American Brethren and War Taxes in 1962

The war tax resistance debate raged in the letters-to-the-editor column of the Gospel Messenger in (though other Brethren periodicals ignored the issue entirely so far as I could see).

Church of the Brethren: Gospel Messenger

In one of the letters from that I noted yesterday, an S. Mohler had recommended that people who had conscientious scruples about contributing their taxes to military spending should increase their charitable giving to the point where they no longer owe taxes. In the issue, Rollin E. Pepper threw some cold water on that suggestion (source), noting that the law limits the amount of charitable deductions that a taxpayer can claim.

The debate continued in the letters column of the issue, in which Charles W. Wampler said “it would be impossible to run a government allowing such action [tax resistance] by its citizens” (source).

I expect that if the government would allow people to pay tax only for the things that they approve the majority of the people would pay much less tax. Some might even find excuses not to pay any tax.

Certainly no good Brethren would want to follow a course that would destroy our government even though it is not perfect.

A editorial from editor Kenneth Morse tried to put the critics of tax resistance on the defensive:

[Regarding] the stand taken several months ago by a Brethren minister who refuses to pay taxes to be used for war purposes. Several of our readers were quick to disagree with him, but hardly any one came forth with a more constructive way of witnessing against the use of tax money for destruction.

You say you do not like the idea of tax refusal, mass demonstrations, or such public protests against the drift toward annihilation? Then show us a better way to witness.

O.E. Gibson wrote in to the issue to promote civil disobedience against military taxation as a way of pressuring the government to accommodate such conscientious objection (source):

One Way God Works

May I sum up my thinking about one’s refusal to pay tax money to our government for the support of the big military build-up (one half to three fourths of the total of one’s income taxes assessed)?

Men bearing arms were the essential part of a war machine in all history up to within a few years ago. But recently money has become the essential in plans using guided missiles, etc.

The government came to recognize the consciences of men who were unwilling to bear arms to take life only after some fearless ones were willing to defy the government and accept imprisonment to prove their convictions. These men caused our laws to be changed. What had been considered wrong came to be recognized as right. For similar reasons it can hardly be expected that our government will change its laws to exempt money (allow it to be held back) without being morally forced to do so by conscientious objectors being willing to bear the consequences — probably imprisonment.

History, both Biblical and secular, has borne out this general principle — at critical times governments must be disobeyed if truth is to be vindicated and right standards more generally accepted. This is one way that God works in history.

In the issue, a reader (whose name is unfortunately obscured in the page scan) wrote in to recommend that conscientious objectors to military taxation try voluntary simplicity instead (source). Excerpts:

I believe those who wish to withhold income tax would admit that their “way of life,” materially speaking, is supported by the military economy.

I think a more constructive way, and the only consistent practice of withholding such money, is to reduce the standard of living, individually and voluntarily, to more of a subsistence level. This would mean such a drastic reduction in salary that there would be no income tax due. It would also mean revising our standards of living, materially speaking, such as mode of travel and home conveniences to what would be necessary if the military preparations and expenditures were suddenly and drastically curtailed.

The writer said that he himself lived economically, but he did not personally practice nor actually advocate this living-below-the-tax-line procedure. He merely put it forward as being in his opinion more consistent than war tax resistance.

The debate continued to rage. In the issue, [Jeanne?] Lee Jacoby wrote (source):

On Tax Refusal

I am a firm believer in the refusal to pay war taxes or, more appropriately, the percentage of income taxes which is used for war. How many Brethren can conscientiously sit back and look at the missiles going up, wasting millions of our hard-earned dollars when there are so many other worthwhile projects for which we ought to be putting our money?

For example, why couldn’t the government use our percentage of the tax for the Peace Corps? To me this is a wonderful experiment which I hope will continue for a long time. Also, there are millions of tons of surplus food stored in our warehouses going to waste, and all that is needed is the money to send it to the starving people of the world. Besides, if America needs allies so badly, there is no better way of obtaining them.…

How great is our concern? Should we stand for something we know is wrong? We refuse to bear arms. Ought we consent to doing something like this which may prove to be even more destructive?

The General Brotherhood Board put forward a report on “the church’s historic peace position” in (source). It tiptoed around the war tax resistance issue this way:

During the last few years, several voluntary agencies have been exploring with the government the possibility of an alternative tax arrangement. The Brethren Service Commission has been working with the Friends and the Mennonites in the preparation of such a proposal. We urge the Brethren Service Commission to continue its efforts to develop an acceptable proposal for an alternative tax arrangement.

Ralph Detrick announced his resistance in a letter published in the issue (source):

Caesar’s Due Portion

Following are excerpts from a recent letter I sent to President Kennedy, Senator William Proxmire, and the Internal Revenue Service.

I did not pay the $7.20 balance due on my income tax this year.… I protest the payment of a tax which supports the military machine and its false security. There is nothing positive about the level of military involvement to which our country has devoted itself. It is time to reverse this trend. I take my stand in opposition to the direction our country is going and instead give my support to a peace-making organization. I am sending $9.00 to the World Health Organization of the United Nations.… My voice may be small, but it is only when many such voices respond openly to the higher loyalty of God’s supreme law of love, that we as a nation may become a leader in peace rather than in weapons of war.

I often question the wisdom of this action. I am ignorant of the long-range implications of this witness. But where does the Christian draw the line at compromise? Christians compromise out of necessity, and in some cases perhaps the ends justify the means. Yet, there is also a great need for the person who tries to hold compromise at a minimum on certain issues in order that the plumb line of Christ may bring these issues into focus and reveal their evils. When the federal budget is pitted against this plumb line, its evils — nuclear testing, the “military-industrial complex,” the waste created by Pentagon pressure — are revealed, creating an issue with which I do not wish to compromise.

Should the day arrive when Caesar’s budget becomes more in tune with God’s law of love, I shall be more than happy to render him his due portion.

A report on the annual conference, from the issue, reported (source):

William Smith, a representative on Standing Committee from Pennsylvania, expressed disappointment that the [General Brotherhood] board had not offered more help to persons who were disturbed by some of the issues involved in paying taxes to be used for war purposes. Yet with one amendment, largely editorial in nature, the original statement [see above] was adopted by the delegate body.

In the issue, Charles Zunkel wrote in with an update on his family’s war tax resistance, and how they had backed out of it into more of a mild symbolic protest:

Witness by Designation

A little over a year ago, my wife and I decided we should refuse to pay the 75% of our federal income tax which was used for purposes of war. We so announced to the Internal Revenue Department, the President of the U.S., and to our church through the Gospel Messenger. [see yesterday’s Picket Line]

Following that announcement, we had communication from the U.S. Treasury and the Department of Internal Revenue, and much with members of our own church and some other denominations. All of the communications from the federal government were most considerate and courteous, a thing we did not always experience with our own Brethren.

The Department of Internal Revenue carefully acknowledged our conscientious scruples but reminded us that Mr. A.J. Muste had lost his case of conscientious tax refusal in the federal tax court, and urged us to pay ours. In continuing correspondence we reaffirmed that we were not opposed to the payment of tax, but rather to the use to which it was put. We asked if we might designate it for United Nations, Peace Corps, or Food for Relief, all of which are in the federal budget. We were told that Internal Revenue did not have authority for the use of the tax money, but rather for its collection.

In discussing the matter with many friends and members of our families, we decided to test out the Internal Revenue on the designation of the tax money. Accordingly, in paying our third quarter’s payment, we made one check for the 25% undesignated and for the 75% for three quarters, designated in the lower left-hand corner of the check — “For Peaceful purposes: U.N., Peace Corps, etc.” The checks were cashed without any communication or question. Since that, we have continued to write two checks, each quarter, designating the one in the fashion indicated.

We took this course of procedure, realizing that eventually the tax would be collected and with an additional 6% penalty. The federal government will withdraw the tax due from the checking account, if funds are sufficient, or will confiscate property and sell it to secure the amount due. Rather than make more money available for war purposes by confiscation and penalty, we decided to witness our protest by designated check. Thus far, we have not tried to probe to discover whether the designated money was channeled as designated for United Nations, Peace Corps, etc. That we may still do at a later date.

We believe the witness can made by designation, at least until we can find some more effective way.

The issue reported on the General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., including its decision to uphold the suspension of war tax resisting minister Maurice McCrackin (source).

I. Wayne Keller wrote in to the edition to decry the lawlessness of war tax resistance, and the Messenger’s “tacit, if not expressed approval” of it (source). He wasn’t too fond of protests either: “Carrying placards and walking in a public place are the methods of radicals, pressure groups, rioters, and anarchists. Because they are, the Christian should not use them.”

Keller was joined by L. Wade Bollinger in the , who said that in a democracy “we the people are indeed ‘Caesar’ ” and so we should not be resisting our taxes but exercising our democratic franchise to help direct them (source).

Robert Fritter penned a lengthy rebuttal to these points of view in the issue (source). Excerpt:

So aware were the early Christians of their primary loyalty to the laws of God rather than man’s laws when the two conflicted that for 300 years they were persecuted for disobeying the laws of the land.

They would not worship the emperor, nor would they take part in war. They would not bow down to the military state because they knew that it was a stupendous and terrifying god of destruction which froze men into fearsome obedience while proclaiming to be their only salvation. Those who refuse to pay income tax which feeds the insatiable hunger of this false god of 20th century America also refuse to pay homage to the same god.

A brief report on the Mennonite World Conference from the same issue (source) noted:

A Mennonite professor closed the conference with a speech in which he suggested that Christians who oppose the world power struggle and nuclear weapons might consider withholding payment of taxes which would be spent for military purposes. Dr. Edward G. Kaufman, professor of religion and philosophy at Bethel College in Kansas, said this would be an effective means of preventing nuclear war, but he conceded most people would not adopt his plan.

Harley J. Utter, in the issue, thought that war tax resisters were disregarding all of the nice non-military things the government spends our taxes on. He also wasn’t a fan of protests: “show-off demonstrations are wrong, that is walks for peace and the like.” (source) John Forbes wrote in to the same issue, saying in part: “Thanks be to Bro. Charles Zunkel, whose witness against paying taxes for military purposes should inspire all of us to go and do likewise.”