Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Liberal Pacifism is Not Christian Pacifism

From Christian Week comes this story about pacifists who insist that the Canadian government become pacifist. Immediately. This is called having a "peace witness."

WINNIPEG, MB—Christians who want less bang from their tax bucks are protesting Canada's military spending by withholding a portion of their taxes this year.

Peaceloving taxpayers can include a special form when they file their taxes. The form offers two options: taxpayers can sign a declaration of conscience, yet still pay all their taxes, or they can divert 9.2 per cent (the amount allocated to Canada's military spending) to the Peace Tax Trust Fund of Conscience Canada.

Conscience Canada, a Toronto-based organization, set up the fund and produces the forms. Canada Revenue Agency doesn't endorse the Conscience Canada tax form or the trust fund, so withholding taxes adds up to a form of civil disobedience.

"We believe this is a witness we as a historic peace church can make," says Janet Plenert of Mennonite Church Canada. The denomination is the only one Plenert knows of in Canada to promote the tax form on its website. Anyone who downloads and submits the form should let her know, says Plenert, who's trying to track how many people participate. Last year about 100 Mennonites reported filing the form, but Plenert suspects there are many more.

She doesn't know of anyone who has suffered any penalties for withholding tax money, but some "repeat offenders" have received letters and phonecalls from the Canada Revenue Agency.

Canadians like to joke about having a puny military, but Canada is actually the world's 13th biggest military spender. In 2008, Canada spent more than $19 billion on national defense, compared to just over $1 billion allocated to the department of the environment and about $5 billion on international aid.

MP Bill Siksay has introduced a private member's bill to Parliament that, if passed, would let conscientious Canadians divert their tax money toward peaceful efforts."

I have a few problems with this approach.

First, it is to act in disobedience to Scripture. Paul already dealt with some proto-pacifists in Romans 13 and we are, therefore, fortunate to have explicit guidance on the point of whether Christians are to pay taxes to the government or not.

Verse 6 says that we pay our taxes as Christians not because we agree with everything the government does (in which case most people would not pay taxes most of the time) but rather because we recognize the powers that be as performing a legitimate function of punishing evil and maintaining order. To the extent that governments provides these minimal functions they are doing what God has ordained that it do and to think that we could get to a point in a fallen world where such coercive authority is unnecessary is to deny the doctrine of original sin.

Second, the call to a pacifist lifestyle is a legitimate vocation for some Christians, who are called to renounce involvement in politics and worldly endeavors and live lives of peaceful prayer. I think of the Amish and Mennonites as Protestant monastics and think they do well when they follow their calling.

However, to expect a secular, non-Christian society to embrace pacifism without embracing Christ first is to drift into liberal pacifism. Liberal pacifism is an outgrowth of liberal Protestantism and it is a Pelagian and utopian system of thought in which the eschaton is immanentized. It expects non-Christians to live the Christian life, which is impossible. It is heresy.

Third, Mennonites who pursue this form of what they call the "peace witness" are failing to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ front and center in their public witness and replacing it with anther gospel, just as Liberal Protestants replace the Biblical Gospel of sin and salvation with the Social Gospel of socialism. To do this is to fail to make it clear that one's pacifism is Christocentric and thus to become worldly and compromised. If the salt loses its savor it is good for nothing but to be thrown out.

If you are called to a separated life of prayer and peace, that is a worthy and noble calling. If you are called to a life of political involvement and social action that is also a noble and worthy calling. To mix the two indiscriminately, however, is unwise, imprudent and ineffective.


nojremmil said...

How far would this kind of logic take us? Can I start publishing and promoting a form that allows us to withhold healthcare tax dollars that go towards funding abortion? Can the environmentally conscious divert funds that offset auto-manufacturer or oil development tax cuts? Can those who think environmental concerns are rooted in neo-paganism divert this money somewhere else?

I'm pretty sure Jesus meant "Give to Ceasar the portion of that which is Ceasar's that he uses to fund and promote state programs which are in line with your understanding of appropriate godly living." I guess this just got lost in translation.

penny farthing said...

Very well said! I've been thinking about this a lot, and could not figure out how to explain it - you totally did.

It would also be nice if we could pare the government back to only performing those basic functions you listed...