“Gentlemen, we knew it would happen someday. And now it has.” Pastor Bryce Campbell took the measure of the men sitting around the table. “I’ve been audited.”
Terry threw his hands in the air. Paul’s head fell to the table. Vince groaned. Hal merely stared straight ahead as his eyes seemed to vibrate.
Vince rushed to gather himself together enough to ask the big question. “Does it mean you’ll be forced to resign?”
“Probably.” Bryce swallowed. He forced himself to hold Vince’s gaze. “They’ll want to look at my sermons, and we know that we don’t exactly toe the government line here.”
Terry’s fist fell on the table. “No! They can’t force us to fire you!”
“They can’t. But they can shut down the church for non-compliance with taxes. I’m technically your employee. If I’m not doing my patriotic duty and they can’t go after me, they go after you. Simple as that.” Bryce kept Terry’s eyes now. “It is better for me to resign than for this church to be closed.”
Paul sat up and wiped his eyes on a shirtsleeve. “So… that’s it, then. Stupid taxes. It’s bad enough for normal people.”
“Wait,” Terry interrupted, “Are we sure this is the end? You talk a lot about how we should obey the government.”
“Sure, but unless the auditor’s an underground Christian, I don’t think it’ll matter,” Bryce responded. “The tax code clearly says that 22.7% of all artistic output shall be used in service to the government. And since sermons fall under artistic output, well, I guess I’m just not certain that sermon applications will count for much. And we certainly don’t talk about the government a fifth of the time here; we talk about Jesus!”
“Damn straight!” Terry slapped his hand over his mouth. “Sorry, pastor.”
Bryce waved away the infraction. They were all more than a little tense.
The council sat quiet for a few minutes. The clock on the wall ticked. Hal started doodling on his notes. Vince’s fingers twitched; it was clear he wanted to text someone, but knew now was not the time. Bryce looked to each of the councilmen in turn, waiting for someone to ask the question he knew was coming.
Finally Terry heaved a great sigh. “So, besides praying, what should we do?”
Bryce gave a weak smile. “Pray, Terry. When we finish praying, we’ll pray some more.” Once more he looked around the table. The men were already defeated.
In the battle between Caesar and God, Caesar always seemed to win.
…in this world.
This post was written in response to the prompt, “Taxes.”