Tax Resistance in “Gospel Herald”, 1973

This is the fifteenth in a series of posts about war tax resistance as it was reported in back issues of Gospel Herald, journal of the (Old) Mennonite Church.

“Gospel Herald” logo, circa 1973

War tax resistance in the Mennonite Church was finally running on all cylinders by , thanks in part to Gospel Herald editor John Drescher, who had proven himself to be sympathetic to the cause. In , Daniel Hertzler would take over the helm, but he too had had good things to say about war tax resistance in the past.

The issue reminded readers about the Funkite schism among early American Mennonites, which was prompted in part by Funk’s willingness to pay taxes to the rebellious Continental Congress, which was frowned upon by the orthodox Mennonite community. This was billed in Gospel Herald as “War Taxes in 1777”.

An article about Christians for Peace in the issue quoted David Bailey, the group’s co-chairman, as saying, “When over 60 percent of our income-tax dollar goes for defense and wars (past, present, and future), do we not need to ask whether the time has not come for questioning this kind of investment in death rather than life, even though our government declares this is an investment in peace.”

Readers also learned of an “Evanston Peace Series” meeting on “War Taxes and Christian Civil Disobedience.”

The issue carried the news that the United Methodists were getting in on the act:

Backs Minister’s Refusal

The head of the Wilmington District of the United Methodist Church has pledged his support to a minister who is refusing to pay 60 percent of his federal income tax.

The Rev. Howell O. Wilkins, superintendent of the district, said he did not know what supporting the Rev. Ronald P. Arms would mean, “but I’ll support him.”

Mr. Arms, associate pastor of the 3,100-member Aldersgate Church in suburban Fairfax, has said he will not pay that part of his income tax which he figures goes to “buy bombs and other weapons of destruction.”

The clergyman, the son of missionaries to Chile, has the “respect” of his bishop in his action. Bishop James K. Mathews of Washington, whose area includes Wilmington, told a reporter he had considered the same form of war protest.

Taxes that Mennonites were redirecting via the Mennonite Central Committee had risen to $4,000 in , and so the MCC decided to establish a special fund for that purpose, according to a note in the issue:

During the past year the Peace Section of the Mennonite Central Committee received $4,000 in contributions made in lieu of tax payments. This was something of a new phenomenon. The contributions were unsolicited; they were made by individuals whose consciences would not allow them to pay taxes which were used for war purposes. Since a substantial number of individuals from the MCC constituency are looking for an alternative way to use tax monies otherwise collected for war purposes, the Peace Section took action at its meeting to establish a Taxes-for-Peace Fund to which such contributions could be made. It should be clearly understood that contributions made to this fund will not satisfy the Internal Revenue Service.

In a letter to the editor, Titus Lehman mentioned his own aspirations to reduce his war taxes and urged other Mennonites to make more noise about their own war tax resistance or avoidance efforts in order to prod others.

Some anonymous Goshen College students coordinated to make charitable donations, purposefully to reduce their war tax burden. The issue had the story:

Gifts, Not Taxes, Chosen by Three

Recognizing a choice, three young persons currently living in Goshen and with an average income of $4000 have contributed a total of $5000 to Goshen College.

They have decided to give their earnings away rather than keep them and pay federal taxes, much of which goes for the military.

Their gifts, received by the college over an eight-month period, were designated for the specially created Agape Student Grant Fund.

The three donors wish to remain anonymous and don’t talk much about their generosity for several reasons. An important one is: a lot of Christians want to give more money, but can’t. However, they give in other substantial ways, and are blessed by God.

One of them said, “We don’t want others to feel they re not in the kingdom business if they can’t give dollars.”

A second reason is: “If people see our names, they will see only us. They may miss the value of taking Jesus Christ literally in the realm of giving and sharing.”

A decade after his “Why I Don’t Pay My Taxes” bombshell (see ♇ 6 September 2018), John Howard Yoder was back in the issue:

Do We Believe in Sharing Our Decisions?

by John H. Yoder

Recently it was my privilege to observe a brotherly conversation about the meaning of discipleship for Mennonites, which was a significant landmark for me. It was the kind of event I would wish to see happen more often.

First of all, what happened was that a number of Mennonite brothers and sisters sharing the life of an urban congregation, persons capable of earning their living and finding their place in middle-class society in a comfortable way, met together to see how to be more faithful.

Instead of being satisfied with the pattern of accommodating themselves to the models of comfort and dignity set before us by the media and the neighbors and the examples of many other urban Mennonites, they have been studying together for a considerable length of time searching for more adequate and more contemporary ways of being disciples of Jesus Christ in the modern world.

These persons sought this faithfulness within the brotherhood and within the interpretation of the meaning of discipleship which they derived from the New Testament and Anabaptist history, rather than assuming that they would find better guidance from some other source, some faddish movement, or some new slogan. Yet they followed the vision of costly nonconformed discipleship to new conclusions, derived from a new reading of where our society is going. The particular conclusion to which they came was that as nonresistant Christians in a society dominated by the Vietnam war they should not willingly pay all of the taxes being levied by the American government for the prosecution of that war.

The war tax issue has been passed around inconclusively by Mennonite committees ever since the General Conference. The concern of a committed circle of people within one congregation can perhaps get definite when churchwide specialists cannot.

My concern at this point is, however, not to deal with that issue for its own sake, but only to recognize gratefully the commitment and concern which lay behind the process of search which led to such an independent and potentially costly conclusion.

The second thing for which I am deeply grateful is that this group of brothers and sisters did not take their new sense of leading off into a new church or a separate movement. They rather shared it with a wider circle of their brothers and sisters; first of all in the local congregation and then in the district conference. They did not revel in their nonconformity or in their lonely heroism. They rather asked whether the wider brotherhood could support what they were doing or could correct them. They sought to make their witness a brotherhood witness and opened themselves to brotherhood counsel.

Third, I was gratefully impressed by the fact that the district conference, when it received this request for comment, took it seriously. It was not simply negated without a hearing, although certainly a great majority of the people in conference disagreed with it. It was not simply set aside through procedural artifices on the grounds that it had been raised too late in the conference or that other things were more pressing. Nor was some dishonest superficial affirmation passed without testing the matter critically. Instead the conference chose to call a special session to be devoted specifically to the study of this matter as soon as the program could be prepared. It was this special session that I was privileged to attend.

Fourth, I am grateful that in the preparation and implementation of this planned special session the primary desire was to be open to the guidance of God through His Spirit and the Word and the brethren, rather than to bargain out some compromise or to battle toward a one-sided conclusion. There was no cheap balancing of “faithfulness” against “relevance” or of the old against the new. There was an effort to listen both to the voice of Scripture and to “the voice of [our] brother’s blood” (Gen. 4:10). Those who feel they should withhold a portion of tax monies were not self-righteous about having found a convincing way to do this. Those who are not sure there is such a thing as an identifiable “war tax” did not for that reason refuse conversation. There was a readiness on all sides to admit that the problem is bigger than any solutions we have ready for it.

Fifth, I was gratified by the number of people who, without being convinced at all of the rightness of this proposal or even its urgency as an issue, were willing for the sake of the brotherhood to give an extra day and to stretch their imaginations and their charity to hear their concerned brothers. They gave evidence to a commitment in principle to listen, and of openness to take risks if convinced, which made the search together more than an intellectual game and much more than a counting of votes for and against established positions.

That meeting did not finish dealing with the question. More will still need to be done. Perhaps this first session could have done better if there had been other kinds of preparation or other kinds of process: this is not for me to say. It certainly could have done worse.

I also started noticing periodic articles promoting Peace Tax Fund legislation or giving status on the prospects for such legislation in Congress around this time. I won’t be reproducing most of those in this series of posts.

A “Report from Portland” in the issue read in part:

…Several families discontinued paying the telephone tax as a response to the group’s study of war taxes…

I have already alluded to another issue which matters to us a great deal. Many of us came to Portland as conscientious objectors serving in the city’s hospitals, and we continue to be concerned about our response to our government. As a congregation we have struggled with the issue of paying war taxes. To us there seems to be an inconsistency between refusing to give our bodies to the cause of war, but being willing to give our income for that same warfare. We were instrumental in bringing together the congregations of our district for a discussion of war taxes.

Typically, our own responses to this issue have varied: a few in our church have refused to pay a portion of their income taxes designated for military purposes; others refused to pay the telephone tax levied for the Vietnam War; some write letters of protest and concern to government officials; and still others believe all taxes should be paid, no matter what the purpose. Whatever our responses, we continue to be aware that church must raise her voice against violence and slaughter in our world.

We’ll see whether or how coverage of war tax resistance changes in Gospel Herald now that Daniel Hertzler has taken up the editorial reins. Hertzler had given a positive review to John Howard Yoder’s war tax resistance announcement back in , so I don’t expect any radical about-faces.