Refunding Justice: What to Do With Your Tax Refund

Commentary
By Elizabeth Green 4-17-2018
Image via Boston Faith & Justice.

As you likely know, this is a particular notable year for taxes, as it comes on the heels of the new Tax Reform bill passed mid-December 2017. As Sarah Anderson of the Institute for Policy Studies reported in the April 2018 issue of Sojourners magazine, the tax cuts that many families and individuals will receive come at a high price. Rather than benefiting from the new proposed cuts, vulnerable communities living at and under the poverty line are likely be put in further harm, as funding for life-saving programs like Medicaid, public education and SNAP is expected to be slashed to address the rising federal deficit.

You can read more about our analysis of the bill’s harmful effects. You can also watch a major action we took just before the bill came to vote, and listen to Sojourners President Jim Wallis’ reflections after the action.

In recognition of today being Tax Day — the final day for Americans to submit taxes for 2017 — we thought it was worthwhile to share a reflection from one of our community members on how she chose to respond to receiving a tax refund in previous years. We hope it inspires you to reflect on our faithful call as Christians to radical generosity.

In the spring of 2014, I was part of a tax refund campaign with the Boston Faith & Justice Network. We were seeking to resist the loud, constant call of our culture (including many voices within the church) to build up personal wealth at the expense of others. And we wanted to be intentional about how we participate in a financial system that so often works against those on the margins.

Our aim was to give our refunds away. Not everyone files taxes, or gets a refund if they do, but if we had the opportunity, we wanted to use that money to support people and organizations working to fight poverty and the systems that keep people marginalized.

Some of us were working part-time or were unemployed, and others had significant financial resources. We reached out to those around to put their tax refunds (if they had one) to use. And a small group of us committed to give that money away, rather than spend on ourselves. For me, I appreciated the chance to live out God’s call in such a concrete way — it was powerful to participate in even this small act of resistance, especially to do it together, with other people of faith.

The American church struggles to talk about money and to live out our values, and I am no exception! Many people of faith want to follow the imperatives of Scripture, to care for the poor and marginalized, to work against systems of oppression and to build up generosity, rather than wealth. And the needs of the world and of our neighbors are more urgent than ever. The tax bill passed in December boosts the incomes of the 1 percent, at the expense of working-class and poor people.

Tax day offers a moment when people of faith can change the conversation. Let’s remind one another who we are called to be, and what we are called to speak against. Let’s use our participation in this deeply broken financial system to lift up those on the margins. 

If you are receiving a tax refund this year and you plan to give a portion/all of it away, we’d love to hear from you. Please share more in the comments or email us

Elizabeth Green was a Sojourners intern in 2004-2005. She works with small-scale farmers in Massachusetts, and is the founding farmer and now a board member at Three Sisters Garden Project, which works to create more access to fresh & healthy food, especially for those left out of the local food movement.

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