Self-professed “urban monastic” Evangelical Leftist Shane Claiborne has publicly announced his withholding 30 percent of his taxes to protest all U.S. defense spending. A strict pacifist who was in Baghdad in 2003 to protest the U.S. liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein, Claiborne is an icon for young evangelicals opposed to the American “empire.”
“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,” he explained in his recent letter to the IRS.
It’s not clear where Claiborne got the 30 percent figure. U.S. military spending in 2011, including Iraq and Afghanistan operations, is supposed to be about $671 billion out of an over $3.8 trillion budget. So the military will consume under 18 percent of federal spending. Maybe Claiborne is playing the usual game of excluding “entitlement” spending from the total.
Claiborne, who sports dreadlocks and a frequent hoodie, is a very popular lecturer and author among especially hip, young evangelicals. Operating a Philadelphia “Simple Way” commune in an impoverished neighborhood, he is understandably hailed for his concerns about the poor. But he evidently does not want the poor or anybody else protected from terrorism or foreign aggression. A pacifist absolutist, Claiborne represents the rising generation of neo-Anabaptists so popular today in America’s seminaries, where Utopian ideals often prevail over both reality and historic church teaching.
“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,” Claiborne told the IRS. He added that if the military’s share of deficit spending were included, he would have to withhold about half his taxes, once again exaggerating defense expenditures. “Entitlements” grab most of the federal budget, which the Left would prefer to ignore. Defense of life and liberty in a chaotic world evidently does not qualify as an “entitlement.”
Claiborne earnestly informed the IRS that he will donate 30% of his tax bill to a “recognized US nonprofit organization working to bring peace and reconciliation,” which he did not name. “My faith also compels me to submit to the governing authorities, which is why I am writing you respectfully and transparently here,” he added. “May we continue to build the world we dream of.”
What kind of world does Claiborne dream of and how does he perceive the world, and America, today? In his 2008 book Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals, he described the United States as the new Roman Empire and enemy of God whom Christians must shun. Faithful believers must remove flags from their churches, avoid the military and reject capitalism. Like the biblical Whore of Babylon, today’s America is trying to “slaughter God’s love in the world.” Claiborne speculated that if the Apostle John were writing the Book of Revelation today, he would cite a “phrase such as ‘mission accomplished’” to describe the biblical Whore’s wicked work of global domination. After CBS asked him if he was a traitor while in Iraq in 2003, Claiborne composed a ditty: “If this bloody, counterfeit liberation is American … I am proud to be un-American. If depleted uranium is American … I am proud to be un-American. If the imposed “peace” of Pax Americana is American, I am proud to be un-American.”
Like most pacifists, Claiborne’s book was vague about how to respond to violent evil. He speculated that the July 20, 1944 plot to kill Hitler only amplified Nazi terror. But of course, the Holocaust was already well underway by then, which partly motivated the anti-Hitler conspirators. Pacifist absolutists like Claiborne, though they usually won’t admit it, believe genocides and lesser evils must be allowed to prevail in order to validate their own largely academic theories about non-violence. Claiborne’s book tried to be even-handed by citing abuses in North Korea and Iran, on par with America, without his expressing any real solidarity with victims of those regimes.
Claiborne, like much of the Evangelical and Religious Left, wants to reinterpret Christianity primarily into a resistance movement against the “empire,” which is chiefly America. By doubling the actual amount of U.S. defense spending as a percentage of the federal budget, and deducting 30 percent from his IRS bill, Claiborne is striking his own blow against the empire. No doubt America will survive without Claiborne paying all his taxes. But what would happen if all American Christians ignored the teachings of their own faith and didn’t pay their taxes in protest against all military defenses? What evils would then prevail? How many would die? What chaos and suffering would then ensue?
Evangelical Leftists like Claiborne seemingly don’t care about the real world implications of their fantasies. Fortunately, most Americans of faith are far more sensible and responsible.