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Tax Quandary

  If you’re like me you put off doing your taxes. You know that in the spring it’s not always easy to find a weekend that both you and your spouse can clear the table, sit down with the calculator and all the receipts, and do the tabulations to get the Form 1040 and accompanying Schedules A, B…filled in. To be quite honest I dislike having to get it done. How about you?

I know that one of my reasons for putting it off is that I am also aware that I don’t feel good about where all the tax money I pay goes. You see my wife and I are religious people and we take our faith seriously. For us, as Christians, we believe in nonviolence. We try to follow the way of life that Jesus taught as spelled out in Matthew 5, the Beatitudes: Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God. Somehow spending at least forty cents of each tax dollar for wars – past, present and future – doesn’t seem part of what Jesus would be encouraging us to do.

Now this is nothing new for me. I’m old enough to remember the inscription over the Armed Forces Entrance and Examination Station at 39 Whitehall Street in lower Manhattan, one’s last stop before they put you on the bus for basic training at Ft. Dix and eventually on the ship or plane to Vietnam. It read “The War Department.” That was the first time I learned that the term “Defense Department” was a post-World War II invention. Something that George Orwell called “Doublespeak.”  

As part of my unease with paying for war while praying for peace, I happened across a book about a Presbyterian preacher named George Edwards who also had qualms about paying war taxes. He wrote:

“For too long the decision for Christ or Caesar has been assigned to young men and women, usually jobless and bored, or too inexperienced to measure the consequences they face when military recruiters picture for them futures bright with vocational benefits and travel to exotic places. War tax resistance places the weight of decision about the human future where it belongs: upon all of us old enough and secure enough to ask what it means to pray for peace and pay for war. Saying ‘no’ to Caesar is a tough, frightening decision, but it could be, in the grace of God, one step toward a new human future.”

My wife and I took that step this month when we mailed our taxes. Although our Form 1040 indicated that we owed a certain amount of money, we chose to join a growing number of taxpayers who withhold $10.40 for peace. We sent the $10.40 to a peace organization as a prayer for peace. It is a small but symbolic gesture. Hopefully a step toward a day when in the words of the prophet Isaiah 2:4, they “shall hammer their swords into ploughshares, their spears into sickles. Nation will not lift sword against nation, there will be no more training for war.”  

Jack Payden-Travers is Executive Director of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund.