by Stanley Bohn
As war tax resisters the why-we-do-it shapes the what-we-do. Since our reasons for not paying part of our federal income tax are not to avoid all taxes, my wife Anita and I use probably the least clever ways to resist taxes. We reduce our taxable income by giving as much as we can to charitable causes, fill out tax forms, and send in about three-fourths of what we owe. The remaining $500 to $2,000 we send to antiwar groups, or aid to victims of war, or agencies underfunded because the federal budget is lopsided toward military spending.
Most Christians support war as necessary, so it may seem odd that we resist war taxes because we are trying to live by the spirit we see in Jesus. Our Christianity is the Martin Luther King Jr. type. We don’t try to make others believe what we do, as if we know the truth and they don’t. But we do try to let anyone interested know what we try to live.
So for the last 27 years, along with our income tax form, we send a letter explaining what we live for and that we aren’t keeping the part of the tax we withhold. (Pastors can be self-employed and not have taxes withheld by employers. So it is easier for us to divert part of our federal taxes.) We divert it to agencies that do more for people and our nation’s reputation than military solutions. We don’t have a rigid formula of the amount to divert from the IRS. We pay enough to support many good things our government does, especially programs for rehabilitation and medical care of veterans. Preparing federal tax forms enables us to easily calculate state income taxes, which we want to pay.
We are probably seen as naïve Mennonites who live cloistered lives out of touch with reality. But we are sufficiently in touch with reality to explain that the military ventures in Colombia, Middle East, Central America, covert CIA operations, the missile defense system, and superpower bullying around the world are harming our nation.
In our letters we explain we don’t prefer such illegal action each year, but the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill, allowing conscientious objectors to war taxes to instead support health and welfare programs, is stalled in Congress.
At times we have called an IRS 800 number to explain our actions to the surprised but patient IRS employees. Some are sympathetic. We care about the “why”; the IRS doesn’t. They refer us to someone else. We continue to get polite, impersonal, computer-generated notices telling us we owe money, or offering an easy payment plan, or threatening action against us, and even attempting to have the church that employed me pay the IRS what we owe. We answer every letter so the IRS may have a thick file of 3 or 4 letters a year for 27 years sharing the same convictions. Eventually, after a year or two the IRS confiscates what we owe, plus interest and penalty, from our bank account. We don’t hide our bank accounts as if we are in an adversarial game. Since we retired they instead reduce our social security payments until the government gets what we owe.
Is what we do worthwhile? With penalties and interest we pay more than we would otherwise. We do it anyway. Citizens of the superpower can’t ignore reality and should do what we can. But there are useful results. When I was with a Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation in the Middle East, people suffering from U.S. policies were encouraged to hear about war tax resisters. It gave us more credibility that we also “suffered” from U.S. policy. Paradoxically, our contacts in Latin America admired a government that allows this kind of dissent, not permitted in their countries. And also some local charities with cutbacks in federal support were helped by tax diversion. (However, the local newspaper would not cover the press conference of our tax resisters group presenting checks of our tax diverted funds to welfare agencies.)
What our family does made the local newspapers and generated some heated criticisms and support for tax diversion. It raised the issue in public, and some military veterans let us know they supported what we do. When others seek ways to counter this country’s addiction to violent, self-destructive solutions, we offer “tax diversion” as a way of refusing to be co-dependent for the addicted.
We are using our annual dilemma of violating the tax laws as reason for our city council to copy the city council of Providence, Rhode Island, which passed a resolution to support the Peace Tax Fund legislation. Maybe such community action will get the attention of our Kansas legislators who, unlike others, haven’t been moved to be co-sponsors of that bill.
The deepest motive for our activism is not to change our national policies. That kind of motivation makes us too cynical and sees others as evil obstacles instead of brothers and sisters caught in security fears. Our national leaders are convinced they have chosen the right way to security. We do tax diversion to point to another way that makes us more human, no matter how foolish this seems.
Stanley Bohn lives in Newton, Kansas, and is active with the Heartland Peace Tax Fund.
From the August 2006 issue of More Than a Paycheck.