As a Christian, Easter marks the most stunning act of grace and enemy-love in human history – Jesus’ death and resurrection. As Jesus was being tortured and executed, he cried out for mercy, even for those terrorists who hurt him. As his buddy Peter picked up a sword and cut the ear off one of the persecutors, Jesus scolded Peter and picked up the ear and healed the wounded persecutor.
The early Christians understood the message – it was a message of Amazing Grace. It was a message about how there is something worth dying for, but nothing in the world worth killing for – not even freedom or democracy. One of the early Christians said, “When Jesus disarmed Peter he disarmed every Christian.” After all, we don’t see Christians picking up swords again for hundreds of years.
I am one of those Christians who believe we should still have the right NOT to kill, even in an empire that has a military bigger than Rome’s. Perhaps that’s why it has been hard for me to navigate what to do as tax season approaches, with so much of our federal tax money going towards militarism. It was a crisis familiar to the early Christians who were accused of insurrection and tax evasion because they had an allegiance that subverted, or super-ceded, their national allegiance.
So I respectfully filed my taxes this year, and I sent the IRS the little letter below. My intention is to respect my country and contribute to the common good… but also to uncompromisingly follow the way of the nonviolent Jesus this Easter — in a world that continues to pick up the sword… and die by the sword.
Dear Internal Revenue Service,
I am filing my 1040 here. As you will see, I made $9600 this past year, and found that according to the 1040 form, I owe $324.44 of that to federal taxes. While I am glad to contribute money to the common good and towards things that promote life and dignity, especially for the poor and most vulnerable people among us, I am deeply concerned that 30 percent of the federal budget goes towards military spending, with 117 billion going to support the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. (Further, when we include the 18% that goes towards past military costs, such as the 380 billion in debt payments, 80% of which are military related debts, that number goes up to a total military budget of 1, 372 billion dollars — nearly half of the federal budget). My Christian faith and my human conscience require me to respectfully reserve the right not to kill, and to refrain from contributing money towards weapons and the military.
For this reason, I am enclosing a check for $227.11, which is, according to the form, 70% of what I owe. The remaining $97.33 represents 30% of my tax payment, the amount that would go towards military spending. I will donate this remaining 30% to a recognized US nonprofit organization working to bring peace and reconciliation. My faith also compels me to submit to the governing authorities, which is why I am writing you respectfully and transparently here. I am glad to discuss this further if you have any questions. I can be reached by phone at 215 423-3598 or by mail at 1838 E. Allegheny Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19134.
May we continue to build the world we dream of.
Shane Claiborne is a prominent author, speaker, activist, and founding member of the Simple Way. He is one of the compilers of Common Prayer, a new resource to unite people in prayer and action. Shane is also helping develop a network called Friends Without Borders which creates opportunities for folks to come together and work together for justice from around the world.