Featured Stories, National Lutheran News

Render unto God, Caesar, and BP

While gas prices may seem expensive to drivers, subsidies in the U.S. keep the prices lower than in most other countries. Metro Lutheran photos: Bob Hulteen

It sounds a bit crazy when you first hear about it: a group of people choosing to pay more for a gallon of gas than the price at the pump … through a voluntary tax … where the payers get to decide how the money is spent. But this is exactly what a couple of dozen members of the Community of St. Martin in Minneapolis have been covenanting for the past year.

The Community of St. Martin — the congregation that started St. Martin’s Table some 27 years ago — is an ecumenical worshipping group of Twin Cities Lutherans, Catholics, Mennonites, and others who have fewer ties to denominational Christianity. Its members share a strong commitment to peacemaking, nonviolence, and care of creation.

In their search for a way to make a stronger commitment to environmental stewardship, congregants borrowed the gas tax idea from a group in Goshen, Indiana, who started a similar campaign ten years ago.

After committing to a sliding scale per gallon tax rate (from $1-3 per gallon, depending on one’s income) each community member keeps track of his or her gas receipts. Every three month period the group gathers together to write out their gas tax checks and have a lively discussion about changes in their gasoline usage habits.

But why intentionally pay more for gas than it actually costs? According to Community of St. Martin members, this is precisely the point. The current cost of gas in the U.S. doesn’t reflect the actual costs that society and the global community incur as a result of dependence on oil, they claim. It doesn’t include the cost of carbon emissions, the effect on global warming or air pollution, or the cost of maintaining an inexpensive supply of oil, which often happens through political or military interventions in oil producing regions of the world.

By adding in a tax for some of these costs, community members are symbolically supporting the idea that citizens need to reverse the negative impacts of oil addiction and instead support sustainable alternatives.

“The dollar or two extra isn’t much when you think about it,” says Nils Dybvig. “In Europe, they pay up to $8.00 for a gallon of gas. Gas tax rates are higher there, and consumers have responded by buying more fuel efficient vehicles and, of course they’ve developed more transportation options than we have.”

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