Will the United Methodist Church Support War Tax Resisters Really?

, tax resisters John and Pat Schwiebert are living in “an intentional Christian servant community” and have taken a vow of poverty. Rev. John Schwiebert’s pension goes directly into the community’s account.

But the IRS is still trying to recover the taxes the Schwiebert’s didn’t pay in (they instead wrote out checks for the amount they were resisting to the Board of Commissioners of Multnomah County, Oregon).

So this month, the IRS levied $1,641.21 from Schwiebert’s monthly pension payment. The Schwieberts are asking their church, the United Methodist Church, to stop cooperating with this levy.

They cite the “Social Principles” of the United Methodist Church, 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.”

“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.”

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.”