Of the three historic “peace churches” that have included war tax resistance in their tenets, I’ve paid relatively little attention to the Church of the Brethren, the smallest of the three (the other two are Quakers and Mennonites).
The Elizabethtown College Peace Pamphlet Collection has put on-line a couple of statements from the Church of the Brethren on war tax resistance. Here is an excerpt from the Statement of the Church of the Brethren on War (“As Revised by the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference, Ocean Grove, New Jersey, ”):
The Church and Taxes for War Purposes
While the Church of the Brethren recognizes the responsibility of all citizens to pay taxes for the constructive purposes of government, we oppose the use of taxes by the government for war purposes and military expenditures. For those who are conscientiously opposed to paying taxes for these purposes, the church seeks government provision for an alternative use of such tax money for peaceful, nonmilitary purposes.
The church recognizes that its members will believe and act differently in regard to their payment of taxes when a significant percentage goes for war purposes and military expenditures. Some will pay the taxes willingly; some will pay the taxes but express a protest to the government; some will refuse to pay all or part of the taxes as a witness and a protest; and some will voluntarily limit their incomes or use of taxable services to a low enough level that they are not subject to taxation.
We call upon all of our members, congregations, institutions, and boards, to study seriously the problem of paying taxes for war purposes and investing in those government bonds which support war. We further call upon them to act in response to their study, to the leading of conscience, and to their understanding of the Christian faith. To all we pledge to maintain our continuing ministry of fellowship and spiritual concern.
And here is the text of Taxes For War Purposes, an undated (circa 1967–8) pamphlet billed as “A Statement Adopted by the Brethren Service Commission”:
A major and ever-growing portion of the Federal budget is going for war purposes and military expenditures. The Federal Income Tax, Federal Telephone Tax, and other Federal taxes provide the monies for these purposes. The percentage of the Federal budget which goes for war purposes and military expenditures ranges from 60% to 90%. Traditionally, the source for most of this money has been the Federal Income Tax. However, in the Congress restored the 10% tax on telephone bills to help pay for the Vietnam War and the President is now pressing for a 10% Surtax to provide still additional revenue needed to fight the war.
This situation presents a serious and growing problem of conscience for peace-minded people and conscientious objectors to war who put their trust in the power of love, nonviolence, and international cooperation rather than in military might. They are caught in a conflict of conscience between loyalty to their land and obedience to God, between obligation to state and responsibility to Christ.
The Church’s Stance
The Church of the Brethren historically has opposed war and participation in war while at the same time it has taught responsible citizenship. The Statement of the Church of the Brethren on War said:
“The American public may come to accept as normal and inevitable the prospect that the nation must be prepared to go to war at any moment, that every young man must spend time in military service, that an overwhelming share of our heavy Federal taxes must be devoted to military needs, and that this country must always be willing to assume the military burdens of weaker allies, actual or potential.
“Because of our complete dissent from these assumptions the Church of the Brethren desires again, as at other times in its history, to declare its convictions about war and peace, military service and conscription, the right of Christian conscience, and the responsibility of Christian citizenship.”
The Statement of the Church of the Brethren on Church, State, and Christian Citizenship said, “The Christian should appreciate and support the worthy functions which government performs. He should willingly obey the state in matters on which he has no contrary moral conviction. On the other hand, he should be alert to occasions when government neglects or misuses its trust from God. When he is profoundly convinced that God forbids what the State demands, it is his responsibility to express his convictions. Such expression may include disobedience of the State.”
The church recognizes and encourages freedom of conscience regarding war and the payment of taxes for war purposes. Although it recommends alternative service instead of military service, it recognizes that not all members will hold the belief which the church recommends. The same may be said regarding the payment of taxes for war purposes. Although the church opposes the use of Federal taxes for war purposes and military expenditures, it recognizes that not ail members will hold this belief, and that even among those who do, there will be different expressions of that belief.
Four positions on the payment of Federal taxes for war purposes are evident:
- paying the taxes
- paying the taxes but expressing a protest to the government
- voluntarily limiting one’s income or use of services to such a low level that they are not subject to Federal taxation
- refusing to pay all or part of the taxes as a witness and a protest
1. Payment of taxes. Persons who favor the government’s war and military policies willingly pay their taxes for these purposes. Other taxpayers judge the constructive functions of government to outweigh the unacceptable activities. Others feel that responsible citizenship requires the payment of all taxes. Some who oppose the use of taxes for war feel that the risks and efforts involved in opposing such use of taxes are not worth the negligible results.
2. Payment of taxes under protest. Persons who follow this alternative usually file a letter with appropriate government officials protesting the use of any of their tax money for war purposes or military expenditures. Frequently they urge the government to use their tax money only for peaceful and constructive purposes either through the United States Government or the United Nations. Sometimes such persons ask government leaders to amend the nation’s tax laws, especially the income tax law, to provide an alternative opportunity to those conscientiously opposed to paying taxes for war purposes to designate the use of their tax dollars for peaceful and constructive purposes either through United States Government functions or United Nations operations.
3. Limitation of income or use of service to non-taxable level. Some persons are led by their consciences to limit voluntarily their income to such a low level that it will not be subject to Federal taxation for war purposes. Likewise they may not install a telephone or use other services which are subject to similar Federal taxation. They may endeavor to avoid participating in all those aspects of economic life which contribute to or support war and military operations. This is a sacrificial position difficult to maintain but which offers a significant witness and form of protest.
4. Non-payment of taxes or portions thereof. Persons who follow this alternative refuse to pay all or part of the taxes asked by the government. They engage in this form of civil disobedience because they conscientiously object to the use of their money by the government for war or military purposes and because they want to make a more vigorous protest against the government’s war policy and military policy. Sometimes these persons contribute an equal amount to the United Nations or a private peace agency as a positive witness to their position. The Federal Income Tax and the Federal Telephone Tax are presently the taxes most frequently refused by conscientious objectors.
Refusal to pay such taxes might possibly be considered a violation of Internal Revenue Code, Section 7203, which would be a misdemeanor subject to a fine up to $10,000 and jail up to one year. However, the experiences of conscientious objectors to Federal taxes for war purposes during the past several years indicate that the government is not interested in pressing possible criminal charges, but in trying to collect the taxes here or there with interest. The Internal Revenue Service usually attaches the salary or bank account of the non-payer and collects the tax plus 6% interest from the date the tax was due.
The non-payment of the Federal Income Tax or portion thereof is carried out by those who have payment control over all or part of their income tax return and who refuse to pay all or a portion of the money owed.
The non-payment of the Federal Telephone Tax or a portion thereof is carried out by refusing to pay that part of one’s monthly telephone bill and sending with each remittance a written explanation of why that portion is not included. Telephone companies have indicated that refusal to pay this tax will not result in interruption of telephone service. Telephone companies turn over to the Internal Revenue Service the responsibility for collecting such unpaid taxes. The phone company treats refusal as a matter between the customer and the government. Some companies continue to carry the refused tax on the telephone bill as an “unpaid balance,” others do not.
We call upon all of our members and congregations to study seriously the problem of paying taxes for war purposes. We further call upon them to act in response to their study, to the leading of conscience, and to their understanding of the Christian faith. To all, we pledge to maintain our continuing ministry of fellowship and spiritual concern.
In order to provide further information, help and guidance to our members and congregations, we make the following recommendations:
- That the Brethren Service Commission provide appropriate information and counsel to our members on all of the foregoing alternatives.
- That the Brethren Service Commission in concert with other agencies continue to seek for and to help secure a provision in the Federal income tax law for a constructive alternative to the payment of income taxes for war and military purposes. As a part of this effort we suggest that an appropriate delegation visit the President and other policymaking leaders.
- That the church oppose any proposed legislation to increase Federal taxes designed specifically to support the war such as the proposed Surtax. This opposition can be expressed by the General Brotherhood Board through testimony before congressional committees, by congregations through policy statements adopted and forwarded to legislators, and by individuals through letters and contacts with legislators.
- That the Brethren Service Commission provide an opportunity for a corporate public witness by those congregations and members led to refuse to pay the Federal Telephone Tax specifically designed to support the Vietnam War. This corporate witness could well include publicizing a list of Brethren congregations and members refusing to pay this war tax and consenting to be on such a list.
- That a similar opportunity for a corporate public witness be provided in respect to any other Federal taxes enacted or about to be enacted specifically designed to support the War, e.g., the Surtax.
- That those congregations and individuals who refuse to pay taxes for war purposes and military expenditures be encouraged to contribute any amount thus saved to the peace program of the church or other peace agencies as a positive witness to their opposition to war.