HARRISONBURG, Va. — For two years, Ruth Anne Friesen has redirected a portion of her federal income tax payments to support the Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience program at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.
“I am not against paying taxes, but I am called to peacemaking,” said Friesen, an ordained Mennonite pastor who works as a hospital chaplain in Chicago.
She explains that her Christian faith, particularly Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, teaches that it is morally, ethically and spiritually wrong to kill.
After learning of the large percentage of federal taxes that go to the military and war efforts — some estimates are as high as 47 percent — Friesen decided to no longer participate.
“Ruth Anne is among a small group of CJP donors who withhold their tax payment in favor of donating it to an organization that supports life-giving peacebuilding activities,” said Lindsay Martin, associate director of development for CJP. “While many of our donors choose to witness their Christian faith in a multitude of other ways, including tax-deductible donations to CJP, we are certainly grateful for Ruth Anne’s heartfelt support and take seriously her commitment to our mission.”
Letter to the IRS
In a letter to the Internal Revenue Service, Friesen explained how her experiences and beliefs have provided motivation:
“My Uncle Harvey taught [pacifism] to me from little up as we had discussions about faith in Jesus, what he said, and how we put it into practice. I was present with my big brother Aug. 28, 1963, in Washington, D.C., when Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice rang out over the Washington Monument his dream of justice for all. We stood a few feet from the side of the podium and witnessed the power of his oratory. Peace with justice is a significant moral force and important to live in practice.
“I was present in the Rio Grande Valley from 1983 to 1992 as Central American refugees were fleeing the horror and trauma of death-squad violence and forced recruitment. I participated in the Overground Railroad to help real asylum seekers access the opportunity of visas to Canada. These asylum applicants needed their traumas healed or transformed.
“I lived in a remote country village in Guatemala for four years, working with the local indigenous Methodist church and learned what violence and trauma were like for the poor trapped between Army and guerrilla tensions and violence. They needed peace with justice and an end to violence… .
“I lived almost six years in the Argentine Chaco, working with the indigenous as Bible translation happened. I learned to know several Tobas and their families very personally and heard from people about their hopes and dreams as justice was sought for their land ownership, for education and for basic necessities.”
A donation to STAR helps transform trauma, she said, so that it is not passed on from generation to generation like she saw in Latin America.
“I very much want to pay for peace rather than for war,” she said. “I am committed to following Jesus’ way of peace.”