Back in January, I mentioned the case of John and Pat Schwiebert. The Schwieberts are war tax resisters, now retired and living on John’s United Methodist Church pension. The IRS levied this pension and has been demanding that the UMC send some of it to them instead of to the Schwieberts.
The Schwieberts responded by asking the UMC to stop cooperating with the IRS levies.
They cited the “Social Principles” of the UMC, which read in part: “We assert the duty of churches to support those who suffer because of their stands of conscience represented by nonviolent beliefs or acts.” They asked the church to put some meat on those bones.
, the church decided that they’d back up their noble words… with more noble words:
The pension agency of The United Methodist Church has sent a letter of protest to the Internal Revenue Service over the U.S. tax agency’s garnishment of a retired clergyman’s pension.
However, the Rev. John Schwiebert says he is disappointed that the only action taken by the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits is the letter.
The letter objects to the board’s role as “collection agent” while acknowledging “its obligation to obey the law.” It was signed by Bishop Ben R. Chamness, chairman of the agency’s board of directors.
A check for the levy was enclosed with the letter, which stated: “We forward this amount under protest, however, feeling strongly that the levy forces us to be a collection agent for the IRS in a dispute between the federal government and a church member who is acting out of conscience and long-standing church teaching.”
Noting that The United Methodist Church officially supports conscientious objection to all war, including the payment of taxes for military purposes, the letter pointed out that the money owed by the Schwieberts “are amounts that they quite openly refused to pay because of religiously based conscientious objection to the primary purposes for which the money was to be used, namely U.S. military activity, including the war in Iraq.
“Their recent action is consistent with numerous other conscientious acts of civil disobedience or non-cooperation they have undertaken throughout and for which they have both incurred penalties, including the seizure of personal savings and property,” the letter continued.
“In some years, they have forfeited more than double the amount of the income tax owed because they ‘redirected’ the amounted owed to nonprofit agencies, only to have the IRS seize the same amount plus penalties.”
Because the denomination’s Social Principles support conscientious objection, the levy “has, in essence, coerced the General Board into violating one of the church’s deeply held principles of faith,” the letter declared. “It has put the General Board in a position of punishing Rev. Schwiebert’s conscience, as opposed to supporting it, as the church so clearly teaches.”