Tax Resistance in “The Mennonite”, 1944–1945

This is the seventh in a series of posts about war tax resistance as it was reported in back issues of The Mennonite. Today we find ourselves in the closing years of World War Ⅱ.

The Mennonite

In the issue comes the first concrete evidence that some Mennonites were not going along with the “Civilian Bonds” alternative to war bonds that was being championed by the Mennonite Central Committee. Excerpts:

Civilian Bonds are series F and G bonds registered through the Provident Trust Company. While the same series may be secured through local channels, Provident Trust Company is the only fiscal agent authorized to register them as “conscience money.” Civilian bond subscriptions are officially reported to county chairmen and there should be no difficulty to buy them in lieu of war bonds.

The provision for civilian bonds is based on the fact that the U.S. Government has an annual budget of over six billion dollars to maintain civilian services. Civilian bonds enter the U.S. Treasury as do other bonds but differ in that they are registered as investments from conscientious objectors to war.

The civilian bond plan is not entirely satisfactory and negotiations are under way to secure a more satisfactory plan. Until a better arrangement is secured the plan will remain as before. To members who feel that they cannot buy civilian bonds, relief certificates and stamps are recommended. Relief certificates and stamps are, however, donations and not investments.

The negotiations seem to have been fruitless. After all, the Mennonites had seemingly already largely surrendered to buying ostensibly-not-war bonds, so what was left to negotiate? From the issue:

Civilian Bonds

The following statement has been prepared by Jesse Hoover, secretary of the Peace Section:

“The Peace Section has been trying for several months to interest the Treasury Department in a special Relief Savings Bond to finance the Congressional appropriation for United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Association. Recently we received what appears to be the final reply from the Treasury officials. There does not seem to be any prospect of obtaining such an issue.

“With the probability of another Bond Drive in the not too distant future, we will have nothing more to offer our Churches than the plan followed previously. And while it has not been entirely satisfactory to many of our people, we do want to urge again that if investments are made in government securities, we should leave our testimony of non-support of war by registering such investments through the Provident Trust Company, by the plan which has been in operation.”

M.C.C. Headquarters, Akron, Pennsylvania

The sixth War Loan Drive began on . An editorial in the issue urged the people in charge of the “civilian bonds” program to “make clear” to “members of our churches” “what kind of civilian bonds can be purchased and how.”

By over five million dollars had been subscribed to “civilian bonds,” the majority of this ($3,629,456) from Mennonites. The issue that reported these numbers described the program in a wishful-thinking way: “The Civilian Bond program enables nonresistant people to register their convictions while supporting financially the civilian needs of the government.”

An essay by Carl J. Landes — “Let Him Take up His Cross” — appeared in the issue. He appealed to Mennonites not to accept the safe and impotent ways of expressing faith, but to be as challenging and dangerous to the established order as their esteemed predecessors. One section concerns recent Mennonite experiences with conscientious objection:

The fact that Jesus was crucified, Menno Simons hunted for eighteen years, his followers put to death by the thousands, while most of us today are safely tucked away in C.P.S. camps, on the farm, or in our own homes where we “keep still,” while voicing loyalty to the same doctrines, is evidence that whatever our words, our practice is not the same.

I am certain that when [Jesus] called on authorities — civil and religious — he was not calling upon them to see what the easiest terms of “alternate service” might be, or if he could buy “civilian bonds” to pay the president’s salary so that Mr. Du Pont’s taxes might swell the total of his war bonds, in providing machine guns and tanks.

Mennonites delude themselves when they pay their taxes, and think they have “rendered unto Caesar.” When part of our money — either in taxes or civilian bonds — is given to government, a part of us is already in government. That money represents our toil, our sweat, our life, it is a part of our very self. We can cut off that part of ourselves, and give the responsibility to someone else. But that doesn’t settle the score with God, Whose stewards we are. Can you imagine Jesus paying taxes with money He earned in the carpenter shop, and saying, “I have no further responsibility?” How can we withdraw at the point where the spirit of the Cross is needed most?

Robert Kreider, in the issue, asked “Do We Take a Stand on Nonresistance?”, reflecting on the current state of pacifist practice among Mennonites, and hoped that the upcoming General Conference would reaffirm and bolster the traditional nonresistance position:

Let us now be completely honest one with another. In regard to Biblical nonresistance, we have not been of one mind. Our testimony has been varied, perhaps confused. Thirty-three percent of our young men choose Civilian Public Service. Fifteen percent choose noncombatant service. The remaining fifty-two percent choose straight military service. Many of our folk decline to purchase war bonds on grounds of Christian conscience; but other Mennonites, because of a sense of civic responsibility, participate and even lead in war bond drives. Some Mennonites work in war plants, while others quit their jobs in plants which turn to the manufacture of military material. Most ministers wholeheartedly support CPS and the nonresistant position; some ministers are cool if not antagonistic to CPS. Some preach and teach nonresistance; some give no pastoral instruction on this doctrine.

Amid this diversity, amid this confusion — what is the witness of our General Conference Mennonite group? We can state clearly the historic position of our Church, but can we declare what our position is now in this hour of war? Can we say that our brotherhood is unitedly opposed to participation in war? No, that we cannot say. Is nonresistance, then, only of incidental importance in the life of the Christian? Is our position, then, that nonresistance is to be encouraged as a desirable attribute of the Christian life but really of only secondary significance? Shall we let it be said that our church and church members are so lacking in agreement on this issue that to avoid the criticism of hypocrisy we should abandon our nonresistance? (Our brethren in Holland, Germany, France, Switzerland have done just that.) Shall we continue to affirm that nonresistance is the scriptural, the preferred position of the brotherhood, but beyond that permit each member to have complete freedom to pursue his chosen course? Our fellowship would then frankly embrace Christians of both pacifist and non-pacifist persuasion. Or shall we strive as a Church toward a new unity of conviction on nonresistance and a new purity of fellowship?

The Conference did reaffirm its Peace Resolution (see ♇ 8 July 2018), but J.M. Regier asked in the issue: “Was Our Conference Sincere?” Excerpts:

Our Conference reiterated its Peace Resolution at its recent session at North Newton. In that resolution we read, “We can have no part in carnal warfare… We believe that this means that we cannot bear arms personally nor directly aid those who do so, and… we cannot accept service under the military arm of the government, whether it be combatant or noncombatant.”

In view of the fact that only 27 per cent of our drafted men were classified as Ⅳ‒E, with one district conference having only 6 per cent in C.P.S., does the above resolution sincerely express our belief? It can hardly be assumed that the percentage of those who refused to purchase war bonds or work in war factories, is larger than the 27 per cent. We wonder why the Conference reaffirmed the above resolution?

It is sometimes stated the noncombatant takes his position because he wants to be in the war camp with one foot and in the pacifist camp with the other. May it be that the majority of our conference would like to stand in full support of their government’s wishes with their practical foot, and in obedience to Peter’s suggestion, “We ought to obey God rather than man” with their idealistic foot? Doesn’t it seem somewhat difficult to serve God and mammon at the same time?

When one of our ministers made a rather forceful talk in defense of full support of our Mennonite peace teachings, rumors were later on heard that this brother is “radical,” the speech was “uncalled for.” When that sentiment prevails at a Mennonite conference, what justification remains for us to continue as a separate denomination? Do not other Protestant churches also have peace teachings? Was our Conference sincere when the above resolution was re-affirmed?

The issue related the following anecdote:

One of our Mennonite young women recently related the following account of her experience as a school teacher. She had been teaching school until recently in one of the mid-western states in a non-Mennonite community. In this community she was urged to join the various scrap drives and she was expected to urge her students to do so. All of the teachers were expected to buy war bonds, and all of them did, but this one Mennonite teacher who because of her refusal to buy prevented the school from being awarded the pennant for being 100 per cent behind the war effort. Her superintendent while not agreeing with her views on war, nevertheless, very much admired her courage in being loyal to her convictions.

Finally, the issue tallied up the “civilian bond” totals:

As of , the amount of money subscribed for civilian bonds in the U.S. Treasury was $6,501,627.14. Of this amount, $4,706,026.50 was subscribed by Mennonites.

That brings us to the end of World War Ⅱ. In the post-war, Cold War, Atomic Age, a new war tax resistance movement will emerge. In the coming episodes we’ll see how The Mennonite participates.