Churches and Tax Resistance

Response of the Churches on War Tax Resistance, as experienced by the participants.

Generally speaking the largest churches have distanced themselves at first. But they are increasingly challenged by individuals and groups who put Tax Resistance on their agenda: basis groups, Quakers, Mennonites, Waldensians (Haly). These embarrass the churches; some show understanding, even respect for choices made by conscientious objectors, but at the same time they try to postpone decisions on these issues until “later”! When asked questions about how to deal with individual members who face dilemmas of conscience they answer reluctantly. Concrete forms of pastoral care have not been forthcoming. In incidental cases initiatives by MP's to obtain recognition of COs, or to establish a national Peace Fund get some support from the churchtop, or the subtop(!). In some countries the groups concerned tried to get support through the National Council of Churches within the framework of the Conciliary Process for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation. Papers have been presented, but have not always been brought forward for discussion. COs will try to do so again in the European JPIC Conference in Basel, 1989. Another possibility would be to organise a parallel meeting of “Alternative” Christians during this conference.

What kind of obstacles do we find in the churches?

Some of the obstacles named during this workshop were:

Loyalty to the powers that be, as being “God given” (Romans 13).

Absence of a tradition of resistance (the church as a gathering of middleclass people); we have never been taught to say “no!”

Fear for polarisation within and confrontation with the outside world because of the “illegality” of tax refusal.

Churches often enjoy tax privileges, which might be endangered by activities too critical of the State like the ones we talk about here.

When churches are confronted with their own members who refuse to pay or who withhold tax money and particularly so when these members are occupying important positions within that church reactions can be quite unequivocal!

How can obstacles like the ones mentioned before be prevented?

Though it is yet early for a precise analysis, the workshop endeavoured to set out guidelines:

  1. Lobbying from within the Christian political parties on behalf of recognition of conscientious objectors. In practice this turns out to be only slightly successful.
  2. To work on the theological under girding of this particular form of civil disobedience. And to give this argumentation wide publicity.
  3. Try to find paragraphs and quotations in official church documents and proclamations, past and present, that may offer points that one can refer to.
  4. Evade terminology underlining conflict (words like disobedience, illegality). Use positive references, such as obedience to faith or conscience, improvement of existing legislation.
  5. Call on church members who have withheld taxes to account for their action. Not only to state their objectives towards the political world, but also towards the church community and its local and national leaders. In this way pressure can be increased on the churches to give their opinion about these practices.

It was decided that a number of the workshop's participants would draft an appeal to be presented at the European JPIC Conference in May 1989 in Basel. This paper will be presented later to all members of this conference for further support.

Contribution to workshop Taxes and Churches by Marcella Italy

From the beginning of the campaign there has been a growing interest on the part of the Catholic Church. We must not forget that many objectors come from a Catholic background and that on the question of conscientious objection (to military service) there had already been a wide debate among Catholics. At that time the approval of the law allowing the alternative civilian service and the outstanding trial concerning Don Lorenzo Unilau (a priest), who dared to state that: “To obey is not always a virtue”, were going on. Many priests and other religious people signed an appeal in 1986, known as the “Blessed the Peace Builders”, inviting people to object military expenditure and to nuclear weapons, to be peace bringers.

In February 1988 in Rome the meeting with representatives from more than one hundred priests and other religious people involved in the campaign noted a request from the Vatican not to take any position on the question of taxation for military purposes until the official decision from the “Congregazione per la dottrine della Fede”. This provokes uncertainty, because conscientious objection is not only supported by Bishops, but carried out as well.

This puzzlement is due to the fact that there seems to be a tendency to contain in a body of rules something like conscientious objection which by its nature cannot be fit in a legal framework.

The assembly expressed their faith that the purpose (?) of the Congregazione is not to discipline the attitude of Catholics towards taxation for military purposes, but rather to deepen the motivation.

We believe that it is very important that within the Catholic Church there will not be a rigid side taking, but that dialogue and mutual listening will be kept alive.

We should also take into account the contribution of non-Catholic churches. In Italy these are minorities, but still relevant.