Tax Resistance in “Gospel Herald”, 1995

This is the thirty-fourth in a series of posts about war tax resistance as it was reported in back issues of Gospel Herald, journal of the (Old) Mennonite Church.

“Gospel Herald” logo, circa 1991

In the issue, Titus Peachey tried to rekindle the spark of moral urgency around the issue of war tax resistance:

Tax returns in North America, spring planting in Laos

by Titus Peachey

As tax deadlines near in the United States and Canada, half a world away in Laos, farmers prepare for spring planting. For northern Lao farmers, hoeing can be a deadly task because of cluster bombs, now buried, that were dropped by the U.S. during the Vietnam War. alone, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) received news of 18 casualties in Xieng Khouang Province.

In North America, cluster bombs do not exact a toll of broken limbs and lives; rather, they appear in the guise of jobs, an expanding tax base, and protection of a way of life.

The MCC / Mines Advisory Group effort to remove bombs in Laos is not just a technical fix for the tragic consequences of war, but it is also an invitation to a spiritual journey along the paths of compassion, justice, and repentance. The project challenges us to consider what Christ’s peace means when routine obedience to tax laws brings pain to others.

Sadly, tax dollars still fund cluster bombs. The Human Rights Watch Arms Project estimates that some 34 million cluster bombs were dropped over Iraq and Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War. Even a conservative estimate of a 5 percent dud rate means that some 1.7 million unexploded bomblets are strewn throughout Iraq and Kuwait. According to the Human Rights Watch Arms Project, 1,600 civilians — Iraqi and Kuwaiti— have been killed and some 2,500 have been injured in cluster bomb accidents since the end of the war.

In companies from Lan­caster, Pa., to Downey, Calif., a new gen­er­a­tion of clus­ter bombs is being pro­duced. Clus­ter bombs are also man­u­fac­tured by other coun­tries. They have been used re­cent­ly in the for­mer Yu­go­sla­via and by Rus­sia in its battle with Chech­nya.

Un­like land mines, whose ex­port is cur­rent­ly banned, clus­ter bombs are still ex­port­ed to other coun­tries. In , a Min­ne­so­ta firm an­nounced that Turkey had agreed to pur­chase 493 CBU-87 clus­ter bombs — a type that com­bines anti-armor, anti-per­son­nel, and in­cendi­ary ef­fects. Human rights groups op­pose the sale be­cause of Turkey’s poor human rights record; the sale awaits ap­proval from the U.S. State De­part­ment.

In the midst of complex political, military, and economic systems that create defense strategies and weapons such as cluster bombs, one of the church’s greatest temptations is silence and accommodation. Lao villagers, who have lived with cluster bombs these past 20 to 30 years, are often silent also, lacking options. They don’t have the technical expertise to address the problem. Pressed with the demands of making a living from the soil, they have endured the outrage of cluster bombs so long that for many it has become “normal.”

In a similar way, North American Christians have become accustomed to beautifully landscaped industrial parks that produce weapons and to the annual ritual of paying a percentage of their income tax for war.

The MCC / MAG bomb removal project in Laos, along with our commitment to Christ’s peace, challenge us to imagine alternatives. Simpler living and reduced incomes can lower tax liabilities. Groups of people can combine withheld tax dollars and contribute to programs that support peace and life. We can write letters of concern about the use of taxes for war and share them with legislators or submit them as letters to the editor of local newspapers. We can also open conversation with local weapons manufacturers and discuss meaningful alternatives to the production of arms.

A question had begun to emerge in Mennonite circles about whether it was okay to accept unrepentant members of the military as bona fide Mennonites (this is how far the “nonresistant” doctrine had fallen by this time). Lester Lind wrote a letter to the editor on this issue for the issue that touched on his war tax resistance:

I affirm conscientious objection to war that I learned in the Mennonite Church. For me this includes nonpayment of that part of my taxes going for military purposes. It seems to be stretching the boundaries to the breaking point to include those of us who cannot in clear conscience pay all our taxes and those who willingly serve in the military.

Another letter to the editor, this one from Dennis Brooks (), was ready to jettison entirely the idea that people who served the military were violating Christian doctrines by doing so:

Perhaps nonpayment of war taxes and other antimilitary strategies (as opposed to Jesus’s nonviolent strategies) are a result of Anabaptist culture rather than biblical theology. I know some Christians who neither participate in war taxes or, for that matter, in an economy that requires war taxes a priori. They are called priests, nuns, and monks in some churches. In others they are missionaries. Many have forsaken family, homes, lands, and generally all that is part of the American dream to pursue a life of active peacemaking. Others invest their life in families and various careers and see no conflict with the teaching of Jesus. We all make choices.

And Daniel Slabaugh chimed in () to say that the Mennonites might as well throw in the towel and start admitting soldiers, after all the compromising they’d been doing on their nonresistant testimony:

If honesty is a virtue, then Virginia Mennonite Conference [which apparently was considering welcoming members of the military into their congregations] should be affirmed in their attempt to live it.

The Mennonite Church has voluntarily and without protest financed (the ultimate form of approval) the American military since the beginning of the federal income tax. To refuse membership in this church to a person who is committed to the military is therefore blatant hypocrisy.

However, the honesty of admitting that we no longer believe in “Love your neighbor as yourself” may have lost any redeeming quality. This is another verification of the fact that when the goal of the church is numbers, then the first casualty is unpopular scriptural truth.

Christian Peacemaker Teams held its conference in . I noticed this in the coverage:

[P]eople stepped forward to announce their pledge to transform violence with nonviolent action in the coming year.

Pledges included withholding at least $20 from one’s income tax ($1 for every 1000 nuclear warheads in existence today)…

John Longhurst reported, in the issue, that there was some hope for a Peace Tax Fund law to be enacted in Canada, so long as the law would have no practical meaningfulness:

Canadian government open to idea of letting taxpayers divert money away from military

 — Canadian church and peace groups have been told that the federal government is open to a proposal to allow taxpayers to legally divert their income taxes away from military spending.

That message was conveyed to a delegation comprised of representatives from the Conference of Mennonites in Canada, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Canada, Conscience Canada, the Quakers, and Nos Impots Pour la Paix during a recent meeting in Ottawa with officials from Finance Minister Paul Martin’s office.

According to Sylvain Segard, departmental assistant in the Finance Minister’s office, “the Minister is receptive” to the idea and is open to seeing “if something can be done” to accommodate the request within the current tax code.

The proposal marks a change in direction for the groups, which previously had called on the government to set up a Peace Tax Fund, an independent fund administered by a volunteer committee to which Canadians could redirect tax dollars. Money would have been directed from this fund to government departments and agencies, as well as to nongovernmental projects chosen by the committee.

Different governments have consistently maintained that the creation of such a separate fund would be impossible since it would constrain the authority of the government to establish policy and set spending priorities. The new proposal replaces the idea of the fund with a Peace Tax, which would be part of the income tax code.

“The government was never going to make the Peace Tax Fund legal since it created another tax-receiving body and, by putting control of the fund in the hands of a committee, impinged on Parliament’s ability to determine how taxes would be spent,” says Chris Derksen Hiebert of MCC’s Ottawa Office.

“The new proposal allows the government to maintain control of and receive redirected money. In return, they would promise not to use redirected money for the military.”

According to the new proposal, taxpayers who wanted to direct the military portion of their taxes — 7 percent of federal spending in  — could do so by checking a box on their income tax form.

Joy Newall of Conscience Canada acknowledges that the new direction is a compromise. “We did it to get something we believe in: to have conscientious objector status recognized within the framework of the tax code,” she says.

What Conscience Canada gives up is the ability to tell the government where the money should go. “The government will only guarantee that the money will not go to the military,” Newall explains.

Newall is hopeful that eventually the government will be open to letting taxpayers designate where they want their redirected taxes to go. Possible programs and projects include foreign aid, research and training in nonviolent resolution of conflicts, and peace education.

“I think the government thinks that only a few people will actually take advantage of this opportunity,” she says. “But I believe they will be hugely surprised by the large number of Canadians who will very happily divert their taxes away from military spending.”

Elwin Hermanson, Reform Party House Leader and a member of the Beachy, Sask., Mennonite Brethren Church, is sympathetic to the idea, as long is it “would not place a costly bureaucratic burden on the system.”

Copies of the Peace Tax proposal are available from the MCC Canada Ottawa Office…

The issue included a letter to the editor from war tax resister Don Schrader (see ♇ 13 August 2018 for the same letter as it appeared in The Mennonite).

The “A New Call to Peacemaking” initiative was still active, and held a conference on “Peacemaking in the Nuclear Family” in . The group seems to have moved on from war tax resistance as a primary focus, but it still came up:

David and Sabrina Falls, Quakers from Richmond, Ind., told the story of their war tax resistance.

Jesus was active, they told the group. Yet even when he was angry, he “employed love in the form of challenging words and nonviolent demonstrations, rather than violence.”