American Brethren and War Taxes in 1977–78

In , Cliff Kindy wrote a full-throated encouragement of war tax resistance for the Church of the Brethren Messenger, the Camp Mack / Waubee conference enlisted people to sign a war tax resistance pledge, and a “New Call to Peacemaking” conference brought representatives of the three traditional peace churches together.

Church of the Brethren: Messenger

Wilbur J. Stump wrote in to the issue to promote the World Peace Tax Fund bill, which he claimed “would enable me, and others who feel as I do, to have the war part of my taxes used for peace projects” and would be “a legal alternative to paying taxes for military purposes” (source).

That proposed legislation was also boosted by an article a few pages further on in the same issue (source). That article quoted a card that the National Council for a World Peace Tax Fund was asking supporters to send to Washington as saying that the bill “would allow conscientious objectors to have that portion of their taxes which would normally go for military purposes used instead for peace projects.” The article quoted Brethren bill booster Dean M. Miller:

It is obvious that the payment of federal taxes inevitably involves us in war and preparation for war, since tax monies are not clearly differentiated into military and non-military categories…

One avenue of escape for this dilemma is to refuse to pay taxes. However, money refused from tax payments is refused as much from the humane programs of government as from military programs. We are not always able to make clear that we are protesting war and not taxation itself. Furthermore, whatever taxes are withheld as an act of conscience, the government is able to collect by means of levies and confiscations.

An article in a later issue noted that an accompanying Senate bill had been introduced by bipartisan sponsors. Another noted that the United Church of Christ had also endorsed the legislation. And that’s it for .

All of the talk of war tax resistance that used to fill the pages of the Messenger is gone, replaced with this (ultimately fruitless) lobbying. It’s worth noting that the “peace tax fund” legislation originally being promoted was better in many ways from the similar legislation that’s floundering today. That said, this goes to show that from the very beginning, the “peace tax fund” movement has discouraged war tax resistance.

The issue brought the first full-throated encouragement of war tax resistance in a long time, from Brethren resister Cliff Kindy (source):

What to render unto Caesar

, 44 people from seven states gathered at Camp Mack in Northern Indiana to study and fellowship together to discern God’s will for the church as it faces requirements from the US government to pay vast sums of money for military-related purposes. We were a mixture of Methodists, Mennonites, and Brethren who had been struggling with this issue for many years. In the face of the fact that as church people we are paying over three times as much money in only the military-related portions of our taxes as we give for all church and charity purposes, our Bible study of the weekend focused on the clear word that Jesus is Lord of the earth.

Our time together was filled with joyful singing, unifying times of worship, meaningful moments of sharing our feelings and experiences, and deep periods of Bible study with openness to Jesus’ call changing our very lives. The retreat was pulled together by Chuck Boyer of On Earth Peace and the BVS peace team from New Windsor. There was a real openness on the part of the leadership (Donald Kaufman, author of What Belongs to Caesar?, and Lee Griffith from Advaita House in Baltimore) to allow the Spirit to change the agenda of the weekend to fit the call coming out of the discernment process.

Although retreats such as this are often little more than times of learning and fellowship, this gathering was an exciting exception with the potential to call the church to a fresh understanding of how total are the demands on those who profess Jesus as Lord of their lives. On , out of moments of worship, listening for the word of the Lord, and sharing together came the Waubee Peace Pledge (named for Lake Waubee, the location of the Camp Mack retreat) and commitments to continuing activities of witness to our church and the world around us.

Although we were at different positions in our own lives, there was an amazing unity in feeling at Camp Mack that the pledge should be one written as strongly as the Word of God dictates and yet shared with the humility which the sin of our own lives necessitates. What follows is the pledge in its final form with an invitation to each of you to join, if after deep, prayerful searching you find that you must.

Waubee Peace Pledge Ⅰ

Jesus Christ is Lord and we pledge our lives to his Lordship. This is a pledge which we do make and we can make because the Lord fills his people with faith, hope, and love. This is a pledge which we make with humility, but also with conviction, aware of the risks, since under all circumstances, we must obey God rather than people.

We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, knowing that it is in the resurrection that we have our life. We need follow death no more. Death is conquered. God chooses life for us.

We therefore pledge ourselves to the service of life and the renunciation of death. Jesus Christ is the way and the truth and his way is the way of peace. We will seek to oppose the way of war.

Specifically we make this pledge to our brothers and sisters in Christ:

  1. Since we do not give our bodies for war, neither will we give our money. We will refuse payment of federal telephone taxes and federal income taxes which go for military purposes. Where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also. If our treasure is involved in making war, our hearts cannot be set toward making peace. We will pay no taxes for war, and if that means legal or other jeopardy for any of us, we will seek to support one another as sisters and brothers. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. Render unto God what belongs to God.
  2. We further pledge ourselves to urgently communicate with brothers and sisters in our churches, urging them to join us in refusing money for war. We will also work to have annual meetings of our churches take a firm position against payment of war taxes, and to have church agencies agree to refuse withholding of these taxes from the pay of employees. We believe that we who are the body of Christ should not serve as a military tax collection agency.
  3. We further pledge ourselves to keep our hearts and lives open to the movement of God’s Spirit and to follow where Christ might lead us on the path of peace. We pray for help and guidance — that we might be instruments of God’s peace.

We invite others to join in doing the words of this covenant and we seek to support those who are struggling toward this and other means of witness against war in the world. We want to join you in whatever ways of sharing and commitment are possible through our common life in Christ. Peace be with you.

Because we are at different points of commitment, a second pledge came out of this conference. There was a common understanding by participants in the conference that Jesus is the King of Peace and that it is wrong to pay taxes for war, but for some that witness to life takes a different form. Support for the World Peace Tax Fund is the form that takes for some of us. Overall, though, the feeling of the conference was that, as a church, God calls us much beyond that in our witness for peace and our no to war.

As signers of Waubee Peace Pledge Ⅱ, we invite you to join if you feel God’s leading in the matter.

Waubee Peace Pledge Ⅱ

We, in spirit and in conscience affirm the Waubee Peace Pledge and fully support our sisters and brothers of that covenant. At this time in our lives we feel unable to commit ourselves to non-payment of income and phone taxes. We do commit our time, energy, and resources to searching for alternate channels of resistance, and pledge ourselves to continued seeking of God’s will for us in acting definitively to oppose those taxes for payment of war.

We give thanks for the freedom given us through Christ which enables us in this search, and we pray for the strength and hope to use our freedom as servants of God.

Out of these pledges and the activities of the weekend came several commitments and decisions. It was felt that there was no need for a new newsletter but that our effort should be joined with the God and Caesar newsletter (Commission on Home Ministries, General Conference Mennonite Church, Box 347, Newton, KS 67114) and be supplemented as needed by a memo from the BVS peace team. An exciting development was the surfacing of a group interested in serious Bible study of scriptures dealing with the issue of taxes. Tony Sayer will be coordinating that study through the mail. Three commitments relating to the church were to 1) share with congregations and individuals on the topic of the church and taxes which are used for war; 2) ask the decision-making bodies of our churches to endorse a statement calling all our church-related institutions to stop withholding taxes for IRS when most of those go to the US military; and 3) offer ourselves if the need arises to fill (in name only) the positions of high risk which might be threatened with prosecution by IRS because of the radical nature of some of our stances for peace. Many at the conference will be working toward a concerted witness in the spring with the institutions of the US government that are ignoring the breaking of the Kingdom of God into our midst.

Whatever our point of commitment we want to encourage each other to deeper Christian discipleship in spite of the radically scandalous nature of the kingdom as it takes shape in our world. May God grant us the grace to travel in that way.

Following this was a list of the names of twenty-two signers of pledge #1, and five of pledge #2.

The issue went back to peace tax fund stuff, with a profile of National Council for a World Peace Tax Fund promoter Wilbur Stump (source). Stump was an attendee at the Waubee / Camp Mack conference, and one of the signers of pledge #2.

Anita and Richard Buckwalter shared their letter to the phone company in which they announced “we are no longer going to pay ‘protection’ money (blood money) to support [Uncle Sam’s] death machine” (source):

P.S. We donate the amount of our withheld phone tax to the Peace Tax Fund at Lansing Church of the Brethren, to be used in ministries for peacemaking.

They also shared their letter to the IRS in which they explained their refusal to pay a portion of their income taxes. Excerpt:

If you check your files, you will see that our protest has been consistent and lengthy. Our purpose was then and is now to witness to the way of the Prince of Peace and to register our conscientious opposition to the use of our taxes for war-making. To this end, we now feel called to move one step farther in our witness. We can not in good conscience or in good faith sign over to you that portion of our taxes — roughly 35 percent in  — that goes for present military use. We refuse to take the initiative in paying for death and the destruction of God’s creation. Therefore, we will not willingly forward this money to you; this is our witness to the powers that be — that God’s will for peace lives on in the victory of Christ over the powers of death.

Please note that we do not argue with the government’s power to collect taxes. We accept the legitimate taxing powers of the state and willingly submit our taxes when we conscientiously can; we will even help to pay for past sins and wars of this nation — otherwise the percentage would be much higher. But after much study of the Bible, prayer, and dialogue, we have come to the conviction that we will make this witness to the gospel of peace as over against the insanity of planning for war and nuclear holocausts.

Unfortunately, because the World Peace Tax Fund Act has not been enacted yet by Congress, our actions mean some inconvenience to you. We regret this, and for your sake hope for the day when that law will make our witness “legal.” Until then, we know that you have the power to collect our money. We will not obstruct your efforts in that direction; neither will we hide or make personal gain from the money. We are now and always will be open and direct with you about our intentions; we don’t wish to cause offense. And we will forward copies of this letter to our elected representatives.

If you have any questions regarding our beliefs, we would be glad to dialogue with you.

There were three queries, from three separate congregations, concerning the World Peace Tax Fund Act, on the agenda at the Annual Conference. A Standing Committee drafted a statement in response, “urging that Brethren support the WPTF through Annual Conference communiques to the President of the United States and appropriate Congressional committees, dissemination of information from the General Offices, continued promotion by the Washington Office, and congregational and individual letter-writing to members of Congress.” (source) But some skepticism began to emerge:

While the Standing Committee recommendation passed with negligible delegate opposition, discussion of the issue included challenging questions about means of conscientious objection to war. Cliff Kindy asked the church to consider the link between affluent life-styles and warfare, and suggested that living below a taxable income level is one response to the tax issue.

He urged the church to grapple again with tax refusal as a form of resisting participation in war. Another speaker warned that the WPTF is “an attempt for us to be more comfortable with what is happening in the world” by seeking government approval of our resistance rather than acting boldly regardless of legal sanction.

John Reimer, of Western Plains District, asked if the WPTF would actually reduce military spending, or merely create a fund for peace research and education by reducing civilian sectors of the federal budgets while leaving the growing military budget unchallenged.

The issue noted that the Shenandoah District Board had begun a sort of conscientious objector census, asking draft-age youth to register their conscientious objection, while “[p]ersons who are supportive of conscientious objection to the payment of war taxes may register their beliefs on a third form.” (source)

Finally, the “New Call to Peacemaking” conference was also covered in the issue (source). That conference was the first attempt to convene for a coordinated peacemaking response from members of the three traditional peace churches. Excerpt:

Reaching consensus on war tax resistance was not as easy. Although it was listed third among the concerns of this section, tax resistance was clearly the most widely debated item at the conference and support for the idea came from many of the regional meetings. Finally, in five strong statements, delegates called upon Brethren, Friends, and Mennonites to “seriously consider refusal to pay the military portion of their federal taxes as a response to Christ’s call to radical discipleship,” challenged congregations to uphold those who do resist with spiritual, legal, and material support; called upon church and conference agencies to seriously consider the requests of their employees who ask that their taxes not be withheld; suggested that alternative “tax” payments be channeled into a peace fund established by New Call to Peacemaking; and called upon the denominations, congregations, and meetings to give high priority to the study and promotion of war tax resistance.

Dale Brown of the Church of the Brethren also penned an article on “The Bible on Tax Resistance” for Sojourners magazine in .

The Brethren Evangelist

The very different attitude toward war taxes (which usually went without mention) at The Brethren Evangelist can be illustrated by this excerpt from the convocation delivered by Ashland College dean Joseph Schultz (source). Schultz was an ordained minister in the Brethren Church, with which Ashland College is affiliated:

One cannot visit the Strategic Air Command Headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, without experiencing a welter of conflicting emotions. Predominant is gratitude for the sense of security which those enormously complicated defense systems can generate, and a more tolerant attitude even toward taxes. There is, of course, a feeling of awe, mixed with a tinge of doubt as to whether man actually can master such technological refinements. And there is also an overpowering tug of regret that so much money must be spent for such expensive gadgets which may never be used. A still greater foreboding is that they may be used, and expanded.