American Brethren and War Taxes in 1973

In , a Church of the Brethren committee formed to study the war tax resistance issue released its report, which went nowhere near far enough for those promoting resistance. One called it a “slap in the face of the tax refusers, but perhaps we needed it.”

Church of the Brethren: Messenger

The issue of the Messenger printed a letter from John & Sandy Zinn, wrote to who “commend the General Board for selling their government bonds and stock in ‘war corporations’ ” and enclosed a check “to help offset the financial loss incurred by this decision,” encouraging others to do the same (source). “If all individuals and churches refused to let their money be spent for war, it would certainly become more difficult to wage war.”

The issue briefly noted that “[t]he Worthington church, Reading, Minn., in joined congregations withholding the excise tax on their telephone bill, in opposition to the Vietnam war” (source).

The issue introduced readers to the Clark family (source): “Mike and Lois decided to enter totally into volunteer ministry. One factor was their opposition to US participation in the war in Southeast Asia. Lois told the congregation last summer: ‘We lacked the courage to defy our government by withholding taxes. So, we decided to live on a subsistence income. We then will not have to contribute taxes supporting the Vietnam War.’ ”

The issue reported on a “Cost of Discipleship” group formed in the Southern Ohio District whose work “has included investigation of war-tax resistance” (source). “In personal responses, some members of the group have withheld the percentage of the income tax which goes for war purposes. Others have refused to pay the federal excise tax on the telephone and sent a like amount of money as a ‘second-mile’ gift to an Alternative Fund.”

Later in that issue, Bob Gross described reluctance to resist war taxes as a symptom of a lack of faith (source). Excerpts:

Although we claim to believe in the power of the Spirit, it seems we more often choose to base our lives on worldly power. We say we love our enemies, yet many of us follow the government’s call to war, many of us work for or invest in companies which produce weapons, and most of us willingly pay the taxes which make war possible. We pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” while we surround ourselves with new cars, carpets, and color televisions. We call God our protector, yet we live behind locked doors and life insurance.

We have our excuses, of course, but Jesus strikes down every one of them. We say that we have a “right” to whatever possessions and comforts we can afford, but Jesus would instruct us as he did the rich young man: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor… and come follow me” (Matt. 19:21). We say that if we quit our job at General Electric because GE is a major war contractor, it will mean a loss of salary and position. Or we cry that we can’t live on an income below taxable levels, because we need more money than that. Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow and reap and store in barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. You are worth more than the birds!” (Matt. 6:26), and “I tell you this: a rich man will find it hard to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:23).

The expression of our faith must not be confined to our spare time. We are called to love God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength. Halfway is not enough. This means we must quit our jobs if they contribute to war or to the destruction of God’s world, we must refuse payment of taxes for war purposes if we believe that human life is sacred, and we must cease laying up treasures on earth. When we refuse to answer to worldly power, we can then turn our energies to the bringing in of the kingdom. We can then “be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.”

Charles Beyer penned an essay “On taxes for war purposes” for that issue as well. Excerpt:

In the Church of the Brethren General Board adopted a statement entitled Taxes for War Purposes. In it our denomination urged us to consider whether or not we can conscientiously pay taxes to support war and military purposes.… To remind us of the statement, portions are quoted here:

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 all members will hold this belief and that, even among those who do, there will be different expressions of that belief.

Present Alternatives. Four positions on the payment of federal taxes for war purposes are evident:

  1. Paying of taxes
  2. Paying the taxes but expressing a protest to the government
  3. Voluntarily limiting one’s income or use of services to such a low level that they are not subject to federal taxation
  4. Refusing to pay all or part of the taxes as a witness and a protest…

* In , the Church of the Brethren Statement on War was amended so that both alternative service and nonviolent noncooperation are commended to persons facing the draft.

On behalf of the World Ministries Commission, I would like to know how Brethren have responded to the Statement on Taxes for War Purposes. I would appreciate your taking time to return the following questionnaire, using the space provided here to share interpretation of actions and feelings. The results of this survey will be shared with all who respond.

I (we) have taken the following stance regarding the payment of federal income and telephone taxes.

  1. Payment of taxes.
  2. Payment of taxes under protest.
  3. Voluntarily limiting income so as not to be subject to federal taxation.
  4. Nonpayment of all or part of the taxes.

Signed ⸺
Address ⸺

Return to: World Ministries Commission, Church of the Brethren General Board, 1451 Dundee Avenue, Elgin, Illinois 60120

I wonder what happened to the results from the similar survey the Messenger featured, more prominently, in a issue.

The issue gave a preview of what would be discussed at the Annual Conference (source), including:

Telephone Tax and US Government Securities. Introduced by the Southern Ohio Board of Administration, the query as it now stands focuses on “the problem of the Christian’s response to taxation for war.” In the report [see ♇ 17 May 2020] the five-member committee examines “a proper balance” between two callings — one of obeying God’s law rather than humans’ law, the other of participating responsibly in the common life of the world. In terms of precedents both from the New Testament and Brethren history, the statement concludes the weight is on the side of the Christian’s paying and not withholding taxes.

Two recommendations are that concerned Brethren express their dissent or testimonies through recognized means and that active support be directed to the World Peace Tax Fund Act and similar legislative efforts. A warning is sounded that the church would be diverted in its task of deepening biblical and theological understanding of the Christian peace position if it were to become focused on one particular form of protest.

In the issue, William G. Willoughby recapped the tax resistance debate from the Annual Conference (source):

My wife and I have had a continuing discussion over the question of nonpayment of the telephone excise tax. I argued that such refusal would be a symbolic protest to the government against the Indochina conflict, while she argued that the government would eventually get the money anyway, and I would do better to put my efforts elsewhere.

So it was with considerable interest that I anticipated the report of the Conference committee on “The Christian’s Response to Taxation for War.” This item of business turned out to be the most prolonged of the entire Conference, which indicates something of the struggle of conscience that many Brethren have been going through in paying heavy taxes for past, present, and future wars.

The committee report, with all its supplementary materials, showed its members had studied carefully the biblical teachings on taxation and had examined carefully the practices of the Brethren on payment of taxes. Their conclusion was that there is no biblical counsel that taxes be withheld, but there is “some calling for the payment of taxes even to a sinful, militaristic government.” The committee recognized, however, that some Brethren arrive at a different conclusion, feeling led of God to make protest by means of tax refusal.

At the preliminary hearing on , with more than a hundred people present, it was evident that the majority there were dissatisfied with the committee’s report. The spirit of the discussion was honest, open, considerate, and good-natured, but beneath the surface many “tax refusers” felt somewhat betrayed. They, too, had searched the scriptures and had examined Brethren history, and now — when they were subject to harassment and possible indictment by a vindictive government — the committee was raising questions about the biblical basis of their position.

When the committee report was made to the Conference business session, the committee capably defended its paper. A valiant effort to recommit the paper for further study by an expanded committee which would include two tax refusers was narrowly defeated.

In the lengthy and at times impassioned debate, the issues were sharpened. Did the Brethren always support voluntary payment of all taxes to a war-making government? Was the committee too literalistic and legalistic in its interpretation of the biblical teaching? Did it take into account the total context of New Testament teaching against war? Is it morally right to refuse to be conscripted to drop bombs but allow one’s money to be conscripted to pay for the bombs?

Immediate past moderator Dale Brown thought that the committee’s report was a “slap in the face of the tax refusers, but perhaps we needed it.”

James Beard of Indiana contended that “the scriptures teach that we should pay our taxes and we should obey them.”

Harley Utz of Ohio argued that an act against the law and our government is an act against God.

Ben Simmons of Indiana believed that that issue is not “pro or con tax refusal, but our desire for Caesar’s property.”

Art Gish of Pennsylvania maintained that the church should give moral support to those who conscientiously refuse to pay a portion of their taxes.

When the debate was all over, and the report adopted by the Conference, I was left with many lingering questions: What is the teaching of the Bible on this issue? What should I do? Should the church discourage people from refusing to pay taxes? Perhaps Vernard Eller, Dale Brown, and others will write some books or at least articles that will be of real help to us in the years to come. The issue has not been laid to rest!

Doris Cline Egge added her thoughts on the debate (source). Excerpt:

What is our witness? Is it to withhold the telephone tax, all taxes? I heard people sincerely upholding what they considered the biblical position on several sides of that issue. I found developing a disturbing position for myself that perhaps a more faithful position might be the one James Myer, member of the committee, reiterated from the paper. That position would be that discipleship should lead me to renounce that income that rises above the taxable floor, so in effect wage earners keep income so low they are not required to pay taxes. For how can I faithfully tell my government, “You can do this and this with my money, and I’ll withhold funds from any expenditure I don’t like,” without encouraging people to do the same thing with the local church budget? Dale Brown made a good point that a negative position against taxes for war purposes must not allow us to lose perspective in a positive emphasis — a vital peace witness. Perhaps there is another position that would say, “If I can contrive to arrange my income so that I pay no taxes at all, I have relinquished any rights to influence government spending because I have no stake in it.” I must admit that, for me, God has not yet written the last word.