United Methodist Church Considers Supporting War Tax Resisters

The United Methodist News Service has a report with more details on the case of John and Pat Schwiebert, tax resisters who are fighting an IRS levy on John’s United Methodist Church pension.

As was reported here , the Schwieberts are asking their church’s General Board of Pension and Health Benefits to help them resist the levy.

The agency welcomes a presentation from the Schwieberts during its public forum, according to Colette Nies, communications director for the pension board. However, the board’s position is that non-compliance with the federal levy could jeopardize the church’s other retirement plans.

“The general board certainly sympathizes with the Schwieberts and admires their personal convictions, but we also have an obligation to balance our sympathies with our fiduciary responsibility to over 44,000 pension plan participants,” Nies said.

[John] Schwiebert told United Methodist News Service that he and his wife have withheld the percentage of tax money they believe is intended for military purposes for about 30 years.

“It was during Vietnam when we realized that we were conscientious objectors,” he said. Since he was past the draft age at that point, “our conclusion was that our conscientious objection had to take this form.”

At times, the Schwieberts’ savings accounts have been seized and salaries garnished by the IRS. But more often, the couple deliberately has kept their income low enough to avoid taxes altogether. When he retired in and started drawing a pension, their income increased.

For more than 20 years, the Schwieberts have lived “in community” with others in the house that serves as the base for the Metanoia Peace Community congregation and its ministries. His pension benefit is deposited in a communal household account, along with Pat Schwiebert’s $400 monthly stipend as a full-time employee of Grief Watch, a mission of the congregation.

The current IRS levy is for the $7,500 that the government says the couple owes for . The Schwieberts actually gave an equivalent amount to the Board of Commissioners of Multnomah County in Oregon, although they understood the gift was “an expression of conscience,” not a legal substitution for federal taxes.

“We’re willing to pay taxes; we’re just distressed with the military purposes for which the federal taxes are being used,” he said.

The couple did not file any tax returns for . “We’ve sort of taken the attitude that we feel like we’re doing the right thing in not paying.”

Last December, Schwiebert received a letter from the pension board informing him of the levy, to begin at the first of the year. The involuntary deduction takes more than half of the pension payment of about $3,000 a month, he said.

Schwiebert believes there are different legal interpretations over whether the IRS can levy a pension. He also would like to see the Board of Pension and Health Benefits recognize statements in the denomination’s Social Principles that “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 nonviolent beliefs or acts.”

“I feel like there is room for conscientious objectors to challenge the system,” he said. “That’s what we would like to see the board do.”

The Board meets in Hollywood, Florida, to consider the Schwieberts’ proposal.