Local Ministers Challenge Church to Support their War Tax Resistance
A United Methodist agency is collaborating with the Internal Revenue Service in an action against a United Methodist conscientious objector, and the targeted person is asking the agency to reconsider its action, based on statements in the denomination's Social Principles.
For release: Monday, January 15, 2007
For more information contact:
Rev. John Schwiebert 503 281-3697 firstname.lastname@example.org
Pat Schwiebert 503 281-3697 pat @tearsoup.com
On January 1, 2007 the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church reduced the monthly pension benefit paid to one of its retired clergy, Rev. John Schwiebert of Portland, Oregon, by $1,641.21. The Board sent that amount instead to the IRS in response to an official Notice of Levy.
The Notice of Levy instructs the pension agency to transfer to the IRS comparable amounts from subsequent monthly benefit payments due to Rev. Schwiebert until an alleged Federal income tax debt for the years 2002 and 2003 is paid, a process that could take about 5 months.
Rev. Schwiebert and his wife Pat are planning to appear in person before the Board of Directors of the GBOPHB to ask the Board to consider alternatives to unquestioned cooperation with the IRS. The Board is scheduled to meet in Hollywood, Florida on January 26, 2007.
The Schwieberts will argue that the Board ought to assist them in their act of conscientious civil disobedience, rather than to collaborate with the IRS in collecting money from them to be used for military purposes.
They base their argument on statements in the United Methodist Social Principles, which "reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy," and "assert the duty of churches to support those who suffer because of their stands of conscience represented by non-violent beliefs or acts."
"It would be strange indeed," says Rev. Schwiebert, "were the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits to offer nothing more than sympathetic verbal support to one of its own clergy, while actively collaborating with a government agency to penalize that clergy person and his family because they put their non-violent faith into action, based on the denomination's social principles."
The Schwieberts also point out that, as conscientious objectors to war they performed the equivalent of "alternative service," by giving the amounts they refused to pay ($7,500 for 2002 and 2003) to another government agency that does not promote military violence. On tax day, April 15, 2004 the couple presented a "redirected tax" check for that amount to the Board of Commissioners of Multnomah County (Oregon).
The cut in the Schwiebert's pension benefit for January will affect not only the two of them, but also others with whom they live in an intentional Christian servant community affiliated with their local UMC. Currently their pension check is deposited directly into a communal household account along with the income of seven other persons who, like the Schwieberts, have taken a vow of poverty.
These collective amounts barely cover communal living expenses, plus a modest discretionary allowance for each individual in the household.
If the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits is unwilling to halt its payments to the Internal Revenue Service, the Schwieberts have said that they might voluntarily relinquish more than half of their monthly benefit from the General Board of Pension and health Benefits, for the rest of their lives, if necessary, to bring the benefit below the level that the IRS can legally levy.
Such an action would not be a new thing for the Schwiebert household. Pat currently works full-time for a stipend of $350 a month, making it impossible for the IRS to collect thousands of dollars in federal taxes which she has redirected to non-profit social service agencies over the past two decades.
Also, for about fifteen years prior to his retirement, John voluntarily served as full time pastor of a United Methodist congregation at a compensation level that provided a less-than-taxable income.
"Civil disobedience can be a costly choice," says Pat. "But I can't imagine the alternative, which would be to tell Jesus we can't follow him because we care more about money, or because we have decided to obey the demands of a corrupt empire rather the than the clear commands of the Prince of Peace to love our enemies rather than kill them."
But the Schwieberts clearly would prefer a decision by the General Board, to either engage in its own act of conscientious non-cooperation with the IRS, at least to ask the IRS to rescind the levy on the basis that it is inappropriate for the IRS to demand that a church body serve as its collection agent, especially when issues of religious belief are at stake.
According to the Schwieberts, "The church simply must do more than make statements about its opposition to war, and to such travesties as the current occupation of Iraq. Our government is able to do such morally repugnant things only because Christians, who are a significant majority in this country, tend to quietly acquiesce to the principalities and powers of the world rather than to the clear call of Jesus Christ."
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