Back in November, I wrote a post about the unfolding legal situation of Kent Hovind, as the news of the new set of charges he is facing was first coming into my purview. I haven’t written anything else on it since, aside from a random comment thread here or there. I just didn’t feel the time was yet right. I had to let it sit. Percolate I suppose. During this period I have been able to observe a fairly wide cross-section of the various reactions and attitudes towards Kent’s case held by both fellow Christians and people with quite opposing world views. Then suddynly, this last week it would seem that I have suddenly found my convictions reignited as to the urgency of this whole matter, and the broader application it truly has to the Body of Christ as a whole…
The most stirring new piece of discussion I found was in a recent blog post by Peter J. Reilly, a tax pundit of sorts who has been following Kent’s case for several years. The interesting bits weren’t so much in the post itself, which is fixated on some new “revelation” of letters which basically are being used in an attempt to (once again) make Kent out to be guilty of either perjury, stupidity or both, but instead manifested in the comments. I believe the sentiments expressed in these comments really do go a long way in illuminating so much of what is truly at the heart of this issue on the whole.
Firstly, we read:
“Making examples of scofflaws is part of the legitimate ends of law enforcement. And if the regular media ever pick up on the story, this is an ideal time to give the tax cheatin’ sovereign citizen movement some “noise and light”; with emphasis on those domestic terrorists like Kent and his people who insist on using God to cover for their criminal antics. In case you haven’t heard, Kent’s crimes are pretty serious, despite your efforts to diminish them. They don’t all get caught and the Government hasn’t the resources to prosecute them all and has to pick and choose their cases carefully. One of the legitimate goals as to the use of such cases as are chosen is to discourage others from acting out like Kent has.
The current charges are not because Kent and Paul conspired to file lis pendens. The current charges are because Kent and Paul conspired in a scheme that would be a violation of a court order and such criminal contempt for a court order is a most serious matter and it doesn’t really matter if you want to opine that it is not so.” (emphasis mine)
And then further down:
Sovereign citizens are domestic terrorists of the paper kind and on up to the murderous kind; it’s a spectrum disorder and we might get a very good display of the spectrum depending on who shows up in Pensacola for Kent’s trial if it goes forward.
The reason I would suggest that these kinds of statements are even worth noting is because they aren’t just coming from any random Joe on the internet. These are the words of a person who is without much question Kent’s most vociferous online detractor, and if you spend any time at all reading Peter J. Reilly’s material you are bound to be familiar with this fellow. It would be hard to overstate the significance of such diatribes, especially when compared to other instances where Kent is described as a “common tax cheat”. So which is it then? If Kent is in fact nothing more than a “common tax cheat”, then that would hardly be anything new, or unique, or by necessity tied to the so-called “sovereign citizen movement”, and it certainly wouldn’t rank up into the sphere of “domestic terrorism”! Yet there it is, and I really don’t believe this is just an application of hyperbole here, no, he truly means it. If that doesn’t raise an eyebrow or two, then hmmm, how so?
Ok. So those are some of the views expressed by an individual who vehemently dislikes Kent Hovind, prides himself on being a tax expert who fights the Constitutionality of tax benefits for pastors (something I’d actually agree with him on…) and as a staunch online apologist for Evolution holds a most visceral animosity towards Biblical Creationism. (Gee, no conflict of interest at all in his objectivity towards a man such as Kent, is there?) 😉
But what about other Christians? There are definitely a sort of “remnant” who are not afraid to voice their support, there is a large percentage who are largely agnostic or simply don’t quite know what to make of the whole affair (which is quite understandable really, as the convolutions are plentiful), and there are still yet a good many others who essentially come down on the side of completely throwing Kent under the “Romans 13 bus”. Another comment I read recently really summed this type of reaction up quite well:
I think scripture is quite clear in numerous locations regarding living under the authority of the government in which you are subject to – “render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar’s” also probably covers that angle, not just tithing. The Soveriegn Citizen movement is a bit of a sad, misguided lot and riddled with bad information and incredibly poor, naive interpretations of law. The fact that Kent has been even somewhat associated with their ideology is going to wreak havoc on his credibility if/when he decides to get back into the faith-debate realm – being associated with such a naive ideology takes him out of consideration [to many non-believers looking for legit answers] from the moment it is mentioned. Having a Social Security Number doesn’t mean you’ve taken “the mark”, nor does it mean you’re not subject to the laws of the land b/c of some back-woods, legal mumbo-jumbo you’ve heard that you thought sounded good. The Mark will be obvious, there will be a clear claim of allegiance required that is clearly anti-Christ. Is there the imprint of the beast-system being implaced throughout many parts of the world? Sure, the ground work is being laid, but there are many other countries that currently have it much worse than America now, particularly 8 years ago (unsure of conviction) or even farther back when he gave up his SSN (was it the 1970’s?). So not paying the proposer amount of taxes or reporting incomes and/or moving money around for the purpose of hiding/confusing does not make one a martyr in this current system. To get 8 years for a financial-related crime the evidence had to be substantial, recurrent and irrefutable.
So here again, we see Kent being tossed in with this “Sovereign Citizen movement”, and thus maligned for being rebellious, ignorant, paranoid, stubborn, disobedient to scripture, etc, while all kinds of blind (and in my opinion, very naïve) assumptions are being made, both about the evidence that “had to be substantial” in order to indict and convict Kent, and about matters of the “Beast system” as a whole and the eventual arrival of the Mark itself as well. (Ah, if only such faith was applied to God himself rather than fallen human systems…)
When you boil it all down, these are essentially the two basic criticisms of Kent Hovind as it applies to both his legal standing with courts, or his reputation amongst those who would call him their Brother in Christ. But is this really a true characterization of what it is truly at stake here? It is worthy of note that even Kent’s harshest opponents never go so far as to try and claim that he was trying to evade paying taxes for personal monetary gain (which is the typically assumed motive in most tax fraud cases, for obvious reasons!), and that is when and why allusions begin being made to the whole “sovereign citizen” movement, because in much the same way that the label “conspiracy theorist” has been gradually painted into being a very loaded and politically-charged term, “sovereign citizen” is now too a pejorative buzz word that conjures up all sorts of negative response. This is if course the intended reaction. You’re a “scofflaw”. A dangerous subversive, poisoning the minds of others with your insidious notions about the government just maybe not having the right to bureaucratize every aspect of your existence.
“Domestic terrorists of the paper kind”… Think about the significance of a concept like that being thrown around in the context of our modern “war on terror” cultural dialogue. This is not rare, inflammatory grandiloquence anymore. This is something people have been conditioned to actually buy into now…
But is Kent, and by extension his “Hovindicators” (as Reilly has now branded us), really a “sovereign citizen type”…?
I can’t speak for Kent, and Kent can’t very easily speak for himself, because Kent is still in prison. What I will say, is that as far as myself, I instead would have to call myself as being a part of the “Citizens of the Sovereign” movement. You might know it by a variety of other names. The Church. The followers of Jesus. The Bride of Christ. The true Israel…
In Christian circles and churches and pulpits, you will very often hear these familiar references to, and expansions upon, the “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” quotation. What has occurred to me of late, in a most profound way, is that what you don’t hear much expounding on is the other half of that line, the “and give to God what is God’s” part.
And so, after much meandering (I apologize), I would simply offer that this is the crux of it all. This is the point at which we have to stop and rethink a lot of our long-held assumptions, in believing that we’ve always had it all figured out in terms of what it means to live out our faith in the environment of a secular world and ruling government (and honestly, that’s fine, that’s how it should be…)
It is one thing to acknowledge that yes “Caesar’s face is on the coin” (or in the case of our American currency, perhaps another ‘deity’ altogether, but that’s a whole other tangent!) and accept that yes, if we are called to pay taxes, then ok, we pay those taxes. We obey the laws. We submit to the governing authorities. (Romans 13, right?) But what about if the governing authorities are mandating something which goes against that which God Himself has decreed? Didn’t Peter say something about “we must obey God rather than men”? Didn’t a bunch of guys get wind up being the “guests of honor” at a barbeque many centuries ago, because they wouldn’t bow their knee to something, or someone, who was in fact not God…?
So I leave you with this, and perhaps we can all continue to hammer this out and discuss it further as the conversation continues to unfold.
What if the real question at the root of all this is the honest and legitimate question of “What is Caesar doesn’t just want that which belongs to Caesar, but in fact really wants what is supposed to belong to God as well”…?
In other words, is the tax-collection infrastructure limited to simply being a benign mechanism which collects funds to pay for services that we all use (as in the simplistic model that we all agree with and consent to in theory), or can it also possibly be used as highly-persuasive means by which to leverage control and influence over the affairs of people, groups, etc., far beyond the matters of mere financial transactions and percentages owed to the State?
Is Kent’s “crime” that he simply didn’t want to pay taxes, or was it perhaps that he was audacious enough to first seek out, and then attempt to act upon, tangible means through which to limit the degree to which the government itself has political sway and financial muscle over one’s endeavors in the name of the Gospel…? For the vast majority of folks out there still operating under the tranquil reassurances of their 501(c)3 statuses, this is the kind of practical question that never materializes in their minds in the first place. Why would it? If you’re “following the rules”, and filling out the right forms, and filing the correct paperwork, then you’re “obeying God”, right? Does it really matter if the net result of all these financial regulations and corporate-structuring requirements that have slowly been eased upon the backs of churches over this past century is that at the end of the day, your church is corporation, an entity whose legal existence is wholly dependent upon the dictates of the government? In China and other places, we call those “State Churches”. The true Body of Christ in China, however, doesn’t darken their doors. They went “underground”. They don’t file paperwork, or report the amounts of their offerings to the State, or share all the information they have about their congregants with the government officials..(!) And yet, we don’t hear too many Christians in America scolding them, and preaching “Romans 13” across the Pacific, now do we…?
“Well that Communist China, Strange!” you say. And yes, I know. Communist China, where for decades Christians found to be part of the “non-sanctioned” underground church were usually simply jailed and beaten, but nowadays face more “sophisticated and multi-dimensional types of persecution than in the past“. Remember, according to Chinese authorities, there is no “persecution” of Christians in China, and all such talk is nonsense and the stuff of laughable conspiracy theory…. 😉
But what you? Brother, or Sister, who claims to believe and adhere to the Word which tells us “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me”…? What are YOU prepared to face, to endure, if you found yourself in the position of realizing that “Caesar” really wasn’t just content to stay over on his ordained side of the aisle, collecting what God has stated is rightfully his, but has in has crept across a very sacred line, in a most subtle and beguiling way, and is in fact maneuvering to take “sovereignty” over that which is ONLY called to be subject to God alone…? How exactly does one go about re-delineating those arenas, whereby you strive to be obedient in terms of paying taxes on the one hand, but not inadvertently subjecting oneself to totalitarian control by the State in the process…? Many Christians are all too ready to completely disassociate themselves from Kent, because they’ve now seen the kind of concrete casualties that can result from trying to redraw that ever-blurring line, or even seeking to navigate backwards through a dizzying minefield of corporatocratic stanchions, while they themselves refuse to recognize that the minefield even exists in the first place, let alone venture a single toe into such uncharted and treacherous waters.
So what about you, would you risk being deemed a “terrorist of the paper kind”, because you ultimately gave more authority to the words printed on the paper pages of God’s Word than things printed on paper by man…?