within his theological masterpiece, the Summa Theologica.

There is the order of the whole towards the parts, to which corresponds the order of that which belongs to the community in relation to each single person. This order is directed by distributive justice, which distributes common goods proportionately.

…in distributive justice something is given to a private individual, in so far as what belongs to the whole is due to the part, and in a quantity that is proportionate to the importance of the position of that part in respect of the whole. – (ST: 2,2; q. 61)

Distributive justice is a moral principle that flows from the vision of faith which Jesus and his disciples offered the Jewish and Gentile community of the first century. It is sad that here in our nation, which we claim to be rooted within the Christian tradition, we choke over a fundamental Gospel element such as this. Let us change the ideological discussion regarding the common good and distributive justice from the political rhetoric of being liberal versus conservative or socialism versus capitalism and appropriately discuss these principles and policies as a moral imperative of our Christian faith.


About jdgonzo73

I am a Catholic lay minister in the field of Christian ethics, Latino theology and Paulacrucian spirituality. I am currently a Doctor of Ministry student at Fordham, an ad-junct professor at Molloy College and St. John's University and the Project Coordinator with the Catholic Roundtable.
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2 Responses to The Christian principle of Distributive Justice: reflecting on the State of the Union’s call to create a fair tax plan

  1. Gene Beil says:

    Good article, John.

  2. Pingback: Resources for 2 Corinthians 8:13 - 15

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