Laid out on my bedroom floor are my business receipts from 2017: equipment purchases, meals, parking, miles driven, etc. For the self-employed, taxes can be a days-long process organizing documents and crunching numbers. And in the middle of it all, I read last Friday that President Trump signed into law the $1.3 trillion United States federal budget.
“Perfect.” I thought. “How are they planning to spend our tax dollars?”
I rarely ask this question, because I know I won’t like some of the answers. For serenity’s sake, every year I file my taxes and move on. But the coincidence of being ankle-deep in my paperwork while reading about the new spending bill was too tempting. I dived into the article.
And then I read this sentence:
“Planned Parenthood would remain eligible for federal grants…”
Now let me make clear my beliefs:
-I do not think abortion should be made illegal.
-I do believe elective abortion is an inhumane act I don’t want to pay for.
And this budget accounts for $500M going to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider. [Two more points: I know federal funds are not to be used to cover abortion expenses, but money helping an organization perform some functions helps them perform their other functions. Also, I’m singling out this particular issue simply because it’s what struck me Friday night. In a past year, I experienced tax-paying hesitancy when reading about U.S. drone strikes in the Middle East destroying schools, hospitals, funerals services–and the men, women, and children in them. The main point here isn’t about abortion. It’s about feeling strongly against some of the ways my government spends our money.]
After reading that sentence Friday evening, my motivation to continue my taxes plummeted. More than that, I felt violated. Not only do such inhumane acts occur in the world. But I’m forced to contribute to them?
“What am I doing all this for?” I thought regarding the work on my bedroom floor. “How can I file my taxes in good conscience?”
The thoughts continued.
“I can’t. So, I just won’t file. And hey, what if all Americans refused to file? Yeah. What could the government do to 100 million people?”
Now, it also happens I’m working on a video project these days. Some of you may remember my travels through the Pacific Northwest last summer. I still have more stories to share. One of them–perhaps the most impactful of them all–was my night with the Montana Mennonites: Jethro, Katie, and family.
I asked Jethro their beliefs and actions around taxes. Despite being largely removed from mainstream American society–and being against violence and force of any kind, including the military–Jethro said they do pay their income tax. Once they pay, he said, it’s out of their hands. They just hope the government uses the money wisely. Jethro then recited this quote from Jesus:
“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”
This issue, of course, isn’t limited to the United States. Individuals of all nations have to wrestle with the ways their government spends their money, be it for military, art, land management, education, or on politicians’ travel, pay, or pensions. Casting an even wider net, this issue of not wanting to pay for that which you believe is wrong surfaces on other occasions. I don’t think I would travel to North Korea, as to avoid contributing financially to their regime. But I did go to Cuba, where the government censors its people and whose policies help keep the nation poor. And I lived in China, a nation also accused of multiple human rights violations. Then as consumers, corporations we spend our money on are active politically, undoubtedly contributing to causes that clash with our sense of decency.
Where (and how) do we draw the line in all this modern-day monetary intermingling?
We all have our limits.
But the more I grow, the more I discover my rebellion and obstinacy are often knee-jerk reactions of fear rather than thoughtful, productive acts of love. I’ve come to believe Jesus’s words above to be his way of saying, “Let the government have the money. It’s not worth fighting a one-sided battle. You are of more use to humanity as a free person working toward a better world.”
So by this April 15, I will have signed and sent away my tax return. To compensate, I just need to make sure to do my part in overcoming the inhumane elements perpetuated throughout our society and world.
Following the release of this original essay in my weekly email, I received some push back on the idea of rebellion being fear-based–rather than an act of love. To help cement this concern expressed in a reader’s feedback, I watched the film “Hacksaw Ridge” Sunday night.
In this story, conscientious objector to World War II, Desmond Doss, nonetheless enlists as a soldier and refuses to touch a gun throughout boot camp. He faced and persevered through a court martial trial and would serve as an unarmed medic in the battle for Okinawa, Japan. At the conclusion of his battalion’s defeat and subsequent retreat back to shore, he remained on Hacksaw Ridge, by himself, to answer the cries of the wounded. Evading several Japanese soldiers, all through the night he carried and lowered 70 wounded men down to safety. Doss’s rebellion to not touch a gun was motivated by a conviction to his beliefs. Remaining true to self, he survived the war and answered the call, saving a lot of lives in the process.
So I’d like to clarify that above I’m referring to just myself in just this instance. What I felt from my recent tax resistance was the opposite of Doss: a fearful, angry reaction of being offended. When responding to the problems of the world, it can be hard to distinguish a fearful, ego-ridden reaction from one based on integrity. It’s important one learns to do so.