The Prince of Peace preoccupies some of our attention in December, when we celebrate his birth and life—a divine savior for some of us and a radical leader for others.
A month later, year after year, we find ourselves torn between his teachings and the demands of our government. January comes and it is tax season again. Once again, many of us are in that double bind that finds us praying for peace and paying for war.
Swords into Plowshares
Among Friends, there is not much debate about whether war taxes are problematic. Depending upon the federal budget for the year and how you count the line items, about half of our income tax dollars will be used for the outrageous costs of war. Thousands of our personally earned dollars will be used to enrich the military-industrial complex, to make killers of young men and women, and to cause death and destruction in the world. Letting our own money be used this way is not consistent with good stewardship, with right sharing, with Quaker testimonies, or with Christian teachings.
The question of whether and how we can resist is much more complex. Standing up to Goliath is possible only for the most confident David.
People in the United States tend to be a bit nervous about math, money, IRS auditors, and breaking the law. Only a few of us are rebels by nature. The rest of us have to deal with a variety of anxieties, some of them subconscious, before we can become tax resisters.
We have been taught to fear an IRS audit. We believe (perhaps wrongly) that any letter we might send with our IRS 1040, explaining our conscientious objection to war will surely trigger an audit. For me, the very thought sets off memories of Miss Towne in third grade, giving me a D on my arithmetic paper. What if the IRS finds out that I made mistakes in addition and subtraction?
The possibility of getting that audit triggers guilt about the minor ways in which I may have been careless with tax returns in the past. Even though "everybody does it" or my tax accountant may have advised it, as a Quaker, I am supposed to adhere to a single standard of truth. What if the IRS looks into my prior returns and finds discrepancies? It may not be likely, but still, before I can become a tax resister, I have to overcome these fears.
Speaking of my tax accountant, she’s been doing my taxes for years. But I bet she is a political conservative. When she finds out that I am going to hold back 41 percent of what I owe the IRS, will she refuse to work with me anymore? How will I ever find a new person? Before I can become a tax resister, I have to deal with this worry.
I am proud of the fact that I manage money well, find bargains, research big purchases, and never throw away my money. I pay off my credit card bill promptly and avoid paying interest as much as possible. But if I hold back half of my IRS bill, eventually I will have to pay interest and penalties as well. The government will get even more of my money to use on its wars. Will this be a waste of my money? Or will it just be the cost of engaging in this kind of protest? I have to decide.
It takes time, too, to engage in war tax resistance. I will have to research the various options for resistance, discuss it with my spouse, explain it to other people, write letters. I am so stretched already—how can I find the time? But how can I not? Serious evil and damage are being done in my name and with my money. What are my priorities and values here?
And then what about breaking the law? I am a law-abiding citizen. Of course, that increases my credibility when I commit civil disobedience. But I have my reputation to consider. What if my boss or my mother-in-law finds out about this? Will people understand that as a Quaker I must follow a higher law? That my religious mandate, according to our Quaker Faith and Practice, is to help "remove the causes of war and destruction of the planet, and bring about lasting peace"?
Start Small, Start Now
These hurdles are too high for some of us when we first start along the war tax resistance path, and it is fine to start small. We can engage in phone tax resistance (ask your phone company not to include the federal excise tax on your long distance bill), symbolic protest (when you file your IRS 1040, hold back $10.40, or a multiple thereof), or become advocates for the Peace Tax Fund (see http://www.peacetaxfund.org).
Many of us don’t have the option of holding back money from the IRS because taxes are already withheld from our paychecks every two weeks. At the end of the year, the IRS owes us money. There is no "balance due" for us to keep back. But by a rough estimate, some 20 percent of Quakers are self-employed, retired, living on welfare benefits, or otherwise not involved with paychecks and IRS withholding. These people are often in a good position to take the lead in war tax resistance. For detailed information, contact the War Resisters League at http://www.warresisters.org.
An additional challenge is being open about our refusal to pay for war. If we live "below the line" in order not to pay taxes, but our colleagues and our government representatives do not know that we are taking this political stand, then we accomplish nothing but a sense of personal righteousness. Sample letters are readily available and make it easy to tell our government representatives that we oppose tax funding for war. Even when we do pay our taxes, we can make it clear that we are paying under protest.
It is harder to make such statements forcefully to our colleagues at work, our extended families, a newspaper editor, or a TV camera. But this is a part of the challenge before us. It is easier when we do it together, supporting one another as war tax resisters in our monthly and regional meetings. The time is overripe. Many of us are ready. Let’s follow the Prince of Peace along this path.