Access your downloads at our archive site. Visit Archive
Magazine Article

Reinventing Leadership

At the invitation of attorney Jerri Lynn Ward, I had an opportunity to speak to a small group of liberty-minded citizens in Austin, Texas, on June 14, 2013. There was some conspicuous opposition to that invitation, premised on the ill-informed fear that I would be peddling tyranny under color of my supposed theocratic aspirations. People were warned to avoid my presentation, and I suspect that those who bought into that poisoning of the well typified the insight of William James that "a great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices."

Martin G. Selbrede
  • Martin G. Selbrede,
Share this

At the invitation of attorney Jerri Lynn Ward, I had an opportunity to speak to a small group of liberty-minded citizens in Austin, Texas, on June 14, 2013. There was some conspicuous opposition to that invitation, premised on the ill-informed fear that I would be peddling tyranny under color of my supposed theocratic aspirations. People were warned to avoid my presentation, and I suspect that those who bought into that poisoning of the well typified the insight of William James that "a great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices."

Cognizant of this resistance, I added several PowerPoint slides to my current Law & Liberty Tour presentation to actually quantify the size of government as laid out in Scripture. People need to see the numbers. They cannot grasp the Biblical concepts unless we bring home to them the magnitude of the situation. I wanted to show that if we followed the Bible, the total cost of civil government would be less than one-percent of what it is now.

These Biblical concepts were so important that I published Dr. Robert Fugate's extended defense of the Biblical head tax over the span of three consecutive issues of Faith for All of Life.1 Precisely because some notable theologians had publicly disputed R. J. Rushdoony's exposition of the civil tax, it was necessary to push back and recover that critical lost ground. The true value of Dr. Fugate's "dull, long-winded, footnote-laden" articles has yet to be fully appreciated. They provide an astonishing blueprint for a modern deliverance from statist tyranny. If you're shown the numbers, maybe you'll grasp how God's law shatters the current paradigm and thoroughly empowers you.

The First Comparison

The proposed federal budget (not including state, county, or city budgets) is currently $3.8 trillion. What our opponents fear is that some alleged American Taliban will arise and seize control of this bloated federal apparatus and steer the massive ship of state in terms of a benighted Christian fundamentalist extremism. This "takeover" will supposedly institute a tyranny of untold horrors-$3.8 trillion dollars worth of oppression.

This fear might have merit if Christians operate in terms of Rushdoony's critics, who believe it fairly safe to disregard the law of God when it comes to the limits of civil taxation (whether the critique arises from dispensational rejection of the bulk of God's law or from those Reformed theologians rebutted by Dr. Fugate). But when God's law is applied as written, the picture is radically different.

Under the status quo, that $3.8 trillion federal budget for 2013 will be paid ... by you. It is irrelevant how much of this amount is secured by direct taxation or the more insidious forms of hidden taxation (debt, monetary inflation, etc.). The government will have this much money to play with. Once I had this budget figure in hand, the massive defunding of various New World Orders that figures so prominently into my Law & Liberty presentations across so many categories now had a reference point, a stake in the ground in regard to civil taxation.

Using this federal budget figure, I compared it with the Bible's total civil tax load to arrive at the comparative size of Biblically based civil government versus the current federal government. Is there indeed room in a Biblical budget for a massive state apparatus to fund massive tyrannical impositions, as many allege?

Before we do the math, we need to understand that for the following scenarios to work, the totality of the Bible's fiscal requirements need to be present (e.g., the poor tithe to eradicate poverty, the Levitical tithe to fund education, substitution of full liability laws for limited liability laws to push back regulatory insanity in terms of human responsibility, applied free market privatization strategies, a genuinely Biblical national defense policy, etc.).

In other words, the recovery of Christian self-government precedes the successful recovery of civil liberty. Only in that context can we realize the blessings to be outlined here. And we have been consistent in presenting this as a package deal: the totality of the covenant. Any piecemeal reduction of the above reduces God's Word to a caricature of itself. Biblical totalism: accept no substitutes!

Understanding that, now we can look at the numbers.

The total annual tax to cover all civil government expenses is one-half shekel of silver per male citizen twenty years or older. Using the largest value for a half shekel (0.3 ounce), the then-current market price of silver ($22 per ounce), and the current population of the U.S., I displayed the mathematical derivation of the annual budget God allows the civil government to spend: $528 million, amounting to less than forty-five cents per year per taxpayer in pre-1965 silver coins (one quarter plus two dimes). This amounts to 0.0139% of the U.S. federal budget for 2013. In other words, the federal government in America spends 7,200 times more than God's law allows it to collect ($3.8 trillion versus $528 million). Therefore, application of God's law would entail a stupendous shrinkage of the coercive sector of society, not its expansion.

Because Christian self-government under the law of God has radically shrunk over the last two centuries, the state has expanded in turn, taking on the attributes of God in the process. The surveillance state is simply one of the manifestations of the state's attempt to play God, having its eyes everywhere in its bid to achieve omniscience. The Bible pulls the financial plug on all this statist overreaching. Those that benefit from that overreaching (those who "eat up the sins of My people," as Hosea 4:8 puts it) will oppose every reform and justify these continued usurpations.

The Second Comparison

In preparing my presentation for June 14, I omitted the state and local government budgets. I just wanted to get my point across that the implementation of Christian self-government under Biblical law undercuts tyranny by choking its fiscal throat. For my listeners back then, I spent considerable time on other aspects of Biblical law, but now I'd like to revisit the civil tax issue and extend it a bit further by factoring state budgets into the picture.

I acquired the list of the fifty state budgets that are currently available online (which range between their 2013 and 2015 budget numbers) and totaled all of them up: 1.943 trillion. To fully understand the scope of the reduction of the state under Biblical law, we need to add this amount to the federal budget of $3.8 trillion. Unlike the federal government, the states can't directly implement monetary inflation, so that money will be extracted from you by way of taxation and debt manipulation.

We would still remain at the $528 million annual taxation limit under Biblical law, but instead of comparing that amount only against the federal budget of $3.8 trillion, we need to compare God's tax against the combined federal and state budgets, which together total $5.743 trillion. Now we get a better picture of the actual recovery under Christian self-government: God's tax can only support a government that is 0.0092% the size of our current state and federal governments. Our state and local governments combined extract 10,876 times more cash from us than the Bible authorizes for the conduct of civil government. My earlier estimate of a 7,200-fold excess tax burden ignored the contribution of the state governments. The 10,876-fold figure is more accurate-and even this figure doesn't take into account county and municipal tax burdens.

Of course, this means that every "Christian" political candidate who speaks about implementing "Biblical morality" in government who fails to adopt these tabulated reductions as his or her ultimate target hasn't the least bit interest in what the Bible says. Many of you will continue to vote such candidates into office. Let's see what you're leaving on the table when you do so.

Leaving Money on the Table

Yes, numbers are useful. Percentages are useful. People can grasp the idea that the Bible's limitations on civil government (in its total Biblical context, not as an isolated proof-text) surely mean that popular vilifications of theocracy are built on convenient lies propagated by anti-theists that are (regrettably) justified by too many Christians indulging a smorgasbord approach to the Scriptures. With some gunshot wounds in our own backs from some of our best-known theologians, our incapacitation has been largely self-inflicted. The big victim here is the Scriptures themselves, the living Word of God that is no longer raised as the proper Light in which to see these issues.

But perhaps more useful than batting around all these immense numbers is to personalize them. Big numbers cause our eyes to glaze over. But numbers that relate to us might just get our attention.

So, let's run the numbers. We have an annual budget burden of $5.743 trillion between our state and federal budgets versus $528 million under a theonomic budget (a civil budget based unapologetically on the Word of God). This amount was premised on an estimated national population of 318 million people, of which one quarter were males twenty years and older. Let's assume for argument that those males constitute the nation's work force and see how much better off they would be when comparing the burdens imposed by the various civil governments of America versus a government entirely aligned with God's commands.

The difference between man's and God's government is $5.7425 trillion. If you take this amount and divide it by the number in the work force who'd be paying God's civil tax (80 million workers), you arrive at a mean average of $71,781 per worker. In other words, the cost of rejecting liberty under God's law is on average nearly $72,000 per year per worker. This statism stuff is a costly proposition-as all forms of slavery are.

Yes, you can argue that I've stacked the numbers based on those who pay the Biblical civil tax, and that using 2011 census numbers you would have closer to 158 million workers out there (121 million households with 1.3 workers each). But what you cannot quantify is the radical explosion in productivity that a self-governed society brings to the table. One in three employees work for the government today-for the coercive rather than the productive sector of society. Realignment in terms of productivity, in terms of Christian self-government, will bring into play all the ramifications of the growth of the Kingdom of God.

The termination of property taxes (collected by governments below the state level) is also a key part of this realignment. Add to this the implications of the poor tithe (amounting to an annualized 3.33% of your net income), which eradicates all poverty in a society operating under God's law (Deut. 15:4), and we realize that the "perfect law of liberty" spoken of in James 1:25 truly liberates from all forms of oppression.

Confronting Failed Leadership

Christians should be out in the lead on these issues. Sadly, we are not. When we're challenged with questions like "how will you handle roads and freeways under Biblical law?" we find libertarian authors way out in front of us on these issues. Those authors thought it worth their while to work out the implications of their philosophy of limited government and start to develop compelling answers. Meanwhile, Christians hardly lift a finger to exercise leadership here despite their greater incentive to "bring every thought in captivity to Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5).

Why, precisely, do we find such inertia among Christian leaders? Is it slothfulness? Is it self-interest? Is it fearfulness? Is it an unwillingness to inculcate Christian self-government under the law of God? To do the right thing involves moral courage, and to know the right thing to do involves moral clarity. Do our leaders lack both?

Maybe we've not yet fully developed the concept of Christian self-government: it's still too embryonic in our imaginations to be able to stand on its own two feet. We read without understanding verses such as "the hand of the diligent shall bear rule" (Prov. 12:24) or "seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings ..." (Prov. 22:29) because we don't see ourselves as exercising leadership at the individual level, at the most basic level of government.

Dr. Rushdoony was justified in quoting Chadwick to the effect that "perhaps we are allowed to be comfortable because we are unfit to be heroic."2 We despise the day of small things and scoff at the ridiculously modest things that God fixes His total attention upon, such as a dirt-cheap plumb line (Zech. 4:10). We consequently support the status quo while hypocritically bemoaning it. We would rather overfeed our civil government nearly 11,000 times more than it should receive, fattening up our false god in the process, rather than to rule ourselves by the light of God's Word.3

Yet God graciously continues to cast a spark into the hearts of men and women who are willing to roll up their sleeves and exercise leadership over the most massive, the most difficult, the most challenging of all domains: themselves. These are the Christians who wisely reject calls to "take over civil government" but faithfully answer the call to take over the functions of civil government in their spheres of influence. You shrink the state by shrinking demand for it, and this is done from the bottom up, not the top down.4This is Biblical dominion. This is the reason why "the kingdom of God cometh not by observation" (Luke 17:20). This process involves destroying the demand for the vast majority of functions currently (mis)handled by civil government by providing a superior alternative.

The law of God provides the template for that superior, decentralized alternative. We have only to be faithful in applying it. As faithful Christians come to understand this, we shall soon see the hand of the diligent bear rule.

But if you're willing to let the state and federal governments take and spend, on average, $72,000 a year out of your family's budget, then there is nothing I could possibly say that will resonate with you. You've already chosen your true god and declared your actual allegiance, and I weep for your children.

But if you're already beginning to think about how you could use that kind of capital for the good of your family and for your Lord and Savior's Kingdom, you've already taken the most important step out of slavery: recognizing that godly dominion isn't achieved through co-opting the state but through Christian self-government. Self-government must increase, and civil government must decrease. There are no short cuts5 or easy ways out of statism-but there is a way out.6 By developing our spiritual capital first, we're actually building the road that will permit recovery of material capital and true liberty. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness [justice], and all these other things shall be given unto you."

1. Dr. Robert Fugate, "The Head Tax: The Only God-Endorsed Civil Tax," Faith for All of Life July/August 2012, 4ff., and the two subsequent issues of FFAOL where Dr. Fugate exposits Exodus 30:11-16 and its parallels. Dr. Fugate compellingly argues that this commandment remains an active part of the law that Christians are to establish (Rom. 3:31), notwithstanding our ignorance and neglect of it (or even our open hostility to it). The modern lust for credibility blinds us to the reality that being friends with the world makes us the enemy of God (James 4:4). We consequently resist entering into the radical multi-generational work He commends to us, preferring theological posturing that reeks of irresponsiblity from one end to the other - an option that's inherently popular (2 Tim. 4:3).

2. R. J. Rushdoony, Commentaries on the Pentateuch: Exodus (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2004), 207.

3. Even after paying these astronomical amounts (and incurring debt to cover what isn't extracted directly by taxation, and debauching our currency to cover the rest), the nation is unable to cure poverty among its people. Under Biblical law, poverty is eradicated completely without resorting to institutional means. Institutional solutions proceeding from the state only worsen poverty: it is a "war" we've lost because we in our arrogance rejected God's solution for it. See R. J. Rushdoony and E. A. Powell's discussion in the Chalcedon publication, Tithing and Dominion.

4. One should add that this process extends to other areas as well, e.g., health insurance, as exemplified so powerfully by the work of Samaritan Ministries. Note also that in the days of the early church, abortion entailed abandonment of newborns under bridges to die of exposure or predators. The Christians rescued the infants and raised them as their own. Dr. Rushdoony declared that the early church's response to Rome's barbarity represented Christian self-government with a vengeance-something which we need now more than ever.

5. R. J. Rushdoony consistently repudiated calls for the radical overthrow of social programs when no Christian alternatives had been successfully put in place to take up the resulting slack. He also rejected all calls for a tax revolt. He held that high taxes are a consequence, a symptom, an effect, of the collapse of Christian self-government, and they can only be rolled back when the root cause is addressed. To think otherwise constitutes moral insanity.

6. The key to this is the Holy Spirit's work through the gospel, bringing in the transformative power of "regeneration, not revolution" (as Rushdoony insisted).  Here are just a few of the Biblical applications already covered in detail over the last 48 years by Chalcedon's writers that point "the way out" to us: homeschooling, providing church courts, observing the poor tithe, observing the Biblical limits on long-term debt, observing the land Sabbaths, returning lost animals to their owners, abolishing limited liability corporation status, restoring a biblical doctrine of national defense, moving toward sound money, and implementing daily payment of workers. The last example is interesting because under God's law, there is no massive paperwork burden involved in paying workers daily as required by Lev. 19:13 (which teaches that payment on any longer timeframe constitutes robbery and defrauding of the laborer, inasmuch as the earnings are actually his property, not his employer's property, yet it's the employer who collects the interest on it). I'd also recommend getting rid of your television, but that's just me talking. If you can faithfully build God's Kingdom, rule your family, storm the gates of hell, and still have time to watch television, you're a better Christian than I am, and I applaud you for it. We need a lot more like you!

Martin G. Selbrede
  • Martin G. Selbrede

Martin is the senior researcher for Chalcedon’s ongoing work of Christian scholarship, along with being the senior editor for Chalcedon’s publications, Arise & Build and The Chalcedon Report. He is considered a foremost expert in the thinking of R.J. Rushdoony. A sought-after speaker, Martin travels extensively and lectures on behalf of Christian Reconstruction and the Chalcedon Foundation. He is also an accomplished musician and composer.

More by Martin G. Selbrede