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Last updated March 26.

March 5, 2012 issue

Taxing conscience one war at a time

In the most recent flare-up of the culture wars, the White House sparred with bishops, nuns and other Catholic leadership over a plan to require religiously based hospitals, schools and charities to include contraception coverage in all employees’ health plans. The backlash prompted a revision that shifted to insurance companies the responsibility to arrange for the coverage and pay for it.

The Vatican views opposition to contraception as a pro-life stand, but Catholics who are actually in a position to live this out disagree. According to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, 98 percent of all Catholic women up to age 44 who have had sex have used contraception. It appears that contraception is an issue of conscience for celibate Catholic clergy, but rarely for the laity.

Nevertheless, a religious institution should not be compelled to fund a practice it deplores. Nor should any individual. And that is where a wider principle is at stake.

The debate over contraception revealed widespread agreement that the law needs to respect the position of conscience held by the Catholic Church. However, this logic is not extended to religious pacifists’ payment of taxes for war.

In contrast to the Catholic laity’s lack of regard for their church’s teaching on contraception, surely fewer than 98 percent of peace-church members are conscientiously comfortable with funding the Pentagon. Our tax dollars buy nuclear weap­ons, pay for basic training programs designed to overwhelm a green recruit’s natural instinct not to kill another human being, and finance a war on terrorism that best resembles making something taste less salty by adding more salt.

War-tax resisters and advocates of a peace-tax fund have been preaching this message of conscience for decades, from a pulpit far smaller than that enjoyed by Catholic bishops. Most Anabaptists would not directly pay for someone to train for years, fly halfway around the world and then kill someone, but we do it indirectly every day through our taxes.

The bishops were quickly joined by a chorus of support, including politicians desiring to be known as defenders of faith in a “war on religion.” Protestants and Jews spoke out, fearing a slippery slope that might infringe upon their own religious beliefs. Rick Warren, the nationally influential pastor of Saddleback Church in California, tweeted, “I’d go to jail rather than cave in to a government mandate that violates what God commands us to do. Would you? Acts 5:29.”

Religious pacifists might reply: We’ve been here a while; welcome to the club.

If government regulations can accommodate the Catholic Church on a teaching ignored by the vast majority of its followers, shouldn’t those who object to paying for war receive similar consideration for a belief that is a bedrock of our faith?

With contraception, there is broad consensus that no one should be compelled to act against his or her moral convictions. If only the law applied that principle to all matters of conscience.

Tim Huber


  • This creates a serious problem when one applies this logic to Jehovah's Witnesses who reject blood transfusions. Or what about Christian Scientists, who reject all modern healthcare?

    I have little sympathy for the Roman Catholic church, whose leadership is throwing a temper tantrum over a non-essential, little followed, teaching, while I have to pay war taxes.

    And there is a big difference often missed in these discussions. Those who want to stop paying taxes for war are still seeking a way to pay that money in taxes. We are not seeking to opt out of paying taxes, we just want that money to go to something else, something constructive, like education, for example. Or infrastructure.

    And to those religious leaders who are comparing this to the rise of Nazism: STOP IT! THIS IS NOT THE SAME THING!

    - Justin (mar 1 at 1:32 p.m.)

  • Justin, Jesus paid his taxes to the Roman government who used it to support their military. He did not make a payment on condition that it only be used for social justice, education or infrastructure concerns. This indicates to me Jesus did not consider his tax payment sinful and that he also expects his followers to pay as he did. But then again, Jesus was not a pacifist nor a new aged Anabaptist advanced wisdom thinker.

    - Dale Welty (mar 1 at 8:55 p.m.)

  • Dale, please cite the source of your claim that Jesus paid taxes to Rome.

    - Berry Friesen (mar 1 at 10:02 p.m.)

  • Berry, I refer you to Mat 22, Mar 12, and Luk 20. I will now go the second mile and refer you to Rom 13 and I Pet 2. I used the word Rome in the context of civil government as Jesus was inferring. Sorry for throwing you the curve ball.

    - Dale Welty (mar 1 at 10:53 p.m.)

  • Dale, the pasages you cite do not support the assertion you made: that Jesus paid taxes to the Roman government.

    What are you trying to achieve by suggesting Jesus supported the military activities of the Roman empire? The suggestion is obviously false but may reveal something important about your broader purpose and perspective.

    - Berry Friesen (mar 2 at 7:07 a.m.)

  • Berry, since you would have me believe you know what these scriptures do not mean, please tell me what you believe these scriptures do mean. Also, who is Caesar that Jesus referred to?

    - Dale Welty (mar 2 at 10:02 a.m.)

  • Dale, you asserted that "Jesus paid his taxes to the Roman government." There is no biblical source for that assertion.

    Briefly, what we do know from the Gospel accounts follows.

    1. Considerable controversy surrounded Jesus' teaching about payment of taxes. His opponents attempted to exploit that controversy and get Jesus into trouble with the authorities.

    2. When Jesus answered those trying to trap him, he amplified the controversy by contrasting what belonged to Ceasar with what belonged to God.

    3. The claim that Jesus taught his followers not to pay taxes to Caesar persisted right to the end of his life, as evidenced by that fact that it was one of the accusations lodged against Jesus in his final confrontation with the authorities.

    - Berry Friesen (mar 2 at 4:23 p.m.)

  • Berry, All you said above is true. The self appointed religious wisdom thinking leaders of Jesus’ time were the Pharisees. They falsely claimed Jesus opposed the paying of taxes during the fabricated trial of Jesus. In his ministry, this was a tax issue discussion directed at Jesus by the Pharisees. To my knowledge, no taxes were owed by Jesus, which explains why there is no record of a payment. I erred when I said Jesus paid taxes to the Roman government. However, Jesus made it clear in his teaching that any taxes owed (the assessee) to the government (the assessor) should be paid, no questions asked. It is clear to me from His teaching and other scriptures, Jesus would have paid all taxes owed to this non-capitalistic government that included support for the military, strong death penalty laws but no social justice programs to my knowledge. Therefore I appreciate your confirming that Jesus’ teaching to his disciples and the Pharisees supports the payment to civil government of all taxes assessed.

    - Dale Welty (mar 2 at 8:15 p.m.)

  • Justin: Before you write off the Catholic Church,Insert the Catholic Church somewhere at the beginning of this variation of a poem by Martin Niemöller: In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist; And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist; And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew; And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up. Remember that it is "The First Coming of the Lord" Version 1.9, Barach Obama who is now in charge. We now have nothing else to do but wait for the last and final version do sometime in the future "The Second Coming of the Lord" Version 2.0

    - Phil (mar 2 at 9:27 p.m.)

  • It is good that Dale Welty, after prolonged resistance and denial, finally made a small concession to the truth: “I erred when I said Jesus paid taxes to the Roman government.” But he seems not to have learned much, and after his apology immediately revved up to full speed and started making more unprovable assertions.
    But moving away from that and back to the issue of taxes, it should be realized by everyone that religious books contain texts, often controversial, which contain no instruction, but are in fact only tautological and of no value. Here are fictitious examples deliberately designed to sound verbosely sensible but are in fact purely worthless: “And to obtain righteous instruction, hearken unto those who speak the truth of God, and listen to those who are leading a life that is pleasing to God, and heed not those who come along the path of unrighteousness, those sinful and wicked of which they do not follow God.” Or: “And those who wish to raise a child up properly in sight of the Lord, do not neglect to render righteous and correct discipline when the child has erred, for the undisciplined and unguided child receives no instruction or correction.” Similarly, as everyone should realize, the synoptic “render unto Caesar” verses are tautological and actually say nothing. What is it that “belongs” to Caesar? Money? Time? Labor? Loyalty? Your own self? I don’t know. You probably don’t know either. Libertarians think that almost nothing belongs to “Caesar.” In some nations, all of the land legally belongs to “Caesar.” In some nations, “Caesar” actually owns you.

    - R.E. (mar 25 at 5:13 p.m.)

  • R.E., Luke 2:1 And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. God used taxes of civil government to have Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus.

    In Matthew 22, and in Luke 20, Jesus told the wisdom thinkers of his day all citizens are responsible to pay their assessed taxes to civil government, no questions asked. Unlike the wisdom thinkers of today, the Pharisees marveled at his wisdom.

    In Romans 13, Apostle Paul confirms what Jesus said. No where did Jesus or Paul suggest that tax payments made by believers be used only for social justice, education or infrastructure concerns. Jesus did not consider tax payments sinful and he also expects his followers to pay taxes to God ordained government. But then again, Jesus was not a pacifist nor was he an evolving New Age Anabaptist wisdom thinker.

    Thank you RE for this teaching moment opportunity.

    - Dale Welty (mar 25 at 11:40 p.m.)

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