Christianity and the Black Market

By Stew

Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him. Mark 12:17

I would like to start a discussion. I honestly do not know exactly where I stand when it comes to some of the ethical questions surrounding government controlled economies, confiscatory tax rates, the black market and necessity. Our American economy has traditionally been laisezz-faire. It called for very little government control. Our tax rates have been low relative to the rest of the world and most goods and services can be obtained at a reasonable price.

As we look around the world, we readily see that our economy is out of the ordinary. Most of the world, with few exceptions, has adopted the command economy model where government controls the means of production to varying degrees. Some economies are considered light socialism like the U.K. and most of western Europe, other economies are tightly controlled by the government to the point that they are considered communist – North Korea, Cuba, etc. Over the past 50 years, the US economy is trending toward more and more government control. From the Federal Reserve Act in 1917 to price controls in the 1970’s to bank bailouts and national health care in the 2000’s, we are on a steady march toward a communal economy.

When government clamps down on profits, either through price controls, high taxes or single payer type systems, goods and services become scarce or so poorly made so as to be worthless. When the necessities of life cannot be provided through legal means, a black market economy inevitably springs up. I am not interested in debating the politics of all of this. Regardless of your political leanings, it is a fact that as government control increases, so does the operation of the black market.

If you are a Christian, to what extent do you or will you participate in the underground economy? Let me give a few scenarios in order to get things started:

Price controls have emptied the shelves of your local grocery store. The store can no longer afford to bring the products to the consumer at the rates set by government. You plant a huge garden in your backyard and begin to sell vegetables to your neighbors. Will you pay taxes on this money? What if in order to sell vegetables, the government forces you to obtain a license that eats into your profits?

If your child needs an operation and he is on a government waiting list. You hear of a physician who is willing to do the operation “off the books” for cash. Can a Christian participate in an underground health care economy?

You need gasoline for your vehicle. You cannot afford the gasoline from the state-sanctioned provider, but you know that your neighbor gets fuel “tax free” from a farmer who has his own tank and is allowed to purchase gasoline wholesale as long as it is used for crop production.

You start a home daycare that is not licensed by the state because you cannot afford the license, the reqired upgrades to your home and the accompanying taxes. Nonetheless, you care for your friend’s children in exchange for cash under the table every day.

You need to send a package to a relative in another state. There is only the government run package service and you know that in order for your package to be delivered, you must bribe the worker who processes your order.

Do you report every bit of income and pay taxes on it?

The government requires everyone to use the pharmaceuticals provided by the state-run healthcare, however the drugs are in scarce supply, furthermore, you read about a drug that might be much better for your situation. You find out that some people are smuggling that particular drug from Canada and you can get some medicine for a small, under the table fee.

I cannot answer every one of these questions/scenarios completely. God makes it clear that Christians are to submit ourselves to government, but does that include when the life or well-being of a child or loved one is at stake? I would like to hear from you because in order to set my ethics in these matters, I need to hear as many perspectives as possible. And if you do not share my view that we are headed for a culture where the black market is a big part of our lives, that’s fine – I would still like to hear your perspective on how a Christian should deal with the issue of the underground economy. – Article by Stew

Photo by Rhett Maxwell

19 Responses (including trackbacks) to “Christianity and the Black Market”

  1. Sheri Says:

    I personally feel that we are to obey our government, insofar as it follows God’s principles. Most of the scenarios you describe, in my opinion, show a government vastly overreaching their authority and in fact abusing said authority. I don’t think I would have any ethical problems participating in the “underground economy” in most of these situations.

  2. Stew Says:

    That’s interesting, Sheri. I think I want to agree with you, but the government in Christ’s day was also overreaching . . .

  3. Keehun Says:

    This is interesting… Something not a lot of us bother to think through..

  4. Mike Says:

    I think you cannot be blamed for helping/feeding/rescuing someone else. Aren’t we all on earth to help each other? This, unfortunately, mean that we have (sometime) to slightly bypass some government rules as you mentioned in your examples.

    However, when it comes to declare income, this should be done according to the laws. Unfortunately, I think the problem gets worse when you look outside the US.

    Reporting all your income sources in the US will result in more taxes. However, it the price would become twice bigger if you simply move north in Canada. Hence the temptation becomes greater when your tax rate reach 50%. Nonetheless, I prefer to follow the government laws!

  5. Wendy Says:

    I agree with Sheri in that we should obey our government if they are following God’s principles. The scenerios you describe show a greedy government that is money and power driven rather than driven by the well being of it’s people. Our government today does not serve God….it’s serves money and is enslaving us all with the strongholds of Debt. Next step is to control religion and who will be at the top of the list to remove…..our God, our Savior, our Lord, Jesus Christ. I’ll grab the flashlight……”underground” here I come.

  6. Aaron Says:

    Very good article and very good question.

    There are a ton of areas in scripture that touch on this issue (ie: Israel wants a king even after Samuel warns them what would happen, Whole situation with Ahab, Jezebel and Elijah, etc, etc) so it is difficult to highlight everything in this format but here is a rough stab at it…

    As you mentioned, Christians are called to support the Government (Matthew 22, 1 Peter 2) and are directed to participate in good acts to silence criticism of foolish people instead of attacking them. However, we are also told that if we don’t take care of our own household, we are worse than unbelievers (1 Timothy 5) and that we are to obey God instead of men. How do we balance these?

    The key is understanding that the State has ordained authority in specific areas just as the church (ie: priesthood) and family have authority over separate areas. When the State gets too big for its proverbial britches and starts encroaching into areas where it simply does not belong (see story of King Uzziah in 2 Chronicles 26 or Neby’s Statue in Daniel 3) or acting in an evil manner (see
    King Ahab in 1 Kings 21) then we are called to obey the Lord instead of the State…

    To back this up from scripture, when King Neby decided to overreach his bounds and threatened to throw Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah into the fire if they didn’t obey they were right to refuse his order and God protected them. Elijah was also behaving correctly when he spoke the truth to King Ahab (1 Kings 17). Needless to say, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel were kinda miffed about this but again, God not only protected Elijah but also used him to kick the priests of Baal right square in the keister.

    …we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up…

    Likewise, when the various counselors in Persia decided they would try to silence Daniel by issuing a decree that you could only pray to the king. Daniel didn’t throw a fuss or start an action committee. He just simply went to his window and prayed like he always did (Daniel 6). When the unjust rulers threw him in the Lion’s den, the Lord again protected him and his accusers paid the price.

    This was present in the early church as well. When the oppressive Roman government was causing problems, church members, got together to support each other (Acts 2).

    I guess the end story is, to ask who is really in charge anyway? I know the politicians think they run the country and possibly even the world in some cases but they are sorely mistaken… serve the true King and ask for his wisdom and, call me crazy, but I think you’ll be ok…

    Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
    “Never will I leave you;
    never will I forsake you.”

    Hebrews 13:5

  7. micki Says:

    i like aaron’s answer. a lot of times we think we have to protect our “rights” and therefore do a lot of things that don’t point to Christ. God is our protector. Look at Christians in other countries. They have had to deal with these problems a lot longer than those of us who live here. So maybe the answer is to ask someone who lived thru Soviet Russia who was a Christian at the time? :) easier said than done!

    i am also one who needs to work thru those questions. i will say this. i am a single mom who has had to work like a dog to keep things rolling (i also homeschool). i declare my tips even though no one would know any differently (from what the customers send directly to me – i deliver newspapers). it is difficult sometimes to do so, especially being self-employed, since that means a bit more money out to the government (sigh).

    All that to say: God is faithful. There are things He has done for me through others, even when no one knew things were tough (my entire tax bill in June was paid by someone in my church, where NO ONE knew i couldn’t pay my June taxes). God is good, faithful and if He allows us to go thru times like you describe, He will make a way somehow and if He doesn’t, then maybe what ensues afterwards is a way for someone else to come into the kingdom. I think sometimes we forget that is the most important thing in our lives… not that we are taken care of or comfortable or even that we have everything that we need but God is growing His kingdom thru US…and how we act/think/speak has an affect on that. (scary stuff.)

    anyway, my $.02, which is probably all its worth :)

  8. Stew Says:

    Aaron, your comment needs to be a post. :) Lot’s for me to ponder there.

    Micki, self-employment is the area of greatest temptation. There are many places where honesty can cost you money.

    Good discussion, I hope there is more.

  9. Steve Says:

    1 – If my memory serves me well, somebody went to Jesus and asked Him if he should pay outrageous taxes (or something like that). Jesus asked the person: “whose face is on the coin?” He answered back, Ceasar’s. The Lord said, give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. So, where there is a question of the government wanting its money back, give it back. You may have “earned” it, but the government has its face on it. Not God’s face on it. It is hard, but Jesus was clear on that.
    2 – Jesus healed somebody on the Sabbath and some people were not happy about it. (Again, my memory may be off a little.) I believe Jesus said something to the effect that it was okay to do good on the Sabbath. I interpret it to mean that if you action is going to benefit somebody, and you are doing it totally selflessly. It is okay to do it. Now, one may ask if not working on the Sabbath was both God’s law and State Law. Jesus gives a pass on breaking God’s law if what you are going is of higher purpose. [My interpretation.] However, I am not sure what His take is on breaking State/government law. You would think God’s law ranks higher, therefore if you can get a pass on that then you will get a pass on State law. Not sure. I think that the other questions where you have a question of healing somebody or saving somebody, you motives for doing whatever you do and in the process breaking the law matter to God. If you save me while expecting issuing an IOU at the same time, you have sinned.
    Well, I think I have written enough. Thanks for the post. It is going to be food for thought for a while longer.

  10. Michael Says:

    @ Wendy

    I’m with you and I’m bringing the chips!

  11. Joe Plemon Says:


    Thought provoking post with great scenarios. So allow me to add my two cents worth.

    We are people under authority…parents, teachers, church leaders, government, etc. Because we honor God by honoring the authorities he has established, we must do so up to the point where the delegated authority requires us to act contradictory to the Supreme Authority (God himself).

    I think we Christians need to be very careful about justifying disobedience to a delegated authority, be it parents or government, just because the one in authority is less than noble. After all, Peter challenged his readers to “honor the emperor”, (1 Peter 2:17)who many historians believe was Nero at the time.

    The time for civil disobedience is when the authority orders us to disobey God. The same Peter said to the Jewish leaders, “We must obey God rather than man” Acts 5:29 Daniel continued his habit of prayer after the kind issued an edict not to. Why? Because he didn’t want to dishonor God.

    I might have gotten off track a bit with the black market questions, but these priciples of authority are good principles to go by.

  12. Ashley Says:

    I find this post to be deeply troubling. Despite claiming to not want to debate the politics, you’ve rather implicitly stated your position. You talk about laissez-faire, socialism, and communism, and then talk about the worst case scenarios that can be present in the type of government control in socialism and communism. Is it really a far jump to say that is where you see this country headed? And yet I don’t think you would call many small, “third-world” countries in Africa and Asia socialist or communist, but they have rampant black markets as well. Which suggests that there is something quite beyond what our labels of governments would imply.

    Anyways, I propose that you do another post debating the concept of laissez-faire. Because you are not debating how close countries come to the actual concepts of socialism and communism, you are debating what you see to be the real world effects of these policies. A market economy is no different. Adam Smith’s idea of an invisible hand is just that, an idea. The idea of letting the market figure things out ignores reality, which is that you can’t predict what people will do and how they will act. It ignores the fact that capitalism is skewed toward the rich, who already have more money and resources than the rest of us and slant the playing field accordingly. It didn’t envision monopolies or price setting between companies. For workers to have any say (without unions), requires that there be more than enough jobs in any particular field so that if a worker is dissatisfied they can leave, and so that the owner does not feel they can treat their workers poorly and with impunity.

    Additionally, in capitalism (I know I am conflating capitalism with laissez-faire, but I honestly don’t see how to separate the two in reality),the goal is profits. There are clearly too many people, Christians included, who take this to its utmost extreme. For instance, one government control on production, that of laws and regulations related to the FDA, arose because of the number of people who died and became sick from canned foods. If we didn’t have environmental regulations I don’t think companies would care what they did in that regard either. I don’t think laissez-faire works in these areas because if you are very poor and cannot produce your own food, or cannot afford to live in an area that doesn’t have contaminated water, ground, etc., then the market does you no good, because you have to take the cheapest option regardless of the consequences on you and your family.

    Lastly, I am curious as to why the concept at least of something like socialism does not appeal to more Christians. In theory, they are aimed at providing all people with a certain level of comfort, i.e. home, food, health, by spreading that cost across society as a whole. In concept, this seems very much along Christian values and akin to tithing, except that your charity is required. The realities of socialism can be debated, but I’ve always thought that capitalism is much more antithetical to many Christian values than socialism is. And ultimately, while there are many things within government that I wish my taxes weren’t going towards, there are also many services that are provided with my money that are very worthwhile (as someone with a sister who has Down’s Syndrome I know that on a very personal level). If you aren’t willing to part with some of your money to the government, then I don’t see that you would be willing to part with much of your money or time to a person in need either.

  13. Rob Says:

    If your child needs an operation and he is on a government waiting list. You hear of a physician who is willing to do the operation “off the books” for cash. Can a Christian participate in an underground health care economy

    Never mind religion. As a “human being” I will get my child the operation. You dont need religion to have common sense.

  14. Faerylandmom Says:

    Incredibly interesting post.

    Using the scriptures about “give to Ceasar what is Ceasar’s, to God what is God’s”, as well as those already mentioned about obedience to authority, I don’t think this area is very muddy at all.

    We obey the laws of our land, and the authorities who create and enforce them unless there is a direct contradiction to God’s word. For example, if reading a Bible is banned – I would obey God’s word and read anyway.

    We are not guaranteed protection for doing this – take a look at the countless Christians martyred from Stephen on, but we are guaranteed eternal rewards that “far outweigh them all”. (2Cor 4:16-18)

    In this black market scenario, there are some things that do not jive with God’s word – i.e. allowing a child to suffer when the treatment they need can be obtained before the gov’t would allow it. I know I would take care of my child first.

    However – as far as taxes go, God’s word is clear. Pay them. In the US, specifically, where we have a say in our gov’t; I believe that if we have voted, called representatives to make our desires known, and done what we can to help shape laws, then we can stand before God clean, no matter what the gov’t uses the taxes for. And praise God, we can work between elections to raise up others to stand with us for truth and justice and rightness.

    The question is: Is God really in control or not? His word says that he IS in control, and has not only allowed the leaders we have, but has PUT THEM IN PLACE for a purpose. (Rom 13:1-6). We don’t have to agree with/support the government, only submit to its authority where it is under God’s. He promises over and over and over to provide for our needs, and even though that doesn’t always look like what we think it will, we can trust him to do right by us. Even if all we have is a cardboard box and a few stray crusts, if our heart is right before God, there is nothing on this earth that can take away our inheritance in Christ as a citizen of heaven.

    I hope I made sense…GREAT discussion.

  15. Funny about Money Says:

    Some of the examples leave me puzzled. For example, I can’t recall ever having to bribe a U.S. postal worker to send a package. One might have to do so in Mexico, but that’s not a function of the government’s postal system; it’s a function of poverty and desperation.

    And I wonder not only about the legality but also about the ethics of secretly operating a day care that hasn’t been inspected for sanitation and safety.

    My own son, for example, was nearly injured when I left him with a woman who was running exactly such an operation–too late, I discovered she was letting the kids play out in the front in the driveway that led direct to the street. There I found them swarming over a van, climbing up on the rear-end ladder, and jumping up and down on it. Reminding her that just a couple of weeks earlier a little boy had been killed when he was jumping up and down on the rear ladder of a van and the transmission had slipped out of “park” elicited a blank look. The child fell off and was run over by both the rear and front tires as the vehicle rolled down the driveway into the road.

    If one decides to do business with unlicensed operators, one takes one’s chances, I guess.

    Speaking of roads and socialism, the United States has been a “socialist” country as long as its federal, state, county, and city governments have built roads, schools, libraries, and other such baleful tools. A road forces us to drive along specific routes that we might not choose to use if it were legal for us to take off cross-country, through whatever backyard and across whatever and park we choose. Libraries force us to read the holdings that libraries can afford to buy. Schools…horrors! Don’t get me started!!! Then there’s the army, the ultimate socialistic institution, which takes our children away and subjects them to death and dismemberment. It’s all been going on for a lot longer than 50 years. Maybe even since 1776 or so. What on earth can we do to reverse this trend?

    On the other hand, to argue that a god has put leaders, no matter how good or evil, in place for some cosmic reason and therefore we must obey is to argue that Adolf Hitler rose because God had a reason for killing every Jew, homosexual, and mentally retarded person the Germans could get their hands on, and therefore it was right and meet that the Germans should obey. It just doesn’t make sense.

    To argue that civil disobedience is justified when a leader tells you to disobey God is to assume that you really do know what God wants, and, we might add, that one’s own vision of God a) is true and b) applies to everyone else. Isn’t a bit presumptuous?

  16. MikeG Says:

    Many of these “underground” methods seem like ways that we’re either trying to force our way on our schedule (operation for child), or to increase consumption (cheap farmers gas).

    While i would probably get the operation done off the books if offered, because it is necessary and maybe Gods hand offering the way out. Only prayer and hearing from God in the situation can tell us if this is the case.

    But in the case of farmer’s gas, who said anything about the right to drive? Drive less, you might meet some interesting people on the bus. You might be healthier on a bike. You might realize that you only need to goto work a few days a week if you got rid of that cash sucking car ( or TVs, internet, new clothes, etc.). And similarly for most other forms of consumption of goods. Why get a discount on a “hot” TV when really you’re better off without a tv? If you’re better off without it, ~any~ price is too much.

    my2c :)

  17. Gary Says:

    I take issue with your premise, that “Over the past 50 years, the US economy is trending toward more and more government control. From the Federal Reserve Act in 1917 to price controls in the 1970′s to bank bailouts and national health care in the 2000′s, we are on a steady march toward a communal economy.”

    Nixon’s wage and price controls were a failure and were dropped. Bank bailouts were temporary, and probably prevented a Depression. The ACA is not nationalized health care as practice in Canada, UK, and other nations; rather, it is a market-based conglomeration that the conservative Heritage Foundation proposed in the 1980s as a capitalist alternative to national health.

    I’ve lived and worked in countries such as you describe, and the US is nowhere near them.

  18. Gary Says:

    And I should add, I’ve lived in countries where people cannot survive without the informal economy. We should be grateful we don’t live like that and deal with reality, not “what could be.”