This is the thirty-eighth in a series of posts about war tax resistance as it was reported in back issues of The Mennonite. Today we work through the rest of the early 1990s.
Taxes for Life
The edition brought news of a symbolic, dip-your-toes-in-first sort of tax resistance being organized by Christian Peacemaker Teams:
Taxes for Life encourages church members to divert from their income tax returns at least $3.03, which represents a penny per $1 billion of the U.S. military budget ($303.5 billion). As a symbolic effort, the project seeks to draw public attention to the unfulfilled student needs in poor communities for books and educational materials. Send symbolic tax refusals to CPT… These will be gathered at the CPT conference in Richmond, Va. . One-fourth of the total will be donated publicly to local impoverished schools. The rest will be sent back with conference participants for similar public donations to their local school districts.
The edition followed this up with a brief note about a “Taxes for Life Liturgy and Study Plan,” put out by CPT, “which helps encourage symbolic tax resistance to the U.S. defense budget”.
John K. Stoner described the program in greater detail in the edition:
Pay tax for life
Americans, here is what you can do.
My phone rang. The voice said, “Could I speak to John or Janet Stoner?”
“I’m John Stoner.”
“I’m calling from the Internal Revenue Service about the letter you sent indicating that you are withholding part of your income tax payment.”
He and I talked for about 10 minutes as I explained why Janet and I had said “no” to paying the full amount of our income tax. The man could not understand why anyone would invite the collection pressures of the IRS by withholding some taxes. But by the time the conversation was over he was closer to understanding that this was for us a matter of faith and a question of the practice of our religion.
It was a Mark 13:9 kind of experience, being called before the authorities, “before governors and kings,” because of Jesus, as a testimony to them. By the sound of Mark 13, Jesus expected this kind of thing to happen regularly to his followers. Mark 13 is a good text to remember when everybody around you quotes Romans 13.
War tax keeps coming up and won’t go away because the cry of children abused and traumatized by war doesn’t go away.
Every discussion about peacemaking must face the question of how taxes are collected and spent. The taxpayer’s “age of innocence” ended a year ago when Americans watched their tax dollars at work in Iraq. There our taxes killed between 100,000 and 200,000 people in one month and left a nation of 17 million people strangled — its water polluted, its hospitals without electricity, its homes dark, its classrooms cold. Malnutrition, disease and destitution continue.
Americans, your IRS 1040 form and mine paid the bill. Our withheld wages and enclosed checks purchased yesterday’s nightmares and tomorrow’s psychological traumas for these childhood victims of war. We also paid for the deaths of their fathers and relatives by the thousands.
Jobs: Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of unemployed, homeless, sick and impoverished people in the United States are not helped toward health and self-sufficiency by the federal government, which says that the funds for education, vaccinations, basic health care, public transportation and jobs are not available.
Who is responsible for this? We are. It is impossible for us Christian taxpayers to sidestep our share of the responsibility. But do we have any choice in the matter? Of course we do.
God calls us to plead for the end of the destructive social institution of war by refusing to pay for it. We are called to this as clearly as our forebears were called to abolish slavery.
The Christian Peacemaker Teams organization is promoting symbolic war tax refusal as a way to make a clear witness in the matter of war taxes. Taxes for Life is a plan to have taxpayers redirect to education an amount equivalent to 1 penny for every $1 billion in the military budget. For this is $3.03, which can be mailed to Christian Peacemaker Teams… Listen to your conscience when you pay your taxes this year. Write a letter of witness to the IRS with copies to Congress, your pastor and local newspaper. Redirect some taxes to education through CPT.
If the IRS calls, tell them that it makes you nervous to break their law and that you do not enjoy being harassed by the collectors. Then say you are far more apprehensive, however, about breaking God’s law. Explain that you are afraid to harden your heart to the cry of the victims.
Then leave the outcome with God.
The edition included some letters concerning war taxes. Don & Eleanor Kaufman shared their letter to the IRS decrying government militarism and begging for a Peace Tax Fund option. And Charlene Epp and Duncan Smith shared their letter, in which they announced that they were holding back a symbolic $57 of their taxes in protest.
Ryan Ahlgrim wrote a piece for the issue opposing war tax resistance. His main reasons: 1) to the extent resisting taxes affects agency budgets, it does so erratically and not in a way that affects military spending in particular; 2) it flies in the face of representative democracy, in which we agree to permit a majority of representatives to decide how to spend our taxes; 3) the nation still needs a military because Jesus hasn’t yet brought peace to the world. (Stanley Bohn penned a rebuttal for the edition, and Doug Pritchard had another in the edition.)
An article about the Fourth International Conference of Peace Tax Campaigns and War Tax Resisters that took place in Brussels in noted that the group was incorporating war tax redirection into their coordinated campaign:
Beyond networking and sharing strategies, every two years the conference participants contribute to projects promoting peace. Two years ago they gave $15,000 to the Innu people to help their fight against low-level military flights over their hunting lands in central Labrador in Canada. This year they plan to donate money to Peace Brigades International for their efforts to de-escalate the conflict in Sri Lanka.
In a MCC supplement, Mike Hofkamp reflected on U.S. support for violent military action in the Philippines, and wrote:
What does “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s mean?” I find comfort in the interpretation of Peter Rideman, an early Anabaptist. Rideman notes the passage says “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” not render unto Caesar whatever and however much Caesar wants. This is a simplistic interpretation but is truth ever sophisticated? When my government supports war against civilians… Caesar is asking too much and war tax resistance is a faithful Christian responsibility.
And yet, I wonder if tax resistance really goes deep enough. During the Persian Gulf war I attended a peace rally… A loud, angry, pro-war demonstrator entered our group and shouted at us, “You hypocrites! You chant ‘no blood for oil’ but how many of you drove cars to get here?” Truth comes from strange places.
Does our participation in North American economic structures give the military its reason for being? How long will it be before our government leaders again declare war to “protect our way of life?”
Perhaps the most authentic war tax resistance is to live below a taxable income. Doing so would require experimenting with alternative economic structures based on community, sharing, and conservation. If not, aren’t we living a lifestyle that at its very core demands the wars we say we oppose?
A list of peace “commitments” in that MCC supplement was very cagey around the subject of war tax resistance, hinting at it but in a deniable way:
We will strive to show by our lives that war is an unacceptable way to solve human conflict. This calls us to refuse to support war, or to participate in military service. When war or war preparations lead to the conscription of ourselves, our money, or our property, we will seek alternative ways to serve humanity and our countries in the spirit of Christ. We support ministries of conciliation which search for peaceful resolution of conflicts. Recognizing the subtle ways in which our loyalties and resources can be conscripted in modern industrial states, we will strive to continually examine our complicity in systems which treat others as enemies.