Where Your Heart Is

Jesus said that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. And when it comes to those who want to serve as our next President, we might want to take a peek at where their treasure is.

It has almost become standard procedure that if you want to run for some significant political office, you will be asked, almost expected, to disclose your personal tax returns. If you’re not asked, one candidate will do it, and then challenge all the rest.

Gov. Rick Perry

Recently Governor Rick Perry released 18 years’ worth of tax returns to show that he would not have lots of potential personal conflicts with the financial markets and with businesses that could affect his decisions as President. No doubt this is an appropriate consideration when evaluating a candidate—what conscious or even subconscious conflicts might he or she have that will influence political economic decisions. And no doubt the disclosure was also a way to put a doubt about potential conflicts in the minds of those who might support the very wealthy Mitt Romney. But something else has been disclosed by those returns that perhaps should be given consideration.

But before I bring that up, let me hasten to say that the observation that follows should not be taken to mean that Governor Perry should not be President. And it’s not to say that the same consideration might not also be relevant to the other candidates; they just have not released their returns. And really, it’s something that everyone who professes to be a Christian should consider with respect to himself or herself.

That being said, here’s the premise: If a person wants to say that a lot of what government does should be done by the private sector, such as caring for the poor, the widow and the orphan, and if the person wants to tout his or her Christian faith, then that person’s charitable giving should reflect those values.

Here’s what a summary of 18 years’ worth of Governor Perry’s tax returns shows:

  • Overall percentage of giving over these 18 years was 1.28% (and much of this 1.28% was giving to the nonprofit organization restoring the governor’s mansion). Once you take out non-Christian giving, his contributions to church or evangelical-related organizations is about 0.47% (less than one half of one percent).
  • Only for 2 years did cash contributions come close to or exceed 10%: 8.86% in 2005 and 10.02% in 2009 (both years largely due to contributions to the restoration of the governor’s mansion).
  • In the big income years, 1995, 1999, and 2007, his giving was 0.06%, 0.40%, and 0.04%, respectively.

When any Christian politician’s giving to Christian causes is below 1%, then perhaps it is appropriate to ask about the purity of the politician’s motives behind overtures for Christian support.

I’m not saying Governor Perry is not a Christian, nor am I saying any Christian whose giving is less than 1% is not a real Christian. I am saying Christians dare not let themselves become nothing more than a voting block whose support can be captured by sound bites without thoughtful evaluation of all the information available.

And all of us who profess to follow Jesus need to examine ourselves to see if our hearts and wallets are as baptized as our heads. It just could be that we’ve allowed the government, whose size we complain of, to do what we have been called to do. And if that’s the case, to expect government to get smaller may require something of a Bible-sized miracle.