In his second letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul urges Timothy to be persistent in proclaiming the message of the Messiah Jesus “whether the time is favorable or unfavorable”.
Tax time is not usually considered an opportune moment for the proclamation of the Gospel. But I’m suggesting we rethink that assumption. In another of his letters, Paul wrote to the church in Colosse about how on the cross, the Messiah had “disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them.” Aren’t we remiss if in our annual ritual of filing Form 1040 with the rulers and authorities, we fail to bear witness to that triumph?
But how, you may ask, does one witness to the Reign of God while filing an annual tax return?
1040 for Peace answers that exact question. It is a purposeful plan to convert the unpleasantness of tax time into a sign of the Kingdom. For those who owe taxes and must pay, it means the withholding of $10.40 from the amount due and the sending of letters of explanation to those in authority over us. For those who owe no taxes but still must file a return, the letters remain important. They break the complicity of silence and bear witness to the Way of Jesus.
I began participating in 1040 for Peace in April, 2010. My reasons for doing so are included among the “testimonials” on the 1040forPeace website and I won’t detail them here. In short, I see the act of not paying $10.40 to be an act of witness to the one whose life and death judges all the principalities and powers, including the imperialism and militarism of the United States government.
What has the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) done about our nonpayment? It has sent us letters noting the underpayment. It has tacked on a small amount of interest. I understand we may be required to pay a penalty of up to 25 percent of the underpayment, or $2.60. And the IRS could choose to file criminal charges against us for “willful failure to pay”.
Obviously, the $10.40 is primarily a marker, a sign meant to communicate resolve and sincerity. So after the point is made, some choose to respond to the IRS letters with payment. Others leave the matter for the IRS to resolve, usually through a set-off of money owed by the IRS at a later time.
1040 for Peace doesn’t honor one approach more than the other. This isn’t about our purity, our courage, or besting the IRS. It’s about witness.
The letters we prepare explaining ourselves are not primarily for the IRS. The people working there are functionaries, simply doing their jobs. The witness we make for the Kingdom of God is directed to our members of Congress, where the decisions are made.
Even more importantly, our letters are shared with our congregations, friends and families. The Kingdom of God does not depend on what happens in Washington, D.C. Its power rests in the faithful witness of Jesus the Messiah and his followers. So we practice being faithful witnesses, and we encourage others to do the same.
We do not know what impact the collective witness of faithful Christians may have. During World War II, the witness of conscientious objectors in mental hospitals led to major changes in mental health practices. Was that their goal? It may have been in the thoughts of some, and that would have been a good thing, but probably most were just trying to give a faithful witness to the way of Jesus.
So have a look at the 1040forPeace website. Amid our preparations of Form 1040, does conscience prompt us to join this witness? In witnessing through tax withholding, we’ll be in good company. Dorothy Day, Denise Levertov, Gene Stoltzfus and John Howard Yoder have all been there before us.
Berry Friesen (March 15, 2011)