Tax Resistance in “The Mennonite”, 1946–1948

This is the eighth in a series of posts about war tax resistance as it was reported in back issues of The Mennonite. Today we find ourselves at the beginning of the Atomic Age.

The Mennonite

The issue covered the Mennonite World Conference. Excerpts:

One of the main arguments for the continued existence of the Mennonite denomination is its belief in non-resistance. Therefore it was particularly fitting that the Mennonite World Conference gave so much time at choice places in the program to emphasize non-resistance.

Dutch Leader for Definite Separation

F[elix]. van der Wissel of Leeuwarden, Holland, surprised his American brethren by his hesitancy in regard to paying taxes to a state that uses so much of them for war. Such heart-searching is in place. However, his radical emphasis upon nonparticipation in government might suggest that Mennonites should believe that government is of God but that unbelievers should run it.

I found van der Wissel’s address — “The Christian and the State” — elsewhere. He said in part:

Personally, I take a more critical attitude toward all state activities than do most Mennonites, even the American Mennonites, in general. It is increasingly a matter of fact that not only in war but also in peace everything in the state is used for the interest of the state. For instance, education is very often used to stimulate a bad type of patriotism. In these cases I believe that we should refuse to give our co-operation. In paying taxes we should also draw a sharper line than we generally do. We should seek the solution more in the manner of Tolstoy than in that of a quiet Mennonitism that sometimes pays its taxes only too willingly. I am convinced that it is tenable, at least theoretically, that we should refuse to pay certain taxes. However, in reality it happens, as a rule, that the state in that case takes even more than its part by force, so that, practically speaking, such a refusal does not have sense. Nevertheless, we must consider which stand we take in this question. This confirms once more the importance of the refusal to use force, because it is also by organic force that one can be compelled to pay taxes. It is my opinion that we do not give enough attention in our Mennonite life to the idea of non-cooperation and social effects of refusal of service. This non-co-operation should not be used as a means to some political goal, as was often the case with Gandhi, but only as a testimony that we cannot give our co-operation for evil things.

This was perhaps an idea whose time had come. By this time, a nonsectarian war tax resistance movement was congealing outside of the traditional peace churches. Ernest Bromley, one of the organizers of this new movement, gave his thoughts in the issue:

What Is Caesar’s?

By Ernest Bromley

One interesting fact which ought to be of current interest to Mennonites is their own history in regard to refusing to pay war taxes. Though tax refusal was a potent witness of earlier Mennonites, today it is little recognized that such a testimony ever existed.

From Guy Franklin Hershberger’s Mennonite history entitled War, Peace and Non-Resistance () we have the following information, summary:

Two questions arising out of the American Revolution were easily and definitely answered by the Mennonites. The first was, Shall we take up arms? The answer to this was a positive “No.” The second question was, Shall we give aid to the suffering? This time the answer was a positive “Yes”. But there was also a third question not so easily answered. This was the question of war taxes. The Mennonites, with little objection, seem to have paid their fines for not joining military associations, at least in localities where they were strictly and regularly collected. In addition to the fine the Pennsylvania Assembly levied a special war tax on all inhabitants. Should a non-resistant Christian pay this tax?

Hershberger goes on to tell what they did:

The war tax issue became a serious issue in . Some of the ministers said that they could not conscientiously pay the tax, but Bishop Christian Funk said it should be paid. Funk said: “Were Christ here he would say, ‘Give to congress that which belongs to congress and to God that which belongs to God.’ ” Bishop Andrew Ziegler, the spokesman for the opposite group, said, “I would as soon go to war as to pay the three pounds and 10 shillings.”

In regard to what the Mennonites actually did, he said: “It seems that the Quakers generally refused to pay the tax, then when the government came and seized their property in payment of the tax they let them take it without resistance. What the Mennonites did is not so clear. Apparently most of them objected to the tax and followed the same plan which the Quakers did.”

That Mennonites did refuse is confirmed by Margaret Hurst in her detailed and accurate history of the Quaker entitled, The Quakers in Peace and War:

It is true that in Virginia the early draft laws of the war exempted Quakers and Mennonites. But they endured every distraint and their general refusal to use Continental paper money or to pay war taxes involved them in great difficulty.

Some Mennonites are now becoming particularly sensitive to the import of sending their tax dollars to the U.S. Treasury when they know that 75 cents of every dollar is for financing past present and future wars. They realize that they are directly contributing to the stockpiling of bacterial and atomic weapons and the rapid growth of militarism in almost every area of the national life.

Ernest R. Bromley — of Nassau, New York, is active as a member of the Peacemaker group. He has learned of Mennonite and Hutterite activities and submits a thought which we Mennonites have shelved, for the most part.

The Selective Service Act of brought back registration for military conscription. An article in the issue (in the “Mennonite Youth” section) urged Mennonites to refuse to register. But:

The question is raised, “Why draw the line at registration? How about taxes, food for the armed forces, etc.?” I think it is essential to distinguish between what is given to Caesar, and entering into active participation ourselves. Caesar is responsible for how he spends the money received. Even Christ paid taxes to Rome, which had one of the largest military machines of ancient history.

However another article on the topic in the same section of the issue said:

One of the most difficult of the pacifist’s problems is the task of removing himself from those aspects of his society which tend to destroy the individual. In this case it is war and warmaking. The consistent pacifist should refuse war taxes, personal services, etc.

The issue included this short article:

No Comment Needed

Walter C. Longstretch [sic], Philadelphia lawyer, said, in notifying the Internal Revenue Department that he and his wife would refuse to pay 34.6% of their income tax which “was used for preparation for war.” “In the Nuremburg trials, the U.S. maintained the principle that a citizen of Germany should refuse to obey his government when his government orders him to do an evil act. The principle is equally valid for the citizens of the United States including myself.”

We haven’t read what happened to the lawyer and his wife! ―From the Salem Mennonite Church Bulletin, Freeman, South Dakota

The following filler bit appeared without attribution or further comment in the issue:

“Mennonites… generally refused to pay taxes during the Revolutionary War. They too relaxed, and few of them today realize tax refusal was significant in their history. The Hutterite confession allowed the payment of no taxes for ‘warfare, destruction of life, and shedding of blood.’ ”

Another of the same sort appeared in the issue:

“Tax refusal is in itself… powerful enough to have changed the course of history many times; for example, the movement led by Wat Tyler in ⅩⅣth Century England, and the Indian independence movement.”

Clearly there was something in the air.

A board of Associate Editors was appointed to help form the editorial policy of The Mennonite for the first time in . One of those editors, Jacob J. Enz, took over as acting editor in , which is about when this flurry of tax resistance notices broke the post-war logjam of several years when the subject was hardly mentioned. Enz wrote a book on The Christian and Warfare, arguing for pacifism’s roots in the Old Testament, so he seems to have been especially attracted to the non-resistance philosophy. Maybe that explains it.