Tax Resistance in “Gospel Herald”, 1963–1967

This is the tenth 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 1967

After the flood of letters and articles when John Howard Yoder came out as a Mennonite war tax resister in , there was a lull — maybe even an “enough, already” — that lasted .

There were a couple of additional sideways-glances at the war tax problem in . This one is found in the issue, and follows the pre-Yoder practice of cautiously attributing such sentiments to non-Mennonites (Baptists in this case):

John W. Bradbury, editor of The Watchman-Examiner, writes:

National defense puts a great burden on each citizen not only in heavy taxation but in the individual conscience. Consider the following. At a super-military establishment in Maryland a team of scientists devote themselves to the perfection of germ warfare. Of course, they are also developing ways of discovering methods against biological warfare attack by an enemy. These scientists work on their assigned projects, of course, with the hope that the life-destroying methods will not be used.

Their frightening possibilities include the inducing of pulmonary anthrax, which dogs the lung sacs and is 99 per cent fatal. Another is the poison secreted by bacterium which produces food poisoning. Nerve gases are being sought that can contract muscles, paralyze, prostrate, and kill the victim. This is no compliment for the kind of world in which we live!

The argument for it is that this sort of thing is forced on us by a relentless enemy. It, however, gives a Christian taxpayer some qualms of conscience when he finds out he is paying the cost of all this. Just how much evil are we Christians supporting by our taxes these days?

An unsigned editorial in the edition included, in passing, this portrayal of one variety of Christian tax resisters:

…what is sometimes called Anarchistic Christian pacifism. This kind of pacifist renounces and repudiates the state completely. The state is evil. There dare be no coercion. These have advocated the refusal to pay taxes or support the government in any way.

John E. Lapp, who had also written an earlier article on why he does not vote in government elections, wrote, in “How Should I Witness to the State?” (), that he does feel he must participate in the government by willingly paying taxes:

The only time when I am permitted to say that I must disobey is when the laws of the land conflict with the higher laws of God. Then I am moved to say, “[I] must obey God rather than men.”

My third way of witness to the government is to pay my taxes honestly and promptly. Some persons find it impossible to pay all of their income taxes; they withhold that portion which is specifically earmarked for military purposes. I can, I do respect my brother, whether he is a member of my church or of another communion, if he cannot conscientiously pay this part of his taxes and withholds it. However, as I read, “Discharge your obligations to all men; pay tax and toll, reverence and respect, to those to whom they are due. Leave no claim outstanding against you, except that of mutual love,” I am moved to pay my taxes without raising the question.

Lapp’s earlier essay on voting (which also touched on taxes somewhat) prompted a letter to the editor from Willis G. Horst () in which he tried to resurface war tax resistance as a proper Christian action:

In “Why I Do Not Vote in Political Elections”… we are urged to pay our taxes cheerfully to such a benevolent state as ours. But of all the uses to which our tax money is put, the war machine, which takes by far the largest percentage, is not mentioned. Many of us are convinced that in the present situation our Caesar is using this money for purposes beyond the legitimate use of his authority. What is our obligation? What about the statement in the same article pointing out that the [early] Anabaptists felt that “The Christian does not need to render to the state the oath, nor military service, nor war taxes”? Shall we continue to pay such taxes “cheerfully”?

A note in the issue informed readers of some war tax resisters who had organized outside of a Christian church context:

Fifteen Cornell University professors who are opposed to the war in Vietnam paid only 50 percent of their federal income taxes this year because they said half the nation’s annual budget is now being spent on the war. They said their protest was aimed at the war and not at the government’s right to collect taxes.

By and large, while Gospel Herald writers (of the Mennonite Church) were much more opposed to World War Ⅰ Liberty Bonds than writers from The Mennonite (of the General Conference Mennonite Church), and even at times showed a little skepticism towards the “Civilian Bonds” program of World War Ⅱ where little or none could be seen in the latter magazine, during the Cold War and Vietnam War periods, Gospel Herald was lagging behind its cousin in its enthusiasm for war tax resistance.

But in , the General Conference of the Mennonite Church met (confusingly, this is not the General Conference Mennonite Church). Coverage in Gospel Herald noted that “The conference asked the Committee on Peace and Social concerns to give priority to a study of war taxes and give guidance on the matter of paying taxes designated explicitly for war purposes.” and reprinted the text of that resolution:

Resolved, (1) That we seek to be more faithful in witnessing as vigorously against the evils of war by our own and all governments as we are in witnessing concerning our own conscientious objector interests, and (2) That we ask the committee to aid us in making a fresh study of the biblical teaching concerning the payment of taxes collected explicitly for war purposes and such other similar involvements in the war effort that they may find among us inconsistent with our profession as a peace church committed to Christ’s way and to suggest such remedial measures that will underscore our conviction and witness.

Joe Evans hoped to give the Mennonite Church a kickstart, in a letter to the editor published in the issue:

I think it is time that the Mennonite Church came out of its shell. It is our Vietcong brothers and sisters who are being killed daily. Let us not forget our American boys who are exposed to the filth of war daily.

We as a church which hates everything bad in the world must unite and give Christ to the double standard world. We must use everything that is peaceful to do it. This means our church boys must be firm conscientious objectors. Also the church must use peaceful demonstrations and boycotts, giving our taxes to a charity in lieu of the government. We must also pray constantly for a strength that will see us through. Christ gave His all; so why are we afraid to witness to everyone we meet and show the world that true love is the answer?

An editorial in the issue, signed “D.” (presumably John M. Drescher), began to ease the Church out of that shell:

Dare We Pay Taxes for War?

One tenth of the entire gross national product of the United States goes for defense. This means $1,400 for the average family of four each year. It means that we are spending $20 for defense for every $10 spent for public education and $12 for defense for every $20 spent for groceries.

According to the New York Times the production of military arms is "the single biggest manufacturing industry in the world. And the United States has been the principal source of arms for the whole world. In the recent Israeli-Arab conflict, both sides were using American-made Patton and Sherman tanks. The awful fact concerning reports made about American aid to other countries is that military aid figures are included with other forms of aid, giving the impression that the United States is liberal in its non-military aid, such as food, peace corps, and other resources. The aid given by the United States other than military is at present below the average given by other industrialized nations. This is to say that approximately .4 of one percent of the aid given by the United States to other countries is nonmilitary, which is a small part indeed.

Huntley and Brinkley in the Times report said that the total personal income tax paid into the federal treasury during the year was $62 billion. However, the U.S. channeled $70 billion through the Pentagon during the same time. This means that according to how you look at it, every dollar of your income tax money, and more, went for military purposes. What the Defense Department spends each year to “protect” the United States would produce the means to blow up the world several times over.

Estimated defense budget for is $73 billion. But it now appears that five or six billion may have to be added to the estimate for . Yet there is less debate in Congress on this gigantic military budget than on programs proposed in housing, education, economic opportunity, and overseas aid, all of which lumped together are insignificant in comparison. Apparently even congressmen dare not speak out on the military expenditure lest they be labeled doves or communist sympathizers.

According to a recent speech by Ira Moomaw, veteran Far East missionary and author of the book, Vietnam Summons, we are doing well in Vietnam military. “We have dropped 90 pounds of bombs and napalm for each inhabitant in the entire country and have spent $10,500 for every Vietnamese family North and South in conducting the war.”

Describing the effects of a napalm bombing which Moomaw and his wife witnessed, he said: “There could come a time when the survivors may envy the dead.”

According to Charles Bartlett and Edward Weintal in Facing the Brink (Charles Scribner’s Sons), “the irony of the epic struggle in Vietnam is the little-known fact that in , when President Eisenhower was deciding whether to intervene with American military power to save the besieged French forces at Dien Bien Phu, the most vehement protest came from the Democratic Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson. One observer recalls that the Texan pounded on the president’s desk to underline his refusal to support any move that might commit American troops to Asian jungles.

Raising any kind of new tax to fight the Vietnam war will certainly find considerable reaction. In the discussion of the report of the Committee on Peace and Social Concerns at Mennonite General Conference, delegates asked for direction on the matter of paying taxes designated for war purposes.

A resolution was passed which calls for “the committee to aid us in making a fresh study of the biblical teaching concerning the payment of taxes collected explicitly for war purposes and such other similar involvements in the war effort that they may find among us inconsistent with our profession as a peace church committed to Christ’s way and to suggest such remedial measures that will underscore our conviction and witness.”

I think such guidance is needed promptly. What should we do in our witness against war? Is withholding tax money a Christian witness? What should we do if a tax is required which is primarily or solely for the support of the war machine? The answer certainly is not an easy one. One must wonder what would happen by way of witness against the wrongness of war if 10,000 or more Mennonites would protest war by refusing to pay a percentage of income tax and give the amount withheld to causes which feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and bring the gospel to our needy world.

Some in our brotherhood seem bothered that we are speaking so much to the Vietnam concern. Certainly we must continually say all war, not just the Vietnam war, is wrong and we must be alert to other close and equally serious sins. Yet it happens that this war is being carried on at present and now is the time to speak. And where the government has made the manufacture of military arms such a major business then certainly a peace church should have something to say about the futility and sin of this approach.

Another article noted that even the dreaded Papists had taken the lead on this issue:

Twenty-three Roman Catholic priests in Kansas City, Mo., have indicated their opposition to President Johnson’s proposed 10 percent surtax because “we could not in conscience pay a tax earmarked for deeper involvement in the (Vietnam) war.”

The clerics expressed their view in identical letters sent to the two Missouri senators, Stuart Symington and Edward V. Long, both Democrats.

The letters were circulated for signatures by two members of the “junior clergy” (priests ordained less than five years), but signatures of several chancery officials and department heads, assistant heads, and pastors were included. All but one of the 23 priests are from the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

“While realizing the difficult decision facing you in the vote on the proposed 10 percent surtax,” the letters stated, “we feel it imperative to voice publicly our disapproval of the tax… The upheavals our nation has faced in recent weeks have emphasized the need for such a grave response on our part at such a critical moment.”

The priests disavowed “the policy of escalation of killing” and supported “the escalation of our domestic and foreign commitment for the improvement of life.” Their letters added:

“Our reliance on violence to force the enemy to the peace table has been reflected in the same policies in Negro communities to obtain their objectives. The 11 percent rise in crime during the past year has shown how well the lesson has been learned by all our communities.”

A series of letters-to-the editor followed through :

Dwight E. Roth
“I am convinced that if we as a peace group pay taxes for war, we are indeed hypocritical. In actuality, the Mennonite position is — we shall not fight, but we shall support fighting through taxation. Thus the only difference between peaceful (?) U.S. and the U.S. war machine is a physical difference; certainly it is not a moral or spiritual difference. We are not there bodily, but in truth and spirit we are willing to support evil destruction.”
Raymond Byler
Byler criticized war tax resistance and suggested the alternatives of either total withdrawal from the war economy or of continued engagement along with substantial charitable deductions.
Prentice L. Hartsburg
Hartsburg took the position that the Render-unto-Caesar answer trumps any Mennonite revulsion towards war. Besides, he wrote, the government also does objectionable things during peacetime; should that mean we shouldn’t pay taxes then too?
Marlene Y. Kropf
Kroft appreciated the new attention being paid to the war tax issue.
S.C. Brubacher
Brubacher took the traditional hard line on the Render-unto-Caesar and Tribute Penny verses, deprecating war tax resistance in the process.
Daniel J. Miller
Miller suggested paying under protest as a compromise.